Essaouira, formerly Mogador, is called “The Windy City” due to the strong winds coming off the Atlantic. It’s a very popular beach for windsurfing! This vibrant coastal city is a must-visit when in Morocco.
Essaouira was Morocco’s main port until the end of the 19th century. It was a prominent hippie city, attracting artists including Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens! You still see lots of backpackers, surfers, and artists throughout the city. Archaeological evidence shows that the city has been inhabited since prehistoric times!
One of the highlights of this port city is its fortified medina, or old town. Inside the ramparts and medina walls, the streets are filled with souks – open air markets – selling anything from clothes, spices, food, art, and woodwork.
Essaouira’s Medina was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. The medina architecture reflects a lot of the Moroccan culture – the combination of contemporary European architecture and traditional Arabic architecture within the context of North Africa. The city is a multicultural hub, with a diverse group of cultures and religions coexisting.
I visited Essaouira briefly during my first trip to Morocco with my future-in-laws in 2018. Last week, I got to revisit and spend a bit more time there. Essaouira has so much charm, I will definitely be revisiting! My future mother-in-law is from this city, so she is the perfect guide. She is also a fierce barterer – always negotiating the best prices for me as I shopped!
The Essaouira Medina is much smaller compared to the Fez Medina which makes it easier to navigate. The smaller corridors eventually open up to larger streets. My mother-in-law navigates the medina with ease, but it did take me a while to start recognizing the different areas and streets.
What to Buy
Different areas of Morocco are known for different specialties. Essaouira is the region where Argan grows and hence you can find tons of Argan oil and Argan products all over the city. (If you are lucky, you might get to see the goats in Argan trees off the highway on the way to Essaouira!) You’ll also find all types of Moroccan spices and herbs!
Also prevalent in Essaouira is Raffia – woven palm leaves from the African Raffia tree. Raffia products are all handwoven and its more affordable to buy in Essaouira. We stopped in a souk where vendors were sitting weaving purses while awaiting customers. I wanted to buy some Raffia shoes, but the only pair of shoes that were my size weren’t finished yet. The kind vendor told us if we came back after a couple of hours she would finish the shoes that afternoon!
Thuya (or Arar) trees are indigenous to the Essaouira region. You can find beautifully intricate carved wood sold in the medina. They sell all types of wood products, including musical instruments!
Argan oil, raffia, and Arar wood are definitely the local favorites but you’ll also find lots of art, leather, rugs, and clothes for sale in the medina. The medina is more shaded than outside the old city walls. I loved taking a leisurely stroll browsing all the different souks! You will find that the vendors in Essaouira are less aggressive than those in Marrakech.
Skala de la Kasbah
The section of the city’s 18th century walls with ramparts is referred to as the Skala. Anyone who watched Game of Thrones will immediately recognize this area. This is where they filmed Daenarys purchasing 8,000 unsullied soldiers.
These fortifications were built to protect the city from attacks by the sea. Now, it protects the medina from crashing waves!
Pro tip: sunsets at the skala are beyond stunning!
Harbour of Essaouira
Essaouira’s port was the most important port between Europe, Africa, and the Americas between 1700 and the mid-nineteenth century. The harbour is one of the first things I think of when I picture Essaouira. Fisherman bring in their hauls daily, attracting tons of seagulls and cats.
The catch of day is quite pungent, with fish markets sitting just beside the harbour. The bright blue boats make the harbour incredibly picturesque, if stinky.
If visiting in cooler weather, you will see a lot of people sporting the traditional djellaba. This is a long unisex wool robe worn in the Maghreb region, usually with a pointed hood.
Here are some more pictures of the bohemian city: