I sat there with my Casablanca beer and a view of the Citadel, a shrimp from the seafood platter was staring back at me as I was thinking I should have planned this better –– we should have spent a night here, my soul is not going to be satiated with just a day in Essaouria.
The photogenic coastal town that sits on the Atlantic coast of Morocco had an old Medina with streets lined with whitewashed house and Majorelle blue shutters, souks that sells everything including some questionable aphrodisiac, thousands of seagulls flying around boats that matched those shutters, spectacular sunsets –– Essaouria was quickly making its way into my heart.
Essaouira has a history that dates back to the 16th century when it was discovered by the Portuguese. They named it “Mogador”, the Berber name that meant wall, referencing the fortress walls that enclosed the city. The sultan later renamed it to Essaouira, meaning “well designed.” The coastal town is only 3 hours from Marrakech and is known for its laid-back beach town vibe, seafood, and souks.
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How to spend one day in Essaouira
There is plenty to do in Essaouira, you might want to plan a weekend. If you like us have only one day in Essaouira, start with a morning in the medina. Browse the souk for baskets, herbs, perfumes, silverware, leather goods. Essaouira has everything that the mega souks in Marrakech have but seems to have fewer hustlers and con artists, and aggressive shop keepers who don’t take no for an answer.
Stop for lunch at one of the seafood places (you can’t go wrong with any) it is a fishing village after all. Per our hotel’s recommendation, we had lunch at a beachfront restaurant that has been there for generations and known for its service, views, and fresh food.
Head back to the medina to check out a few art galleries and the Jewish quarter. Then around sunset make your way to the port to watch fishing boats come back with their catch. If you are visiting during the warmer months spend some time on the beach. Surfing on the Plage de Safi is a popular pastime for locals. You can also ride horses or a camel on the golden sand for a unique experience, a little different from the camel rides on the dunes of the desert.
Around sunset climb up the ramparts and the Citadel for 10 Euros and get a nice view of the city. Or hang out near the boats and watch fishermen tidy up their nets and boats. Watch the sun as it dips into the ocean and the day turns into dusk before heading home to your hotel.
History and Architecture
Morocco has a long coastline, it stretches for more than 1000 miles and there a few towns that have nice beaches both along the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
Essaouira is one of those ancient coastal towns that dates back to at least the 5th century BC. Like the rest of Morocco, the settlement passed through many hands over the years until the Portuguese colonized it in the 1500s. They seized six Moroccan towns and built six stand-alone fortresses on the Moroccan Atlantic coast. It fell into the hands of a local tribe in 4 years and then Mogador became a haven for pirates for a few hundred years.
Modern-day Essaouira came about in the 1700s, when the Moroccan Sultan Mohammed III decided to cut off trade to Agadir in the south and wanted to establish a harbor closer to Marrakech. He began building up the walls, harbor, and city center it became Morocco’s main port until the early 1900s.
Things to do in Essaouria in a day
If you are arriving by car or taxi you probably entering through the Bab Sbaa entrance but the Bab Doukhala or Bab Marrakech is how the caravans made their way to the Essaouira medina in the past to trade.
L’Horloge d’Essaouira, or the Clock Tower of Essaouira, is only a few steps from Bab Sbaa. This square tower is good to know in case this is your first time in the Medina of Essaouira and you lose your way.
Inside the medieval walls of the Medina, the souk markets sell everything from silver jewelry, handwoven rugs, spices and perfumes. A Shoppers mecca! Allow for a few hours to wander and check out the souks.
Stroll along the pedestrian friendly main square, Place Moulay el Hassan and the Skala du Port, the fishing harbor which offers breathtaking views of the Portuguese ramparts. Explore the ramparts and the citadel for view of the beach and a view of the city walls and medina.
Essaouria holds its annual Gnaoua Music Festival in June and attracts 300,000+ people. A great event to check out if you are visiting Morocco around that time.
Our day trip to Essaouira started with cuddling goats
The first stop on our day trip to Essaouria was at an Argan Oil Coop. Right before we got there we saw some acrobatic goats chilling out on trees. These tree goats of Morocco climb the thorny Argan trees to eat the fruit and leaves. They then spit out the hard nuts which are harvested and processed into Argan Oil. There is usually a goatherder sitting there if you want to take photos of the goats or hold one. The goats don’t climb the trees for free 😉 so keep some change ready.
Inside the Argan oil cooperative, you can see various products made from argan oil – the almond butter with argan oil and a bottle of the oil are worth bringing home. Argan oil has a long shelf life and I love my rose-scented argan oil that brings back memories of this day in Essaouira!
Photos from the Medina, where we spent most of our day in Essaouira
The bustling medina of Essaouira is surprisingly easier to navigate. A labyrinth of former mansions and stores are lined up on the streets of the old medina. All linked to a central spine leading directly from the northern gate, Bab Doukkala, to the main square of Place Moulay Hassan, located by the waterfront. Like fish-bones, passageways and pungent souks spread outwards from this main street.
Make time to admire the carved doors, the peeling paints and blocks of stone probably have many stories to tell. Moroccan doors in Essaouira are painted in shades of blue, with the Majorelle being the most favored shade. On closer look, you will find Moorish style motifs, chamsa door knockers and stoneworks around these doorways. Much like the Zanzibar doors, these Moroccan doors are a photographers dream!
When you meander to Bab Doukkala through the mellah, the old Jewish quarter of the medina, don’t miss to look for stone door signs with the six-petal rose of Mogador, i.e. Essaouira. I didn’t know to look for them, hence no photo! Essaouira’s mellah covers over 10 percent of the town, but in the 1880’s Jews constituted almost 40 percent of the population. You can see Jewish stars on the doors and commemorative plaques indicating the buildings in which synagogues were located.
I will let these photos do the talking about all the fun things you will find in the souks. Hope it feels like you are there walking in the medina 🙂
Citadel & Sqala du Port d’Essaouira
Following the sounds of the seagulls, we found ourselves in the Port of Scala when the sun was starting to make it way down. “You can’t visit Essaouira and not climb the ramparts“, we were told by our driver who had dropped us of earlier. Originally built as the city defense, these offer great views of the Medina and the Atlantic. We didn’t want to miss this important view point and attraction in Essaouira. We went up the Citadel to see the waves crash, spraying the salty waters on the big boulders strewn on the beach. The fishermen were busy with their fishing nets and the old stone walls turned to gold as we witness a magical Moroccan sunset!
I hope these photos inspired you to plan a trip to Morocco or grab some paper and colors to paint some of these scenes.
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