Natives through the years developed a pretty art in Essaouira adding more and more colors to predominating white. The most common colour after the white is blue. There are numerous blue doors and gates all around the old town (medina).
I was lucky to discover really amazing little corners, streets, houses, gates, covered passages, doors and wells not so easy to find anywhere else in Morocco.
There are a few usually small squares in the medina. That one, on my picture, was the largest of them and the most white. In Essaouira, most buildings and walls are painted in white whereas gates, doors, windows are often painted in other colors, usually in blue and/or yellow.
Green is a royal color. It's reserved for royal buildings. Roofs of numerous royal palaces, I was lucky to see, were always green in Morocco.
Although I visited many old towns in Tunisia and Turkey before, Essaouira looked different, magic and exotic for me. I had a great fun walking and getting lost among its narrow streets, discovering its numerous gates, lovely corners, blue doors and arabic wells. And I always ended down at the ramparts that protect most of the town. Essaouira was quiet, friendly and safe destination.
Essaouira is a good destination to see and learn differences between various architectural styles which reflect city past. Just keep your eyes open when you walk around. It's sometimes difficult to name an architectural style of an edifice as it's mixed and contain some elements of both european (Portuguese) and Arabic (Muslim) architecture.
Essaouira's Ile de Mogador lie southwest of the port. Also known as the Iles Purpuraires, these two uninhabited islands contain fortifications, a mosque and a disused prison. From April to October the island is a breeding ground for the Eleanora's falcons, who come all the way from Madagascar. There is no scheduled ferry to the islands - which is probably a good thing as the falcons are close to extinction - but in calm weather you can hire a boat from the port to cross to the island.
If you are a lover of trees or just have 15 minutes to kill this hidden treasure will not only take you by surprise but will also offer you a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the street.
At Bab Marrakech is the Complexe Artisanal, it faces the hotel Heure Bleue. Walk through the gate and keep to the right, before you get to the end you will see a dark tunnel, .....I really feel at this point you should put a blindfold on.
Often a polite young boy is hanging around to give you some information about the tree, You will be able to tell him that it is a 500 year old Ficus and comes from Brazil, and like Essaouira once belonging to Portugal.
Sadly this tree is no more, I am told that digging to lay new drains disturbed the roots and it died. Everyone who loved this tree is so sad.
The lively streets of Essaouira had a touch of not changing for years, at least in my opinion. It was absolutely interesting!
Essaouira seemed to be quite conservative city. Women were more veiled than in other cities like Tangier, Rabat or Casablanca. Be careful whenever you want to take pictures of women's faces. It's a sin for traditional Muslim females or they just don't like it.
Orson Welles filmed parts of Othello in Essaouira. In return, the local authorities put up a monument to the director and at a special open-air screening in Essaouira, following its re-release in 1992, a square near the port was renamed in his honour.
In the late 60s Diabat was a hippy commune, reputedly visited by Timothy Leary, Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens and other celebrities of the time. Now, it is just a Berber village, somewhat cut off from the rest of the world, although its past fame still attracts visitors to stay at such places as Riad Kaleido. You can reach it by walking south along the beach from Essaouira, then fording a stream, by a broken bridge. It takes about half an hour.
During Gnaoua festival 2009 these art works appeared around the Medina, They are quite hidden so if you like a challenge, try to find them !
They are by Christian Guémy aka "C215" who apparently is a well known French street artist, I'd never heard of him but after googling I discovered a huge body of very interesting work...
The village of Had Draa has a huge weekly market on Sundays, and people from all over the area come for the day. It has almost everything—a meat market (including goats’ heads in bloody piles), fruits and vegetables, mounds of olives on tarps, clothing, plastic buckets, donkey saddle bags, building materials, and live animals. There were sheep, goats, donkeys and camels, including a 4-month old baby camel.
You could also visit restaurant stalls or buy services—barbers, people sharpening knives and scissors, etc. Men seeking employment sit in a particular area with the tools of their trade. Olive pickers were being hired the day we visited. In wheat season, the men will be waiting there with scythes.
Camels cost from $500-$3,000 (U.S.) and are priced by size—the baby was $400. I learned that, in general, the more fur on its back, the younger the camel. Also, if you push on a camel, it should move. If it doesn’t, don’t buy that one—it will be stubborn.
Donkeys are much cheaper, which is why there are so many more of them. A donkey costs $35-$200. Men were “test driving” donkeys they were considering buying, and they were running all over. There was also a big "donkey parking lot" where you can leave your donkey while you shop. It costs 1 or 2 dirham, and they will also store the saddle. If you want your female donkey to get pregnant, it will happen there. If you don’t, they will keep her in a separate area.
It was confusing, dusty, sometimes aromatic, but totally fascinating. If you are in the area on a Sunday, go to it! Note: Go fairly early--the camel market ends at 10 a.m.
Had Draa is 35 km north of Essaouira (on N1 road, I think)
Le Val d’Argan winery is about 15 miles from Essaouira (go north on N1, towards Marrakech) and they have a tasting room. It is in a beautiful setting, and the wine is good.
Hours: 10-6, daily
They also serve lunch, but we didn't eat there.
Every June Essaouira starts to really buzz - the year I was there for this annual music festival the place was full of happy holidayers on the beach enjoying the music from the performers from the stage set up beside the beach, along with the crowd at numerous outdoor restaurants and bars enjoying food and excellent moroccan red wine to great sounds.
We followed this with a relaxing hour or so in the beautiful courtyard of the Hotel Blue Heure along with Gnaoua entertainers before heading off to the entertainment in the main square. The next day was an excellent line up of groups such as Youssan Dor - with for example their international hit I'll Be Waiting.
An excellent festival and an excellent time to be in Essaouira.
Orson Welles Square was opened in 1992 by the current King of Morocco to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Welles's "Othello", which was filmed here. To be honest, it's not a very attractive patch of ground and the Orson Welles memorial plaque has already been vandalised.
Argane Afous is a women’s argan oil co-op. The women work in two shifts, and they get paid a percentage of sales instead of a salary. Argan oil can be used for cooking and in salads, and has a really nice flavor. It also is used in cosmetics—face creams, soaps, etc. In either form it is expensive. According to Aziz (our guide) the toasted nuts are supposed to control diabetes, but they are bitter. Producing argan oil is a time consuming process, even in a factory. The nuts have to be cracked open, baked, and ground before the oil can be recovered. The end process is slightly different for food vs. cosmetics.
We were told about the co-op and its products, and given a chance to sample argan oil and a spread they make with oil, honey and ground almonds. Of course we had a "shopping opportunity" in their sales room.
Earlier in the day we had the chance to visit a Berber home where the women in the family were processing argan oil by hand. The nuts are cracked with a rock, one by one, and ground by hand. Six day’s labor only produces one liter of argan oil when done this way. This work is often done by widows so they can support their families, and they can sell their oil to a factory. Nothing is wasted—the outer shell can be fed to the goats, and the inner shell is used as fuel for the fire.
Argan trees only grow in southwest Morocco. Goats like the leaves and fruit, and they climb up into the trees to get them. The goats can’t digest the pits inside the fruit, so they pass through and can be collected under the tree later. This is the argan nut that produces the oil. We drove through the argan forest on our way back to Essaouira, but didn’t spot any goats in the trees.