Essaouira, meaning 'well planned' is quite easy to cover on foot- most of the towns' attractions are within easy reach, and within the town walls and ramparts.
However, it is still quite easy to get disorientated in the winding passages of the Mellah and Medina.
The bus station and Grands Taxi rank are outside the walls in the North East.
Entering Bab Doukkala, The gateway Arch at the North of the city, leads onto Ave. Zerktouni, which runs through the middle of Essaouira , changing name to Ave de L'Istiqlal, then Ave. Oqba ben Nafil, before ending near to the customs house and Fish markets.
** at my most recent visit, we were advised against wandering around the area near Bab Doukkala at night - apparently there has been some drug related trouble**
The Mellah (Jewish Quarter) fits into the area to the right of Ave. Zerktouni, from the gateway, to its intersection with Rue Mohammed el - Qory, then merges into
The Medina, which is to the right of Ave de L'Istiqlal, as far as the ramparts and Skala de la ville. The Medina is where some budget hotels are to be found, as well as the spice souk and market , which is more or less in the very middle of Essaouira.
The Kasbah, again contains hotels, and businesses, this is roughly in the area surrounding Ave Oqba ben Nafil.
Just a bit further along, is Skala de Port, fish market and grills, customs house, Place Moulay Hassan, boat harbour etc.
Tourist info office - Syndicat d'Initiative, on Rue de Caire- in the Kasbah www.essaouira.com or tel 044 475080
0900 -1200 1500- 1830 M-F
Hospital is on Rue Laquass opposite Bab Marrakesh (East side gateway)
Banks and ATMs - Place Moulay Hassan, had a selection of banks, plus some near Bab Doukkala I think. Hotel receptions are another option for foreign exchange.
I figured here was a good place to start - and to get to early especially as they are one of the places that closes at midday for a couple of hours 'for lunch'! and i was in a hurry - another flying visit!? with places to be and places to see.
But a nice little museum in an interesting building - a 19th century house that was a former pasha's residence and the town hall during the Protectorate.
This museum has displays of musical instruments, and berber and jewish costumes, carpets of local tribes, jewellery, weapons and crafts. I particularly liked the painted ceilings that were on display but down at my level so i was able to get some close up views!
and some beautiful craft items in thuya wood also.
Only 10 dirham entrance fee the museum is easy enough to find if you head for the medina postoffice next door or the hotel majestic just opposite.
We stayed at Hotel Cap Sim which had a pretty good view from its roof - so thats one of the advantages of staying somewhere with a good roof view - if your hotel doesnt have a roof view then try to approach a hotel to let you up to its top - Hotel Majestic is regarded as having one of the highest panoramas in Essaouira.
This gives you not only a view over to the sandy coastline in the distince and the waves breaking over the rocks near the Skala du ville but also the housing and streets around and down below you. I reckon its a good way to get a looksee into the locals lives and culture - seeing their rooftops - their washing, their architecture, what they keep up on their roofs etc etc.
The fortifications of the old city are a mixture of Portuguese, French and Berber military architecture and their massiveness gives a mystique of power to the town.
Skala means sea bastion and Essaouira has two, built to protect the town ie the Skala de la Ville in the northwest and the Skala du Port in the south leading down to the harbour and docks.
The Skala du Port has battlements with cannons and two towers with picturesque views over the town centre, the fishing port and the Ile de Mogador.
From the 18th century 40 per cent of Atlantic sea traffic passed through Essaouira and being the destination of caravans from sub-Saharan Africa bringing goods for export to Europe it became known as the Port of Timbuktu! It also was once one of Morocco's largest sardine ports and still provides a living for 500-600 families. It still though has its traditional shipyard where you can see wooden boats being built, nets being fixed and fishing boats unloading their catch - from here you can see the fish being sizzled on outdoor grills or being auctioned between 3 and 5pm in the market hall just outside the port gates.
The 'old' walled medina of Essouira with its white houses and blue doors, narrow streets and ornately decorated arches is one of the cleanest and brightest medinas in Morocco. and surprisingly by Moroccan standards not old at all with the town being built only 500 years ago...
(though thats a lot older than our New Zealand!)
Theres an interesting mix of history in the architecture here - Portuguese, Berber and French... the Portuguese had established a military and commercial site here towards the end of the 15th century, losing it 1541.
With ramparts already in place providing fortifications from the sea Essouira was an ideal place for the Alouite ruler Mohammed ibn Abdallah who needed in the mid 18th century a southern base from which to counter any possible revolt from Agadir. The sultan commissioned a French architect to design a port and a town.
The outer walls facing the sea are typical of european fortifications whereas the inner walls which have square crenallations are Islamic in style.
Thuya is a hardwood, with a lovely perfume, that grows abundantly in the Agadir and Essaouira region, and has been a source of prosperity for these regions.
Almost every part of the tree except the branches can be used. Its used to make such things as coffee tables, caskets and boxes in all shapes and sizes, trays and jewellery. and decorated with polish, inlaid with decorative motifs in citron wood, mother-of-pearl or ebony and sometimes with threads of copper, silver or camel bone.
Essaouira has been renowned as the capital of marquetry and its regarded that some of the countrys best marquetry craftsmen can be seen working in the small workshops in the former munitions stores beneath the ramparts. There are plenty of shops here with items for sale.
Some nice examples can be also seen in the small museum Musee Sidi Mohammed ben Abdullah next to the post office and Hotel Majestic and also in the Cooperative Artisanal des Marqueteurs at Rue Khalid ibn oualid which is off the square where you find the renowned Pattisserie Driss.
MAY 2013: To update this tip not much has changed - Thuya wood is still great - the marquetry is a beautiful and I love it! I bought a jewellery box at Uniprix in Agadir last year as I had regretted through the years not having bought one in Essaouira especially when the same price buys in London an item that really does not have much class! - I got a good size for about £20 but I would prefer to buy in Essaouira - the furniture and other household items I think are very appealing! and whatever you choose will make a longlasting and valuable souvenir of your time in Morocco.
At the entrance to the harbour is the Skala du Port, a fortification built by the Portuguese to protect the port. We would have liked to have explored it properly but it was out of the question for me and my crutches, and in any case time was limited. But it made a great photo :-)
Another historic structure is the late 18th century gate that leads to the port, much of which is still original. Essaouira’s port is a real, lively working one, where local fishermen unload their catch each morning almost directly (it seems) on to the barbeques of the casual harbour-side eateries. I was still getting used to my crutches so I decided against walking to and around the port but dispatched Chris who was keen to explore. He returned with lots of good photos and descriptions of all the activity. Boats painted in cheerful shades of blue echo the blue paint so popular in the town. Fishermen mend their nets and pose willingly for photos. Gulls fly noisily overhead and dive down for titbits. And of course the fresh fish shine silver in the sunlight.
All the pictures of the port were taken by Chris, naturally
The Medina of Essaouira was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Its ramparts protect a maze of streets and jumbled buildings dating back to the 18th century. This fortified town was conceived by a Moroccan sultan, Mohammed III, who had captured a French architect. The new town he created on the site of what had been Medieval Mogador now took the name of "Es-Saouira" meaning "beautifully designed".
Thanks to these origins the Medina has the more ordered street pattern of a European town. The uniformity of the gleaming white walls and blue shutters creates a harmonious impression that wouldn’t be out of place in a Mediterranean village – Greek or Spanish perhaps. Unsurprisingly the town has attracted artists and there are several small galleries dotted around. We had a quick look in one, and would have liked to have been able to explore more thoroughly.
We would also have liked to have been able to climb to the top of the ramparts from which (apparently) great views are to be had, but instead contented ourselves with a brief walk around a couple of the streets beneath their shade. There are lots of photo opportunities here although taking pictures of the architecture isn’t always easy as the contrast between sunshine and shadow can be very marked.
I started my walk around Essaouira early in the morning and at first... I felt a bit strange as I didn't see any foreign visitors. When I thought that I was the only one, I got to large, rectangular, white square called Place Prince Moulay Hassan where surprisingly I met quite numerous foreign visitors sitting in a few restaurants/bars and eating breakfast.
The renovated recently square looked more European than the rest, more neglected, part of the city. It reminded me Andalusian white towns in southern Spain. The square is a place to eat, sleep (2 hotels there) and watch mainly visitors.
Between the ''Porte de la Marine'' and the Kasbah, a dozen of booth are installed. They have all sorts of fresh fish and can grill them for you from 11 till 6PM.
You can also get freshly pressed orange juice, prepared for you. Delicious and refreshing !
Moroccan towns and cities often have a Jewish Quarter, known as the Mellah, formed when these citizens were forced to leave Andalucian Spain (along with the Moors) around 1492.
Later, under the order of Sultan Sidi Mahamed Ben Abdallah, families of Jewish merchants were invited to assist in international commerce. Shopkeepers, fruit and veg sellers, craftsmen, peddlers and highly renowned Rabbis enabled development of this once thriving community.
Morocco offered protection during WW2, and also helped many Jewish families , fleeing Poland and Germany etc., to escape to the USA.
However many inhabitants of the mellahs emigrated to Israel in the 1950's and 60's, leaving their homes to fall into disrepair.
Wandering around these narrow winding streets and alleyways, you can spot old Star of David carvings in the stonework, or into the wooden doors. Some doors also have 'hand of Fatima' door knockers.
However this is now one of the poorest areas, with many houses having no running water or toilets.
The Mellah is an interesting place to wander, it is quite atmospheric during the daytime. On my recent visit We were warned not to wander around into the alleys of this area as there were reportings of drug related crimes.
I've also read that a hotel chain has its eye on this area for development - many of the buildings are sea facing!
This is the place to view the daily fish auctions, observe the locals selling and buying the days catch, and even buy your own freshly caught fish to cook in your appartment, or take to the nearby fish grills, where your fish will be prepared and cooked for you, served with salad and bread.
Boats arrive morning and around 16oohrs.
Ok, I didn't stop here, (so that's why I've not put it in Hotels section!)
This 18th Century Riads claim to fame is that Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Frank Zappa, Leonard Cohen etc. have stayed here. (presumably not all at the same time!)
The locals call this the Jimi Hendrix hotel!
Our guide pointed this place out to us, and we had a quick peep into the reception and courtyard. The central courtyard was quite impressive, with fountains and greenery.
According to Lonely Planet (6th edition Feb 2003) B&B singles/doubles 432dh/664 dh and there's a royal suite 2364 dh!
This visit, our guide had booked here for our evening meal!!!
We ate downstairs, apparently there is a roof terrace too.
Alcohol is served.
Please see my restaurant tips for more details
just immediately southwest of the medina or town centre heading for the port you will see the numerous stalls each with its number geared up to feed the hungry - with fresh fish and seafood tantalising and almost picturesquely arranged right in front of you - you can see and choose what you want.
There are easy to signs at the entrance of each walk way taking you along the stalls telling you that a fish and seafood meal can be cooked for 60 dirham per person.
I guess when we compare that to our western prices thats a really good deal for friesh fish and seafood - but like i said to the guy we used to regularly sit and have a huge platter for 2 at 33 dirham each - 66 dirham for two people with almost too much food!
but anyway at least the tourists are protected with clear signs of set prices and the fish is supposedly as fresh as it can be!
and right there in the hive of activity of the Essaouira fishmarkets and port!
Skala means sea bastion and two were built in Essaouira to protect the town - the Skala du Port in the south and the Skala de la Ville in the northwest.
The fortifications of the old city are a mixture of Portuguese, French and Berber military architecture . The Skala de la Ville is the impressive sea bastion built along the cliffs consisting of a crenellated platform, with Spanish cannons, up to the North Bastion built on the site of a citadel constructed by the Portugeuse in about 1505.
It is here that is popular with locals and tourists to stroll and watch the sun set.
A passageway leads from the bastion down into the former munition stores where now are dozens of souvenir shops and thuya woodcarving and marquetry workshops.
We were here again May 2013 to have a new look around, get sunset photos and visit a restaurant we were invited to have dinner at by a friend who manages the place and to meet the owner.
It hasnt changed much since I wrote this tip in 2007 still with great views, impress protective seawalls and great place to see the sunset - looked like the same artists were here that I bought art from when here in 2007! Certainly an area that is a must see and makes Essaouira an interestingly historical town to visit.