Two Days in Essaouira
Essaouira, Africa, first impressions
We land in Marrakech when it’s a little past dawn. It doesn’t look like Winter. It’s hot, humid and everything is brownish orange. The roads, the taxis, the buildings.
Everything is wrapped inside a brick-colored atmosphere, boasting touches of green here and there. A quick negotiation, half in French, half in English gets us on a taxi to reach Essaouira.
Three hours inside an uncomfortable taxi. A tiring, long trip, across a rather monotonous landscape.
I doze off, opening my eyes from time to time during the ride. All I discover is a yellowish desert view. Old donkey carts, forgotten shops, lose cattle. And mosques. Mosques in the middle of nowhere.
Roundabouts with signs indicate Essaouira, the former Mogador, is not that far after all.
Left at the door of the Medina, a luggage cart shows us the way to Paradise. An intricate game of alleys we walk down slowly to reach our destination, the superb Riad Baladin.
Our riad, near the inner walls of the old Medina is a little oasis of charm in the middle of chaos. Streets dotted with shops selling wood sculptures, colorful carpets and dozens of memories. Children ride bikes in a wild manner, announcing with their bell it’s better if you move away.
The mild wind, the call of the muezzin, and men rushing to prayer.
Essaouira is a young yet old city, an exotic town where time does not count and where color takes over. Everything is joyfully colorful in its own way: shops are, people are, food as well.
Streets are crowded, smell like fresh cooked fish. Getting lost in those paths of wonder can only bring alluring surprises. Women cooking tasty tajines open their own kitchens to the public. A few plastic seats and wooden little tables and you have a restaurant. It’s easy and simple to get a delicious home-made dish with a teapot of mint tea for two. Breathing the real local breeze and for an insignificant price. You just settle… You settle for no napkins, doubtful cleaning conditions, but the best tajine. Cooked in a Moroccan kitchen and with that homely taste no restaurant has among its condiments.
The UNESCO listed the Medina of Essaouira as a World Heritage Site in Morocco in 2001. It is a well preserved example of eighteenth century architecture.
Cobbled streets and concealed alleys that look perfect for a mystery novel. White buildings and their traditional blue doors offer an insight into a glorious past.
Walk down the little streets under the sunlight, enjoy a cup of mint tea, relax on a terrace. Breathe in the past, walk through its doors, in and out. You will be entering and leaving a different world each time.
A legend tells the Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah founded the port of Essaouira to punish the rebellions in Agadir. It was 1770.
Until the first part of the XIX century, Essaouira was the most important trading port between Europe, Africa and America. It is the oldest port of Morocco, but lost its importance after the growth of Casablanca and Agadir.
Also known as the port of Timbuktu, an early visit in the morning gives you a full sense of how busy it is. It links Morocco and the Saharan hinterland with the rest of the world. Fishing boats arrive in the morning and the area gets alive with shouting and a strong smell of sea. The port is an essential part of the city. Later in the day, the catch of the day is found in many restaurants and seaside fish stands. Just choose your fresh fish, get it weighed and enjoy it grilled right on the spot.
Essaouira has a character of its own; a crossroads for the north tribe of the Arab Chiadma and the southern Berbers, the city shows an obscure character. Besides, a mass of Europeans add to the sense of cultural mix.
Yet, even inside a mystic atmosphere, it is a city of light. The light that reaches the Medina from the port and lightens the faces of its inhabitants. Beauty has a definition of its own. Artists, painters, dancers and musicians populate the streets at all hours. They mix with the tourists, with a reggae spirit. A hippie allure covers it all, life earns a new sense. And you get the impression of living in a parallel Universe.
Nobody will harass you, you will not be asked to buy, nor begged to bargain. It’s your choice. Essaouira has a lazy touch that would make you feel well. At home.
If you plan to visit Essaouira and are looking for a beautiful and comfortable place to stay, read this post about our experience. You will want to book your tickets as soon as possible!