Magical Mogador

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The city of Astapor. Conversation between Danaerys and the master of Unsullied.

- “The Unsullied have stood here day and night with no food and water. They will stand until they drop. Such is their obedience”.

-“They may suit my needs. Tell me about their training”

-"Tell her what she would know and be quick about it."

Scenes from Game of Thrones were literally unfolding in front of my eye when I stood first time on the Rampart of Essaouira. Red-bricked ramparts, white and blue houses, the cold breeze from the ocean, the aroma of spices, the hubbub of bazaars, and street music - this charming town on the Atlantic coast is truly sui generis. Only two hours drive west from Marrakech, this is a not-to-be-missed destination in your Moroccan adventure.

A brief history

Essaouira has a distinctive colonial character, very unique compared to the rest of Morocco. Portuguese, Dutch, British, French - all the colonialist nations tried to rule this region leaving an indelible mark on this coastal town. Portuguese, the first of the foreign settlers invaded the Moroccan coast in the 15th century. The king of Portugal, Manuel I named the city - “Mogador” and built a fortress called "Castelo Real de Mogador” to defend the city. Unfortunately, it was later destroyed in the eighteenth century during a local revolt. England, France, and the Netherlands followed the footsteps of Portuguese in the later century. The architecture of Essaouira reminds us of this history in the form of Portuguese and French-style buildings, Dutch canons lining the rampart, and narrow streets with markets reminding of the oriental. You add the palm-lined avenues with art galleries and boutiques - an eclectic mix that is hard to find anywhere else in the world.

Today's Mogador

Today Essaouira is a fortified city. These fortifications were built to protect Essaouira from the attacks by rebellious tribes. In 1764, Sidi Mohammed Abdallah (Sultan of Morocco 1757-1790) initiated this fortification as a part of the revival of this city. He commanded french architect, Theodore Cornut, to take charge of constructing these ramparts. An unrelated fun fact: Sidi Mohammed was one of the first leaders to recognize American independence.

What to see

Essaouira boasts a dynamic amalgamation of Arab, African, and European influences. A center of contemporary Moroccan art - we found beautiful art galleries inside vibrant Riads (traditional Moroccan house). Some of these galleries also host music shows that range from jazz, blues, and local music. The mild climate of Essaouira attracts people year-round. During our visit in December, we very much enjoyed the endless refreshing sea breeze. The fortified town is not accessible by car. If you are staying there, you will have to carry your own luggage. There are porters available near the taxi stand who can help you out if needed. Naturally, walking is the only way to explore the town - visit the souks, experience historical monuments, and discover local arts, crafts, and foods.

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Two Ramparts -west and north, are the most unique character of Essaouira. They give the city a grand setting and a medieval ambiance. Both ends can be recognized by the Scala - a defensive bastion. The most prominent of them is Scala the port at the west end. It is located near the entrance to the fishing port, and can only be climbed by paying an entrance fee. There is no entrance fee for the north bastion. With a line of brass cannons lined along the wall still pointing out to sea, the northern Scala, Bab Ljhad, offers a fantastic view of both the medina and the ocean.

The port of Essaouira is a must-see during morning hours. The burbling waters against the azure boats as the skies trade their inkiness for a warmer red hue is a sight to remember. Though scenic, Essaouira is a busy fishing port. The smell of fish perforating the morning air, the hullabaloo of the fish traders, ruckus created by seagulls and cats trying to grab the leftover pieces of fish, all add to the charm of this fascinating place.

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Souks define the character of every Moroccan town. The labyrinth-like alleyways are lined with whitewashed buildings and shops selling everything from food to colorful clothes to local craftwork, lamps, woodworks, Berber carpets and jewelry. Unlike Medinas of Fez and Chefchaouen, Essaouira is well-designed, the streets are wider and clean, and chances of getting lost are pretty slim.

If you have a couple of days to explore, here are some more activities that I would recommend -

1. Head down to the beach. A walk in the morning sun while enjoying the cool ocean breeze is the perfect start of your day.

2. Enjoy live music at the Moulay Hasan Square. It is a large pedestrian square lined by roadside restaurants. The food however is below average.

3. Catch the sunset from the north rampart. If you want to marvel the sight while having dinner, get a reservation in restaurants just behind the north bastion—balconies offer the prime view.

4. Essaouira is famous for silver jewelry. Be careful from the fakes. Our guide recommended us Centre de la Bijouterie Artisanale Maalem Ali 1908 for shopping. 

5. Try local patisseries. My favorite is Pâtisserie Driss. Best coffee and Pastry in the town!

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Do you know?

Essaouira is also known as the "windy city of Africa." It is a prime destination for kite-surfers and windsurfers. With strong winds year-round, one can enjoy these adventure sports any time of the year. Even if you are a neophyte and trying them for the first time, there are plenty of surf schools and shops to help you out!

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