After a few days in the hustle and bustle of Marrakesh, it seems like a different world to step foot in Essaouira three hours West.
Essaouira is an idyllic fishing port in Morocco, which attracts foreign and national tourists alike despite its harsh Atlantic winds. This is not a place made for sunbathing as the more southern Agadir. It is instead a wind- and kitesurfers’ paradise.
We’d planned a day trip to Essaouira, but before our second day in Marrakesh was over, we had agreed that we would need an overnight stay. I suppose it was a mix of wanting to not feel rushed in Essaouira and to get away from the constant chaos of the Marrakesh medina.
As we are leaving behind Essaouira, I am so very happy that we decided to stay the night. The city is small enough to see on a day trip, but we were able to dig deeper and get a sense of the atmosphere and enjoy a relaxed evening out.
Essaouira is truly a world apart from Marrakesh. Here there are no scooters and small motor bikes to watch out for. The salesmen are much friendlier and you end up able to enjoy the streets and the many shops for both tourists and locals.
The city of Essaouira was in the West known as Mogador up until the 1960’s, and the small island outside of Essaouira, which has protected the bay and harbour from strong winds from the Atlantic, is still known as Île de Mogador.
There have been found traces of inhabitation in the bay from as far back as 3000 BC.
The medina of Essaouira, which dates back to the 18th century, was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001. It is a stunning medina, which it is easy to fall in love with. The claustrophobic feelings of getting lost in the medina in Marrakesh are not present here. Partly it is much smaller and more intimate, and partly the sea breeze keeps reminding you of the wast Atlantic Ocean which stretches out from the city walls.
At the south-western end of the medina lies the harbour, which is a lively place with much local activity. Here fishermen clean their nets, while tourists promenade and cats and seagulls flock to eat the rotten leftovers from the fishing vessels.
It used to be the most important of Morocco’s port cities, and a central part of the commerce between Europe, Africa and the New World. Today, the port still retains its natural importance, but it has received competition from other ports such as Agadir to the south.
The harbour is separated from the town by the fortress Sqala du Port. Looking back towards Essaouira from here is an absolutely breathtaking experience. Partly because of the beauty of the fishing port, and partly because of the sharp wind, which takes your breath away.
Roses and argan trees
The smell of fresh roses is one which is so vivid in my childhood memories and which has come to be one of my favourites. When I was last in Morocco in 2007, I bought a rose cream. It has been my plan to stuck up on new rose scented products, while in Morocco.
Southern Morocco is known for its roses, but even more so for its argan oil. Unlike roses, the argan tree only exists in Morocco and the argan oil, which is a plant oil produced from the kernels of the argan tree, is therefore an original Moroccan product.
The region around Essaouira is known for its production of argan oil, which is often done in women’s collectives and through traditional handheld methods. Argan oil is produced for both culinary and cosmetic purposes, and especially the latter has become a large favourite of tourists to bring home.
While in Essaouira, I ended up buying a small cosmetic pharmacy of rose scented argan oil though I also fell for the orange flower variation. I already know that when I run out in twenty years time, we need to make another stop to Essaouira to stuck up again.
It would be a perfect excuse for returning to this tranquil and beautiful fishing port of Morocco.