We recently visited this beautiful town on Moroccos Atlantic coast and would like to offer people the chance to visit with us, so we are currently putting together a programme with an opportunity to visit the village of Sidi Kaouki and also a visit to Ouarzazate and the Ksar of ait Ben haddou. This trip will be suitable for those who would rather spend time soaking up the atmosphere of these two special places than go into the desert itself. They are both inspiring spots for artists and photographers,with artists and galleries to visit around the Medina. we are also planning to give people the chance to have some art tutorials and/or workshops with Katherine if anyone is interested.
It is the coastal wind – the beautifully named alizee, or taros in Berber – that has allowed Essaouira (essa-weera, or es-sweera in Arabic) to retain its traditional culture and character. For most of the year, the wind blows strongly here so relaxing on the beach is not always easy, meaning that the town is bypassed by most of the hordes of beach tourists who descend on other Atlantic Coast destinations in summer. Known as the ‘Wind City of Africa’, it does attract plenty of windsurfers and kite surfers between April and November, but the majority of visitors come here to wander through the spice-scented lanes and palm-lined avenues of the fortified medina, browse the many art galleries and boutiques, relax in the plaza listening to street musicians and watch fishing nets being mended, traditional boats being constructed and wander through the fish market in the hugely atmospheric port.
Most of the old city and fortifications in Essaouira today date from the 18th century, but the town has a much older history that started with the Phoenicians. This area has probably been settled since prehistoric times. For centuries, foreigners had a firm grip over the town, and although Moroccans eventually reclaimed it, the foreign influence lingers on in the way the town looks and feels today.
In 1764 Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah installed himself in Essaouira (then known as Mogador) so that his corsairs could launch attacks on the people of Agadir, who were rebelling against him. He hired a French architect, Théodore Cornut, to create a great city in the middle of sand and wind. The combination of Moroccan and European styles pleased the sultan, who renamed the town Essaouira, meaning ‘well designed’. The port soon became a vital link for trade between Timbuktu and Europe. It was a place where the trade in gold, salt, ivory and ostrich feathers was carefully monitored, taxed and controlled by a garrison of 2000 imperial soldiers.
By 1912 the French had established their protectorate, changed the town’s name back to Mogador and diverted trade to Casablanca, Tangier and Agadir. It was only with independence in 1956 that the sleepy backwater again became Essaouira. Since Orson Welles filmed Othello here and hippies chose Essaouira as a hang-out, the town has seen a steady flow of visitors – everyone from artists, surfers and writers to European tourists escaping the crowds of Marrakesh has made this a thriving and cosmopolitan town, street art and amazing freshly grilled fish in the port cafes are just two of the special attractions of this beautiful seaside town, which is also a living museum of 18th century architecture.
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