Mogador / ⵎⵓⴳⴰⴷⵓⵔ
—  City and Wilaya  —

Coat of arms
Essaouira   ⵜⴰⵙⵓⵔⵜ  is located in Morocco
Location in Morocco
Coordinates: 31°30′47″N 9°46′11″W / 31.51306°N 9.76972°W / 31.51306; -9.76972
Country  Morocco
Region Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz
 – Mayor Asma Chaâbi
Population (2004)
 – Total 70,000
Time zone WET (UTC+0)
 – Summer (DST) WEST (UTC+1)

Mogador redirects here, for the hamlet in Surrey see Mogador, Surrey.

Essaouira (Arabic: الصويرة‎, as-Ṣawīra; Berber Tassort) is a city in the western Moroccan economic region of Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz, on the Atlantic coast. Since the 16th century, the city has also been known by its Portuguese name of Mogador or Mogadore. The Berber name means the wall, a reference to the fortress walls that originally enclosed the city.



Archaeological research shows that Essaouira has been occupied since prehistoric times. The bay at Essaouira is partially sheltered by the island of Mogador, making it a peaceful harbor protected against strong marine winds.


Phoenician plate with red slip, 7th century BCE, excavated in Mogador island, Essaouira. Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah Museum.

Essaouira has long been considered as one of the best anchorages of the Moroccan coast. The Carthaginian navigator Hanno visited and established a trading post there in the 5th century BC.

Around the end of the 1st century BCE or early 1st century CE, Juba II[clarification needed] established a Tyrian purple factory, processing the murex and purpura shells found in the intertidal rocks at Essaouira and the Iles Purpuraires. This dye colored the purple stripe in Imperial Roman Senatorial togas.

A Roman villa was also excavated on Mogador island.[1] A Roman vase was found as well as coinage from the 3rd century CE. Most of the artifacts are now visible in the Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah Museum and the Rabat Archaeological Museum.

Early modern period

Resting place of Sidi Mogdoul in Essaouira.

During the Middle Ages, a Muslim saint named Sidi Mogdoul was buried in Essaouira, probably giving its origin to the name "Mogador".

Portuguese establishment (1506-10)

In 1506, the king of Portugal, D. Manuel I ordered a fortress to be built there, named "Castelo Real de Mogador". Altogether, the Portuguese are documented to have seized 6 Moroccan towns, and built 6 stand-alone fortresses on the Moroccan Atlantic coast, between the river Loukos in the north and the river of Sous in the south. Four of them only had a short duration: Graciosa (1489), Sao Joao da Mamora (1515), Castelo Real of Mogador (1506–10) and Aguz (1520–25). Two of them were to become permanent urban settlements: Santa Cruz do Cabo de Gué (modern Agadir, founded in 1505-06), and Mazagan founded in 1514-17. Following the 1541 Fall of Agadir, the Portuguese had to abandon most of their settlements between 1541 and 1550, although they were able to keep Ceuta, Tangier and Mazagan.[2]

The fortress of Castelo Real of Mogador fell to the local resistance of the Regraga fraternity four years after its establishment, in 1510.

The Portuguese-built Castelo Real of Mogador was defended under Abd el-Malek II by a garrison of 100 Moroccans. It was drawn by Adriaen Matham in 1641.

During the 16th century, various powers including Spain, England, the Netherlands and France tried in vain to conquer the locality. Essaouira remained a haven for the export of sugar, molasses and the anchoring of pirates.

In 1628, plans were already made by Abdel Malik II to use Christian slaves to build fortifications around the bay.[3]

De Razilly expedition (1629)

France was involved in an early attempt to colonize Mogador in 1629. As Richelieu and Père Joseph were attempting to establish a colonial policy, Admiral Isaac de Razilly suggested them to occupy Mogador in 1626, which he had already reconnoitered in 1619. The objective was to create a base against the Sultan of Marrakesh, and asphyxiate the harbour of Safi.

He departed for Salé on 20 July 1629 with a fleet composed of the ships Licorne, Saint-Louis, Griffon, Catherine, Hambourg, Sainte-Anne, Saint-Jean. He bombarded the city the Salé and destroyed 3 corsair ships, and then sent the Griffon under Captain Treillebois to Mogador. The men of Razilly saw the fortress of Castelo Real in Mogador, and landed 100 men with wood and supplies on Mogador island, with the agreement of Richelieu. After a few days however, the Griffon reimbarked the colonists, and departed to rejoin the fleet in Salé.[4]

After these expeditions, France signed a treaty with Abd el-Malek II in 1631, giving France preferential treatment, known as "Capitulations": preferential tariffs, the establishment of a Consulate and freedom of religion for French subjects.[5]

Foundation of modern Essaouira (1760-70)

Map of Essaouira by Théodore Cornut. When he left in 1767, areas in pink were already built (streets are still recognizable), whether areas in yellow (harbour front, and medina) were only projected.
Dutch cannon made by Adrianus Crans in La Hague in 1744, installed in Essaouira.

The present city of Essaouira was only built during the 18th century. Mohammed III, wishing to reorient his kingdom towards the Atlantic for increased exchanges with European powers, chose Mogador as his key location. One of his objectives was to establish a harbour at the closest possible point from Marrakesh.[6] The other was to cut off trade from Agadir in the south, which had been favouring political rival of Mohammed III, and the inhabitants of Agadir were forced to relocate to Essaouira.[6]

For 12 years, Mohammed III directed a French engineer, Théodore Cornut, and several other European architects and technicians, to build the fortress and city along modern lines.[6][7] Originally called "Souira", "The small fortress", the name then became "Es-Saouira", "The beautifully designed".

Harbour fortifications were built by an English renegade named Ahmed El Alj in 1770, as described in the sculptured inscription in Arabic (right).
Essaouira in 1809.

Thédore Cornut designed and built the city itself, particularly the Kasbah area, corresponding to the Royal quarters and the buildings for Christian merchants and diplomats. Other parts were built by other foreigners however. The harbour entrance, with the "Porte de la Marine", was built by an English renegade by the name of Ahmed el Inglizi ("Ahmed the English"), or Ahmed El Alj ("Ahmed the Renegade").[7] The two "scalas" with their fortifications (the Harbour scala and the Northern scala) were built by Genoese engineers.

Mohammed III took numerous steps to encourage the development of Essaouira: the harbour of Agadir to the south was closed off in 1767, so that southern trade should be redirect through Essaouira. European communities in the northern harbour of Rabat-Salé were also ordered to move to Essaouira through an ordonance of January 21, 1765.

From the time of its rebuilding by Muhammad III until the end of the nineteenth century, Essaouira served as Morocco's principal port, offering the goods of the caravan trade to the world. The route brought goods from sub-Saharan Africa to Timbuktu, then through the desert and over the Atlas mountains to Marrakech. The road from Marrakech to Essaouira is a straight line, explaining the King's choice of this port among the many that the Moroccan coast offers.

Jewish presence

A Jewish house in Mogador, by Darondeau (1807-1841).

Mohammed ben Abdallah encouraged Moroccan Jews to settle in the town and handle the trade with Europe. Jews once comprised 40% of the population, and the Jewish quarter, or mellah contain many old synagogues. The town also has a large Jewish cemetery. The city flourished until the caravan trade died, outmoded by direct European trade with sub-Saharan Africa.[8]

European trade and diplomacy

In the 19th century, Essaouira became the first seaport of Morocco, with trade volumes about double those of Rabat.[9] The city functioned as the harbour for Marrakesh,as it was only a few days from the inland city.[10] Numerous diplomatic and trade representations were established by European powers in Essouira.[11] In the 1820, European diplomats were concentrated in either Tangiers or Essaouira.[12]

French interventions and Protectorate

The attack of Mogador by the French fleet in August 1844, Serkis Diranian.
Former Franco-Moroccan school in Derb Dharb street, Essaouira.

Following Morocco's alliance with Algeria's Abd-El-Kader against France, Essaouira was bombarded and briefly occupied by the French Navy under the Prince de Joinville on August 16, 1844, in the Bombardment of Mogador, an important battle of the First Franco-Moroccan War.

From 1912 to 1956, Essaouira was part of the French protectorate of Morocco. Mogador was used as a base for a military expedition against Dar Anflous, when 8,000 French troops were located outside of the city under the orders of Generals Franchet d'Esperey and Brulard. The Kasbah of Dar Anflous was taken on 25 January 1913. In 1930, brothers, Michel Vieuchange and Jean Vieuchange used Essaouira as a base before Michel set off into the Western Sahara to try to find Smara.

France had an important administrative, military and economic presence. Essaouira had a Franco-Moroccan school, still visible in Derb Dharb street. Linguistically, many Moroccans of Essaouira still speak French fluently today.


Iles Purpuraires, with Mogador island in the background seen from the ramparts of Essaouira.
Essaouira beach.

Essaouira is protected by a natural bay partially shielded by wave action by the Iles Purpuraires. A broad sandy beach extends from the harbour south of Essaourira, at which point the Oued Ksob discharges to the ocean; south of the discharge lies the archaeological ruin, the Bordj El Berod.[13] The Canary Current is responsible for the generally southward movement of ocean circulation and has led to enhancement of the local fishery.[14] The village of Diabat lies about five kilometres south of Essaouira, immediately south of the Oued Ksob.

Essaouira connects to Safi to the north and to Agadir to the south via the N1 road and to Marrakech to the east via the R 207 road. There is a small airport some 7–8 km away from the town, which schedules several flights a week to Paris-Orly and daily to Casablanca.


Essaouira's climate is very mild compared to its location with an average temperature change of only 5C between summer and winter.

Climate data for Essaouira, Morocco (1961-1990)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 18.1
Daily mean °C (°F) 14.6
Average low °C (°F) 11.2
Precipitation mm (inches) 51.5
Avg. precipitation days 8.3 7.8 7.9 6.9 3.5 1.0 0.1 0.3 1.2 5.2 8.6 8.4 59.2
Sunshine hours 207.7 204.4 248.0 264.0 288.3 291.0 300.7 291.4 252.0 235.6 198.0 198.4 2,979.5
Source: Hong Kong Observatory,[15]

Essaouira today

Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador) *
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Typical street in the Medina Dec 2008.jpg
Country Morocco
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iv
Reference 753
Region ** Arab States
Inscription history
Inscription 2001 (25th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List
** Region as classified by UNESCO

The Medina of Essaouira (formerly "Mogador") is a UNESCO World Heritage Listed city, as an example of a late 18th century fortified town, as transferred to North Africa.

Where to Stay

There are only a handful of modern purpose-built hotels within the walls of the old city. Newer international hotels have been built along the sea front - the local planning regulations restrict buildings to 4 storeys high to help preserve the stunning views. There are also many privately owned Riads and Dars that may be rented on a daily or weekly basis.


The medina is home to many small arts and crafts businesses, notably cabinet making and 'thuya' wood-carving (using roots of the Tetraclinis tree), both of which have been practised in Essaouira for centuries.

The fishing harbour, suffering from the competition of Agadir and Safi remains rather small, although the catches (sardines, conger eels[disambiguation needed ]) are surprisingly abundant due to the coastal upwelling generated by the powerful trade winds and the Canaries Current. Essaouira remains one of the major fishing harbours of Morocco.

Essaouira is also renowned for its kitesurfing and windsurfing, with the powerful trade wind blowing almost constantly onto the protected, almost waveless, bay. Several world-class clubs rent top-notch material on a weekly basis. Parasols tend to be used on the beach as a protection against the wind and the blowing sand. Camel excursions are available on the beach and into the desert band in the interior.

Additionally, there are quad biking excursions, cookery courses, photographic excursions and Berber massages available for the active visitor.


Bust of Orson Welles

Essaouira presents itself as a city full of culture: several small art galleries are found all over the town. Since 1998, the Gnaoua Festival of World Music is held in Essaouira, normally in the last week of June. It brings together artists from all over the world. Although focussed on gnaoua music, it includes rock, jazz and reggae. Dubbed as the "Moroccan Woodstock" it lasts four days and attracts annually around 450,000 spectators.[16]

In the early 1950s film director and actor Orson Welles stayed at the Hotel des Iles just south of the town walls during the filming of his 1952 classic version of "Othello" which contains several memorable scenes shot in the labyrinthine streets and alleyways of the medina. Legend has it that during Welles's sojourn in the town he met Winston Churchill, another guest at the Hotel des Iles. Orson Welles's bust is located in a small square just outside the medina walls close to the sea. It is in a neglected state being covered in bird poop, graffiti and with a broken nose. In addition, the dedication plaque below it has been stolen (as of Dec 2008). Several other film directors have utilised Essaouira's photogenic and atmospheric qualities.

Despite common misconception,[17] Jimi Hendrix's song "Castles Made of Sand" was written two years before he visited the castles of Essaouira.[18]

International relations

Twin towns — sister cities

Essaouira is twinned with:

See also


  1. ^ Marokko Ingeborg Lehmann, Rita Henss p.243
  2. ^ City walls: the urban enceinte in global perspective James D. Tracy p.352
  3. ^ Notes to The History and Description of Africa and of the Notable Things Therein by Leo Africanus p.338
  4. ^ E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936, Volume 9 by Martijn Theodoor Houtsma p.549
  5. ^ France in the age of Louis XIII and Richelieu by Victor Lucien Tapié p.259
  6. ^ a b c The Anglo American, Volume 3 by Alexander D. Paterson p.521
  7. ^ a b Of Essaouira: "He employed European architects to design it, one a Frenchman said to be his prisoner, and the other an Englishman, converted to Islam and known as Ahmed el-Inglizi— otherwise Ahmed the Englishman." in Morocco Dorothy Hales Gary, Baron Patrick Balfour Kinross, Viking Press, 1971 p.35
  8. ^ The sultan's Jew: Morocco and the Sephardi world by Daniel J. Schroeter p.17ff
  9. ^ The Anglo American, Volume 3 by Alexander D. Paterson p.520ff
  10. ^ The sultan's Jew: Morocco and the Sephardi world by Daniel J. Schroeter p.125
  11. ^ The sultan's Jew: Morocco and the Sephardi world by Daniel J. Schroeter p.17
  12. ^ The sultan's Jew: Morocco and the Sephardi world by Daniel J. Schroeter p.121
  13. ^ C.Michael Hogan, Mogador: promontory fort, The Megalithic Portal, ed. Andy Burnham, Nov. 2, 2007 [1]
  14. ^ William Adams Hance, The Geography of Modern Africa, Columbia University Press, 1975 ISBN 0231038690
  15. ^ "Climatological Information for Essaouira, Morocco". Hong Kong Observatory. June 2011. 
  16. ^ Gnaoua Festival Press Kit
  17. ^
  18. ^ Castles In The Sand
  19. ^ "La Rochelle: Twin towns". Retrieved 2009-11-07. 

External links

Essaouira travel guide from Wikitravel

Coordinates: 31°30′47″N 9°46′11″W / 31.51306°N 9.76972°W / 31.51306; -9.76972

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Essaouira — (anc. Mogador) v. et port du Maroc sur la côte atlantique; 50 000 hab.; ch. l. de la prov. du m. nom. Conserveries, artisanat. Station balnéaire …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Essaouira —   [ɛsa wira, französisch], arabisch As Suweira [ weɪ ], früher Mogador, Hafenstadt und Seebad an der Atlantikküste Marokkos, 55 900 Einwohner; Verwaltungssitz der gleichnamigen Provinz; Kunsthandwerk (Intarsienarbeiten); Fischfang (Sardinen).  … …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Essaouira — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Mogador (homonymie). Essaouira la ville d E …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Essaouira — Marokko …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Essaouira — Original name in latin Essaouira Name in other language As Suwayrah, A uwayrah, ESU, Ehs Suvejra, Ehssuehjra, Es Suira, Essaouira, Magador, Mogadar, Mogador, alswyrt, swyrh, Эс Сувейра, Эссуэйра State code MA Continent/City Africa/Casablanca… …   Cities with a population over 1000 database

  • Essaouira — /es euh wear euh/, n. a seaport in W Morocco. 30,061. Formerly, Mogador. * * * ▪ Morocco formerly  Mogador   Atlantic port city, western Morocco, midway between Safi and Agadir. The site was occupied by Phoenicians and then Carthaginians and was… …   Universalium

  • Essaouira — Admin ASC 2 Code Orig. name Essaouira Country and Admin Code MA.47.211 MA …   World countries Adminstrative division ASC I-II

  • Essaouira — or formerly Mogador geographical name city & port W Morocco on the Atlantic W of Marrakech population 30,061 …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Essaouira — Es•sa•oui•ra [[t]ˌɛs əˈwɪər ə[/t]] n. geg a seaport in W Morocco. 30,061 Formerly, Mogador …   From formal English to slang

  • Essaouira — /es euh wear euh/, n. a seaport in W Morocco. 30,061. Formerly, Mogador …   Useful english dictionary

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