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Taṣṣort / Amegdul, الصويرة
Essaouira 116.JPG
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Clockwise from top:
Essaouira skyline, city wall bastion, Magana clocktower, Essaouira citadel by Scala harbour, Mosque Ben Youssef
Blason Essaouira.png
Coat of arms
Morocco location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location in Morocco
Coordinates: 31°30′47″N9°46′11″W / 31.51306°N 9.76972°W / 31.51306; -9.76972
CountryFlag of Morocco.svg  Morocco
Region Marrakesh-Safi
Province Essaouira
  Mayor Asma Chaâbi
Highest elevation
50 m (160 ft)
Lowest elevation
0 m (0 ft)
 (2014) [1]
Time zone UTC+1 (CET)
Official nameMedina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador)
Criteria Cultural: ii, iv
Reference 753
Inscription2001 (25th session)
Area30 ha
Buffer zone15 ha

Essaouira (Arabic : الصويرة; Berber: Taṣṣort or Amegdul; Portuguese: Mogador) is a city in the western Moroccan region of Meṛṛakec-Asfi, on the Atlantic coast.


Name and etymology

The name of the city is usually spelled Essaouira in Latin script, and الصويرة in Arabic script. Both spellings represent its name in Moroccan Arabic, ṣ-Ṣwiṛa. This is the diminutive [2] (with definite article) of the noun ṣuṛ which means "wall (as round a yard, city), rampart". [3] The pronunciation with pharyngealized /ṣ/ and /ṛ/ is a typically Moroccan development. In Classical Arabic, the noun is sūr (with plain /s/ and /r/), diminutive suwayrah. [4] Hence, the spelling of the name in Arabic script according to the classical pronunciation is السويرة al-Suwayrah (with sīn not ṣād).

In the Berber language, which is spoken by a sizeable proportion of the city's inhabitants, it is called "Taṣṣort", meaning 'the small fortress'.

In Moroccan Arabic, a single male inhabitant is called ṣwiṛi, plural ṣwiṛiyin, a single female inhabitant is ṣwiṛiya, plural ṣwiṛiyat. In the Berber language, a single male inhabitant is U-Taṣṣort, plural: Ayt Taṣṣoṛt, a single female inhabitant is Ult Taṣṣort, plural Ist Taṣṣort.

Until the 1960s, Essaouira was generally known by its Portuguese name, Mogador. This name is probably a corruption of the older Berber name Amegdul أمقدول, which is mentioned by the 11th-century geographer al-Bakrī. [5]


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.


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

Around the end of the 1st century BCE or early 1st century CE, the Berber king Juba II 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 the togas worn by the Senators of Imperial Rome.

A Roman villa was excavated on Mogador island. [6] 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. Sidi Mogdul resting place.jpg
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 six Moroccan towns and built six 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), São João da Mamora (1515), Castelo Real of Mogador (1506–10) and Aguz (1520–25). Two became 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. [7]

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. Castelo Real Adriaen Matham 1641.jpg
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, powers including Spain, England, the Netherlands and France tried in vain to conquer the locality. Essaouira remained a haven for the export of sugar and molasses and as an anchorage for pirates. [8]

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 they occupy Mogador in 1626, which he had 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, destroyed three 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 reembarked the colonists and departed to rejoin the fleet in Salé. [9]

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. [10]

Foundation of modern Essaouira (1760–70)

Map of Essaouira by Theodore Cornut. When he left in 1767, areas in pink were already built (streets are still recognizable); areas in yellow (harbour front and medina) were only projected. Theodore Cornut Essaouira 1767.jpg
Map of Essaouira by Théodore Cornut. When he left in 1767, areas in pink were already built (streets are still recognizable); areas in yellow (harbour front and medina) were only projected.
Harbour fortifications were built by an English renegade named Ahmed El Alj in 1770, as described in the sculptured inscription in Arabic (right). Essaouira harbour fortifications 1770.jpg
Harbour fortifications were built by an English renegade named Ahmed El Alj in 1770, as described in the sculptured inscription in Arabic (right).

The present city of Essaouira was built during the mid-eighteenth century by the Moroccan King. [11] Mohammed III tried to reorient his kingdom toward the Atlantic for increased exchanges with European powers, choosing Mogador as his key location. One of his objectives was to establish a harbour at the closest possible point to Marrakesh. [12] The other was to cut off trade from Agadir in the south, which had been favouring a political rival of Mohammed III, and the inhabitants of Agadir were forced to relocate to Essaouira. [12]

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. [12] [13] Originally called "Souira" ("the small fortress"), the name became "Es-Saouira" ("the beautifully designed").

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 architects, including Moroccan architects especially from Fez, Marrakesh, and Rabat. 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"). [13] Mohammed III took numerous steps to encourage the development of Essaouira including closing off the harbour of Agadir to the south in 1767 so that southern trade could be redirected through Essaouira. European communities in the northern harbour of Rabat-Salé were ordered to move to Essaouira through an ordinance of 21 January 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 Marrakesh. The road from Marrakesh to Essaouira is a straight line, explaining the king's choice of this port among the many others along the Moroccan coast.

Jewish presence

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

Mohammed III 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) contains many old synagogues. The town also has a large Jewish cemetery. The city flourished until the caravan trade died, superseded by direct European shipping trade with sub-Saharan Africa. [14] Changes in trade, the founding of Israel, the resulting wars with Arab states, and the independence of Morocco all resulted in Sephardic Jews leaving the country. As of 2017, Essaouira had only three Jewish inhabitants. [15] On 15 January 2020, King Mohammed VI visited "Bayt Dakira", a Jewish heritage house, in Essaouira. [16]

European trade and diplomacy

Essaouira in 1809. Essaouira in 1809.jpg
Essaouira in 1809.

In the 19th century, Essaouira became the first seaport of Morocco, with trade volumes about double those of Rabat. [17] The city functioned as the harbour for Marrakesh, as it was only a few days from the inland city. [18] Diplomatic and trade representations were established by European powers in Essouira. [19] In the 1820s, European diplomats were concentrated in either Tangier or Essaouira. [20]

French interventions and Protectorate

The attack of Mogador by the French fleet in August 1844, Serkis Diranian. The attack of Mogador by the French fleet Serkis Diranian.jpg
The attack of Mogador by the French fleet in August 1844, Serkis Diranian.

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 16 August 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 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 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 speak French fluently today.

Recent years

Bas relief of Orson Welles Orson Welles Dec 2009.jpg
Bas relief of Orson Welles

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' sojourn in the town he met Winston Churchill, another guest at the Hotel des Iles. A bas-relief of Orson Welles is located in a small square just outside the medina walls close to the sea. Several other film directors have utilized Essaouira as a location due to the photogenic and atmospheric qualities.

Beginning in the late 1960s, Essaouira became something of a hippie hangout.


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

Essaouira is protected by a natural bay partially shielded from 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. [21] The Canary Current is responsible for the generally southward movement of ocean circulation and has led to enhancement of the local fishery. [22] The village of Diabat lies about five kilometres (3.1 miles) 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 to 8 km (4 to 5 mi) away from the town, which schedules several flights a week to Paris-Orly, London-Luton and Brussels-South (Charleroi) and daily to Casablanca.


Essaouira's climate is semi-arid (BSk) bordering a warm summer Mediterranean one (Csb) with mild temperatures year round. The gap between highs and lows is small and summers are warm while winters are mild. Annual rainfall is usually 300 to 500 millimetres (12 to 20 in). Essaouira has seen considerable heating in the summer in recent years. The average summer high temperature has surpassed 30°C every year since 2013. A new record high temperature of 47°C (117°F) was set on 11 August 2013. [23]

Climate data for Essaouira, Morocco (1961–1990, extremes 1941–present)
Record high °C (°F)30.5
Average high °C (°F)18.1
Daily mean °C (°F)14.6
Average low °C (°F)11.2
Record low °C (°F)3.0
Average precipitation mm (inches)51.5
Average precipitation days8.
Average relative humidity (%)80818182828486868483808183
Mean monthly sunshine hours 208.5204.9247.2264.0289.5290.9301.6291.4251.8234.1197.0197.62,978.5
Source 1: NOAA [24]
Source 2: Deutscher Wetterdienst (extremes and humidity) [25] [26]

Essaouira today

Essaouira harbour docks Essaouira harbour docks.jpg
Essaouira harbour docks
Faience in Essaouira. Faience in Essasouira.jpg
Faience in Essaouira.

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


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, also known as 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) 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. The township of Sidi Kaouki is located 25 km south of Essaouira and is becoming one of the best locations in Morocco for surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing. [27] There are several businesses in Sidi Kaouki which offer gear rental.

Essaouira is also a center of argan oil production. It has become a tourist attraction due to the tree-climbing goats who are unique to the region, as argan trees are the only type the goats climb. [28]


Former Franco-Moroccan school in Derb Dharb street, Essaouira. Franco-Moroccan school in Derb Dharb street Essaouira.jpg
Former Franco-Moroccan school in Derb Dharb street, Essaouira.

There is a French international school in Essaouira, Groupe scolaire Eric-Tabarly. [29]


Gnaoua (Gnawa) musicians performing during the 2010 Gnaoua World Music Festival in the city of Essaouira, Morocco Gnaoua (Gnawa) musicians performing during the 2010 Gnaoua festival in the city of Essaouira, Morocco.jpg
Gnaoua (Gnawa) musicians performing during the 2010 Gnaoua World Music Festival in the city of Essaouira, Morocco

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. [30]


International relations

Twin towns—sister cities

Essaouira is twinned with:

Notable people

See also


  1. "POPULATION LÉGALE DES RÉGIONS, PROVINCES, PRÉFECTURES, MUNICIPALITÉS, ARRONDISSEMENTS ET COMMUNES DU ROYAUME D'APRÈS LES RÉSULTATS DU RGPH 2014" (in Arabic and French). High Commission for Planning, Morocco. 8 April 2015. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  2. On the formation of diminutive nouns in Moroccan Arabic, see R.S. Harrell, A short reference grammar of Moroccan Arabic (Washington, D.C., 1962), p. 81.
  3. See T. Fox and M. Abu-Talib, A Dictionary of Moroccan Arabic (Washington, D.C., 1966), p. 148.
  4. The form sūr, with plain /s/, is the only form cited in all dictionaries of Classical Arabic.
  5. Mac Guckin de Slane (ed. and transl.), Description de l'Afrique septentrionale par el-Bekri (Alger 1913), Arabic text p. 86 مرسى امقدول marsá Ameqdūl "the port of Ameqdūl", translation p. 175 Amegdoul (Amegdul), with footnote: "Le tombeau ou chapelle de Sîdi Megdoul est situé tout auprès de Mogador; ce dernier est une altération de Megdoul".
  6. Marokko Ingeborg Lehmann, Rita Henss p.243
  7. City walls: the urban enceinte in global perspective, James D. Tracy, p.352
  8. Notes to The History and Description of Africa and of the Notable Things Therein by Leo Africanus p.338
  9. E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913–1936, Volume 9 by Martijn Theodoor Houtsma, p.549
  10. France in the age of Louis XIII and Richelieu by Victor Lucien Tapié p.259
  11. Goldberg, Harvey E. (1996). Sephardi and Middle Eastern Jewries: History and Culture in the Modern Era . Indiana University Press. p.  103. ISBN   0253210410. Essaouira.
  12. 1 2 3 The Anglo American, Volume 3 by Alexander D. Paterson p.521
  13. 1 2 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
  14. The Sultan's Jew: Morocco and the Sephardi World by Daniel J. Schroeter, pp. 17 ff
  15. "Morocco's little idyll of Jewish-Muslim coexistence". The Economist . 2 November 2017.
  16. "Moroccan king visits restored Bayt Dakira in Essaouira". Middle East Online. 16 January 2020.
  17. The Anglo American, Volume 3 by Alexander D. Paterson p.520 ff
  18. The sultan's Jew: Morocco and the Sephardi world by Daniel J. Schroete,r p.125
  19. The sultan's Jew: Morocco and the Sephardi world by Daniel J. Schroeter p.17
  20. The sultan's Jew: Morocco and the Sephardi world by Daniel J. Schroeter, p.121
  21. C.Michael Hogan, Mogador: promontory fort, The Megalithic Portal, ed. Andy Burnham, 2 November 2007
  22. William Adams Hance, The Geography of Modern Africa, Columbia University Press, 1975 ISBN   0-231-03869-0
  24. "Essaouira Climate Normals 1961–1990". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration . Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  25. "Klimatafel von Essaouira (Mogador) / Marokko" (PDF). Baseline climate means (1961–1990) from stations all over the world (in German). Deutscher Wetterdienst. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  27. Planet, Lonely. "Sidi Kaouki, Morocco – Lonely Planet". Lonely Planet. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  28. "Essaouira: Home of the Argan Tree, Hardworking Berber Women, and Amusing Goats". Essence of Argan. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  29. "Groupe scolaire Eric-Tabarly – OSUI." AEFE. Retrieved on 12 May 2016. "25 rue Princesse Lalla Hasna, Quartier des Dunes, 44000 Essaouira"
  30. Gnaoua Festival Press Kit Archived 28 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  31. "Essaouira guide book". Morocco.FalkTime. 5 October 2018. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  32. "La Rochelle: Twin towns". Retrieved 7 November 2009.
  33. ""La Rosace du Roi Salomon", nouveau roman de David Bensoussan". Le Mag. 14 November 2011. Archived from the original on 3 July 2015. Retrieved 6 May 2015.
  34. "Le judaïsme marocain est "bien vivant"". Atlas. 8 November 2011. Retrieved 6 May 2015.

Further reading

Coordinates: 31°30′47″N9°46′11″W / 31.51306°N 9.76972°W / 31.51306; -9.76972

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Megorashim is a term used to refer to Jews from the Iberian Peninsula who arrived in North Africa as a result of the anti-Jewish persecutions of 1391 and the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. These migrants were distinct from pre-existing North African Jews called Toshavim. The Toshavim had been present in North Africa since ancient times, spoke the local languages, and had traditions that were influenced by Maghrebi Islam. The Megorashim influenced North African Judaism, incorporating traditions from Spain. They eventually merged with the Toshavim, so that it is now difficult to distinguish between the two groups. The Jews of North Africa are often referred to as Sephardi, a term that emphasizes their Hispanic or Mizrahi roots and Eastern traditions.

Seven Saints of Marrakesh Patron Saints of Marrakesh

The Seven Saints of Marrakesh or Patron Saints of Marrakesh are seven historical Muslim figures buried in Marrakesh, Morocco. Each of them was a famous Muslim judge, scholar or Sufi saint (wali) venerated for their piety or other mystical attributes. Their tombs form the basis of a centuries-old annual pilgrimage, a ziyara, during which visitors pray at each of their tombs over the course of seven days.