Essaouira (/ˌɛsəˈwɪərə/ ESS-ə-WEER; Arabic: الصويرة, romanizedaṣ-Ṣawīra), known until the 1960s as Mogador (Arabic: موغادور, romanizedMūghādūr, or موݣادور, Mūgādūr), is a port city in the western Moroccan region of Marrakesh-Safi, on the Atlantic coast. It has 77,966 inhabitants as of 2014.

Clockwise from top:
Essaouira skyline, city wall bastion, Magana clocktower, Essaouira citadel by Scala harbour, Mosque Ben Youssef
Coat of arms of Essaouira
Essaouira is located in Morocco
Location in Morocco
Essaouira is located in Africa
Essaouira (Africa)
Coordinates: 31°30′47″N 9°46′11″W / 31.51306°N 9.76972°W / 31.51306; -9.76972
Founded byMohammed III
 • MayorTarik Ottmani
Highest elevation
50 m (160 ft)
Lowest elevation
0 m (0 ft)
 • Total77,966
Time zoneUTC+1 (CET)
Official nameMedina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador)
CriteriaCultural: ii, iv
Inscription2001 (25th Session)
Area30 ha
Buffer zone15 ha

The foundation of the city of Essaouira was the work of the Moroccan 'Alawid sultan Mohammed bin Abdallah, who made an original experiment by entrusting it to several architects in 1760, in particular Théodore Cornut and Ahmed al-Inglizi, who designed the city using French captives from the failed French expedition to Larache in 1765, and with the mission of building a city adapted to the needs of foreign merchants. Once built, it continued to grow and experienced a golden age and exceptional development, becoming the country's most important commercial port but also its diplomatic capital between the end of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century.

Medina of Essaouira was designated by the UNESCO a World Heritage Site in 2001.

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, aṣ-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 (سور, with plain /s/ and /r/), diminutive suwayrah (سويرة); this is the only form cited in all dictionaries of Classical Arabic. Hence, the spelling of the name in Arabic script according to the classical pronunciation is السويرة al-Suwayrah (with sīn not ṣād).

Until the 1960s, Essaouira was generally known by its Portuguese name, Mogador. This name is probably a corruption of Amegdul (Arabic: أمقدول, romanizedAmeqdūl), which was mentioned by the 11th-century geographer al-Bakrī.[4] The name Mogador originated from the Phoenician word Migdol, meaning 'small fortress'.[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 one of the best anchorages of the Moroccan coast. The Carthaginian navigator Hanno visited in the 5th century BCE 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.

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

Portuguese establishment (1506–1510)


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.

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 Morocco and asphyxiate the harbour of Safi.[citation needed]

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 of 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 (1760–1770)

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).

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 Moroccan and 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.[citation needed]

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).

Mohammed III encouraged Moroccan Jews to settle in the town and handle the trade with Europe. Jews once comprised the majority of the population,[14] 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.[15] 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.[16] On 15 January 2020, King Mohammed VI visited Bayt Dakira, a Jewish heritage house, in Essaouira.[17]

European trade and diplomacy

Essaouira in 1809.

In the 19th century, Essaouira became the first seaport of Morocco, with trade volumes about double those of Rabat.[18] The city functioned as the harbour for Marrakesh, as it was only a few days from the inland city.[19] Diplomatic and trade representations were established by European powers in Essouira.[20] In the 1820s, European diplomats were concentrated in either Tangier or Essaouira.[21]

French interventions and Protectorate

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


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.

The town was used in the filming of "The Game of Thrones" as the home of the Army of the Unsullied. The scene of the rows of crucified slaves were props to cover the Portuguese cannons.

Beginning in the late 1960s, Essaouira became something of a hippie hangout.[22][23]


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.[24] The Canary Current is responsible for the generally southward movement of ocean circulation and has led to enhancement of the local fishery.[25] 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/BSh) 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). The highest temperature ever recorded in Essaouira was 48.3 °C (118.9 °F) on 8 July 2022.[26] The lowest temperature ever recorded was 1.1 °C (34.0 °F) on 20 January 1988. The lowest maximum temperature ever recorded was 11.8 °C (53.2 °F) on 15 February 2018. The highest minimum temperature ever recorded was 26.7 °C (80.1 °F) on 13 October 2017. The maximum amount of precipitation recorded in one day was 99.1 millimetres (3.90 in) on 8 March 2013.[27]

Climate data for Essaouira (1991-2020, extremes 1966–present, humidity and sun 1961-1990)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 28.9
Mean daily maximum °C (°F) 18.5
Daily mean °C (°F) 14.9
Mean daily minimum °C (°F) 11.2
Record low °C (°F) 1.1
Average precipitation mm (inches) 66.4
Average precipitation days 5.9 5.2 5.5 3.4 2.0 0.3 0.5 0.3 0.9 3.4 6.0 6.1 39.5
Average relative humidity (%) 80 81 81 82 82 84 86 86 84 83 80 81 83
Mean monthly sunshine hours 208.5 204.9 247.2 264.0 289.5 290.9 301.6 291.4 251.8 234.1 197.0 197.6 2,978.5
Source 1: NOAA,[28] (February record high)[29]
Source 2: Deutscher Wetterdienst (extremes and humidity)[30][31][27][32][26]

Essaouira today

Essaouira harbour docks
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, with local planning regulations restricting buildings to 4 storeys in height.[citation needed] 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.[33] 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.[34]


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

There is a French international school in Essaouira, Groupe scolaire Eric-Tabarly.[35]


Gnawa musicians at the 2010 Gnaoua World Music Festival in Essaouira

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 focused on gnaoua music, it includes rock, jazz and reggae. Known as the "Moroccan Woodstock" it lasts four days and attracts around 450,000 spectators annually.[36]



Jewish quarter "Mellah" of Essaouira's old medina

  • Bayt Dakira - "House of Memory" (Jewish museum)
  • Chaim Pinto Synagogue
  • Jewish cemeteries of Essaouira (old and new)
    • Gravesite of Rabbi Haim Pinto
  • Medina
  • Fortifications:
    • Sqala du Port
    • Sqala de la Kasbah
  • The most picturesque gates:
    • Port de la Marine
    • Bab Manjana with clocktower
  • Tagart beach (with sand dunes)
  • Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption church (catholic, operational)
  • Sidi Mogdoul mosque
  • Sidi Mogdoul lighthouse
  • Ben Youssef mosque[37]

International relations


Essaouira is twinned with:[38][39]

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. ^ 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".
  5. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador)". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 9 March 2024.
  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. ^ a b c The Anglo American, Volume 3 by Alexander D. Paterson p.521
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ "Moroccan schools to teach Jewish history and culture". 13 December 2020.
  15. ^ The Sultan's Jew: Morocco and the Sephardi World by Daniel J. Schroeter, pp. 17 ff
  16. ^ "Morocco's little idyll of Jewish-Muslim coexistence". The Economist. 2 November 2017.
  17. ^ "Moroccan king visits restored Bayt Dakira in Essaouira". Middle East Online. 16 January 2020.
  18. ^ The Anglo American, Volume 3 by Alexander D. Paterson p.520 ff
  19. ^ The sultan's Jew: Morocco and the Sephardi world by Daniel J. Schroete,r p.125
  20. ^ The sultan's Jew: Morocco and the Sephardi world by Daniel J. Schroeter p.17
  21. ^ The sultan's Jew: Morocco and the Sephardi world by Daniel J. Schroeter, p.121
  22. ^ Day, Meagan (20 October 2016). "The 1970s Hippie Trail: drugs, danger, and a magical pudding shop in Asia". Timeline. Archived from the original on 22 May 2023. Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  23. ^ "Jimi Hendrix's Morocco". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  24. ^ C.Michael Hogan, Mogador: promontory fort, The Megalithic Portal, ed. Andy Burnham, 2 November 2007 [1]
  25. ^ William Adams Hance, The Geography of Modern Africa, Columbia University Press, 1975 ISBN 0-231-03869-0
  26. ^ a b "60222: Essaouira - Mogador Intl. Airport (Morocco)". OGIMET. 8 July 2022. Retrieved 10 July 2022.
  27. ^ a b "Météo climat stats | Station Essaouira / Données Météorologiques Gratuites".
  28. ^ "Essaouira Climate Normals 1961–1990". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  29. ^ "Asia: Highest Temperature". Ogimet. Archived from the original on June 16, 2010. Retrieved June 19, 2010.
  30. ^ "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.
  31. ^ "Climate Essaouira - Climate data (602200)".
  32. ^ "Météo climat stats | Moyennes 1991/2020 / Données Météorologiques Gratuites".
  33. ^ Planet, Lonely. "Sidi Kaouki, Morocco – Lonely Planet". Lonely Planet. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  34. ^ "Essaouira". Nomad's Travel.
  35. ^ "Groupe scolaire Eric-Tabarly – OSUI." AEFE. Retrieved on 12 May 2016. "25 rue Princesse Lalla Hasna, Quartier des Dunes, 44000 Essaouira"
  36. ^ Gnaoua Festival Press Kit Archived 28 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  37. ^ "Essaouira guide book". Morocco.FalkTime. 5 October 2018. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  38. ^ "La diversité de la culture et des traditions de Chine sous les feux des projecteurs à Essaouira". (in French). Maroc Diplomatique. 18 December 2017. Retrieved 19 October 2020.
  39. ^ "Jumelage et partenariat". (in French). La Rochelle. Retrieved 19 October 2020.
  40. ^ ""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.
  41. ^ "Le judaïsme marocain est "bien vivant"". Atlas. 8 November 2011. Retrieved 6 May 2015.

Further reading


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