Essaouira (Arabic: الصويرة; Berber languages:
ⵎⵓⴳⴰⴹⵓⵔ, Mugadur), formerly known as Mogador, is a city
in the western Moroccan economic region of Marrakesh-Safi, on the
Atlantic coast. The modern name means "the little rampart", a
reference to the fortress walls that still enclose part of the city.
1 Name and etymology
2.2 Early modern period
2.2.1 Portuguese establishment (1506–10)
2.2.2 De Razilly expedition (1629)
2.3 Foundation of modern
2.4 Jewish presence
2.5 European trade and diplomacy
2.6 French interventions and Protectorate
2.7 Recent years
8 International relations
8.1 Twin towns—sister cities
9 Notable people
10 See also
12 Further reading
13 External links
Name and etymology
The name of the city is usually spelled
Essaouira in Latin script, and
Arabic script. Both spellings represent its name in
Moroccan Arabic, ṣ-Ṣwiṛa. This is the diminutive (with
definite article) of the noun ṣuṛ which means "wall (as round a
yard, city), rampart". 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.
Hence the spelling of the name in
Arabic script according to the
classical pronunciation is السويرة al-Suwayrah (with sīn not
In the Berber language, which is spoken by a sizeable proportion of
the city's inhabitants, it is called "Taṣṣort", meaning 'the small
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 Taṣṣuṛt, 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
Amaqdūl, which is mentioned by the 11th-century geographer
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
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 Imperial Roman Senatorial togas.
A Roman villa was excavated on Mogador island. 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
Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah Museum and
Phoenician plate with red slip, 7th century BCE, excavated in Mogador
island, Essaouira. Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah Museum.
Betica amphora found in Essaouira, 1-2nd century CE.
Aegean amphora found in Essaouira, 3-4th century CE.
Roman coins excavated in Essaouira, 3rd century.
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)
Main article: Morocco-
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
Castelo Real of Mogador (1506–10) and Aguz (1520–25). Two
became permanent urban settlements:
Santa Cruz do Cabo de Gué
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
Tangier and Mazagan.
The fortress of
Castelo Real of Mogador fell to the local resistance
Regraga fraternity four years after its establishment, in 1510.
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
France tried in vain to conquer the locality.
Essaouira remained a haven for the export of sugar, molasses and the
anchoring of pirates.
De Razilly expedition (1629)
Further information: France-
France was involved in an early attempt to colonize Mogador in 1629.
As Richelieu and
Père Joseph were attempting to establish a colonial
Isaac de Razilly
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
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
reimbarked the colonists and departed to rejoin the fleet in Salé.
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.
Foundation of modern
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
The present city of
Essaouira was built during the mid-eigtheeth
century by the Moroccan King. Mohammed III tried to reorient his
kingdom toward 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. 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.
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. Originally called
"Souira" ("the small fortress"), the name became "Es-Saouira" ("the
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. The harbour entrance, with the "Porte de la Marine", was
built by an English renegade by the names of
Ahmed el Inglizi
Ahmed el Inglizi ("Ahmed
the English") or Ahmed El Alj ("Ahmed the Renegade"). 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 redirected through Essaouira.
European communities in the northern harbour of Rabat-
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
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
Essaouira is a straight line, explaining the king's
choice of this port among the many that the Moroccan coast offers.
The ramparts from the Medina.
The Genoese-built citadel by the harbour.
tower and walls
Dutch cannon made by Adrianus Crans in
The Hague in 1744, installed in
Further information: Jews in Morocco
A Jewish house in Mogador, by
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) 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. Changes in trade, the
founding of Israel and resulting wars with Arab states, and the
Morocco all resulted in Sephardic Jews leaving the
country. As of 2017,
Essaouira has only three Jewish inhabitants.
Old Jewish quarter in Essaouira.
Jewish cemetery in Essaouira.
European trade and diplomacy
Essaouira in 1809.
Further information: Morocco–
Netherlands relations and
United Kingdom relations
In the 19th century,
Essaouira became the first seaport of Morocco,
with trade volumes about double those of Rabat. The city
functioned as the harbour for Marrakesh, as it was only a few days
from the inland city. Diplomatic and trade representations were
established by European powers in Essouira. In the 1820, European
diplomats were concentrated in either
Tangiers or Essaouira.
Remains of the 19th-century Dutch Consulate in Essaouira.
Remains of the 19th-century Portuguese Consulate in Essaouira.
Essaouira English Consulate.
Former French Consulate in Essaouira.
French interventions and Protectorate
The attack of Mogador by the French fleet in August 1844, Serkis
Bombardment of Mogador
Bombardment of Mogador and French protectorate of
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Following Morocco's alliance with Algeria's Abd-El-Kader against
Essaouira was bombarded and briefly occupied by the French
Navy under the
Prince de Joinville
Prince de Joinville on 16 August 1844, in the
Bombardment of Mogador, an important battle of the First
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,
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
Essaouira had a Franco-Moroccan school, still visible in
Derb Dharb street. Linguistically, many Moroccans of
French fluently today.
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's 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. It is in a neglected state being covered in bird
droppings, 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
Beginning in the late 1960s,
Essaouira became something of a hippie
hangout. Despite common misconception, Jimi Hendrix's song
"Castles Made of Sand" was written in 1967, two years before he
visited the castles of Essaouira.
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. The
Canary Current is responsible for the
generally southward movement of ocean circulation and has led to
enhancement of the local fishery. 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 viewed from space.
The desert road between
Marrakesh and Essaouira.
Argan tree near Essaouira.
Essaouira's climate is mild semi-arid (BSn) bordering a warm summer
Mediterranean one (Csb). 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's climate is akin
to coastal Los Angeles, specifically
Santa Monica in California.
Climate data for Essaouira,
Morocco (1961–1990, extremes
Record high °C (°F)
Average high °C (°F)
Daily mean °C (°F)
Average low °C (°F)
Record low °C (°F)
Average precipitation mm (inches)
Average precipitation days
Average relative humidity (%)
Mean monthly sunshine hours
Source #1: NOAA
Deutscher Wetterdienst (extremes and humidity)
Essaouira harbour docks
Faience in Essaouira.
Essaouira (formerly "Mogador") is a
Heritage listed city, an example of a late 18th-century fortified
town, as transferred to
North Africa by European colonists.
Xiphias gladius, Essaouira
Fishmarket in Essaouira
Funfair in Essaouira
Clock tower in Essaouira
Essaouira book market.
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
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.
Further information: Fishing industry in 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 Morcco for surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing.
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.
Culinary classes can also be offered.
Former Franco-Moroccan school in Derb Dharb street, Essaouira.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (May 2016)
There is a French international school in Essaouira, Groupe scolaire
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
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.
Main article: List of twin towns and sister cities in Morocco
Twin towns—sister cities
Essaouira is twinned with:
France (since 1999)
Albert Almoznino, hand shadow artist
Jacques Amir, politician
André Azoulay, adviser to the King
David Bensoussan, author of memoir, Le fils de Mogador,
Meir Cohen, politician
Victor Elmaleh, businessman and national champion handball and squash
Edmond Amran El Maleh, writer
Mogador class destroyer
^ "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.
^ 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.
^ See T. Fox and M. Abu-Talib, A Dictionary of Moroccan Arabic
(Washington, D.C., 1966), p. 148.
^ The form sūr, with plain /s/, is the only form cited in all
dictionaries of Classical Arabic.
^ 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".
^ Marokko Ingeborg Lehmann, Rita Henss p.243
City walls: the urban enceinte in global perspective, James D.
^ Notes to The History and Description of Africa and of the Notable
Things Therein by Leo Africanus p.338
^ E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913–1936, Volume 9 by
Martijn Theodoor Houtsma, p.549
France in the age of Louis XIII and Richelieu by Victor Lucien
^ Goldberg, Harvey E. (1996). Sephardi and Middle Eastern Jewries:
History and Culture in the Modern Era. Indiana University Press.
^ a b c The Anglo American, Volume 3 by Alexander D. Paterson p.521
^ 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
^ The Sultan's Jew:
Morocco and the Sephardi World by Daniel J.
Schroeter, pp. 17 ff
^ "Morocco's little idyll of Jewish-
Muslim coexistence". The
Economist. 2 November 2017.
^ The Anglo American, Volume 3 by Alexander D. Paterson p.520 ff
^ The sultan's Jew:
Morocco and the Sephardi world by Daniel J.
^ The sultan's Jew:
Morocco and the Sephardi world by Daniel J.
^ The sultan's Jew:
Morocco and the Sephardi world by Daniel J.
^ "Castles in the Sand". Archived from the original on 18 February
2012. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
^ Brigitte Tast, Hans-Juergen Tast: And the wind cries Jimi. Hendrix
in Marokko, Kulleraugen – Visuelle Kommunikation Nr. 40, Schellerten
2012, ISBN 978-3-88842-040-5
^ C.Michael Hogan, Mogador: promontory fort, The Megalithic Portal,
ed. Andy Burnham, 2 November 2007 
^ William Adams Hance, The Geography of Modern Africa, Columbia
University Press, 1975 ISBN 0-231-03869-0
Essaouira Climate Normals 1961–1990". National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
^ "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.
^ Planet, Lonely. "Sidi Kaouki,
Morocco – Lonely Planet". Lonely
Planet. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
^ "Essaouira: Home of the
Argan Tree, Hardworking Berber Women, and
Amusing Goats". Essence of Argan. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
^ "Groupe scolaire Eric-Tabarly – OSUI." AEFE. Retrieved on 12 May
2016. "25 rue Princesse Lalla Hasna, Quartier des Dunes, 44000
Gnaoua Festival Press Kit Archived 28 August 2008 at the Wayback
^ "La Rochelle: Twin towns". www.ville-larochelle.fr. Retrieved 7
^ ""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.
^ "Le judaïsme marocain est "bien vivant"". Atlas. 8 November 2011.
Retrieved 6 May 2015.
David Bensoussan & Asher Knafo, "Mariage juif à Mogador"
Éditions Du Lys, www.editionsdulys.com, Montréal, 2004
David Bensoussan, Le fils de Mogador, www.editionsdulys.com,Éditions
Du Lys, Montréal, 2002 (ISBN 978-2-922505-21-4)
David Bensoussan, Il était une fois le Maroc : témoignages du
passé judéo-marocain, éd. du Lys, www.editionsdulys.com, Montréal,
2010 (ISBN 2-922505-14-6); Deuxième édition :
www.iuniverse.com, ISBN 978-1-4759-2608-8, 620p. ebook
ISBN 978-1-4759-2609-5, Prix Haïm Zafrani de l'Institut
universitaire Élie Wiesel, Paris 2012.
David Bensoussan, La rosace du roi Salomon, Les Éditions Du
Lys,www.editionsdulys.com, 2011, ISBN 978-2-922505-23-8.
Hamza Ben Driss Ottmani, Une cité sous les alizés, MOGADOR, Des
origines à 1939, Éditions La Porte, Rabat, 1997 ISBN 9981889180
Jean-Marie Thiébaud, Consuls et vice-consuls de
France à Mogador
(Maroc), L'Harmattan, 2010 Harmattan.fr
Jean-Marie Thiébaud, Les Inscriptions du cimetière [chrétien] de
Mogador (Essaouira, Maroc) – étude épigraphique et généalogique,
L'Harmattan, 2010 Harmattan.fr
Doris Byer: Essaouira, endlich, Wien 2004, ISBN 978-3-8542-0651-4
Brigitte Tast, Hans-Juergen Tast: And the wind cries Jimi. Hendrix in
Marokko, Schellerten 2012, ISBN 978-3-88842-040-5
Brigitte Tast, Hans-Jürgen Tast:
Orson Welles –
Mogador. Aufenthalte in Essaouira, Kulleraugen Vis.Komm. Nr. 42,
Schellerten 2013, ISBN 978-3-88842-042-9
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Essaouira.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Essaouira.
UNESCO World Heritage site:
Essaouira (formerly Mogador)
Website of the Urban Agency of Essaouira
Ait Aissi Ihahane
Ida Ou Aazza
Ida Ou Guelloul
Ida Ou Kazzou
Sidi Ahmed Essayeh
Sidi Aissa Regragui
Sidi Ali El Korati
Sidi El Jazouli
Sidi H'Mad Ou M'Barek
Sidi Hmad Ou Hamed
Sidi M'Hamed Ou Marzouq
Zaouiat Ben Hmida
World Heritage Sites in Morocco
Medina of Fez
Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City: a Shared Heritage
Tétouan (formerly known as Titawin)
Archaeological Site of Volubilis
City of Meknes
Essaouira (formerly Mogador)
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Mazagan (El Jadida)
Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou
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Coordinates: 31°30′47″N 9°46′11″W / 31.51306°N
9.76972°W / 31.51306; -9.76972