(arabic: الصويرة as-Sawirah, „the perfect one“)
Arabs sometimes tend to exaggerate when naming towns. But it is hard to find a more apt name for this town.
The town has been founded by the Phoenicians and later on belonged to the Roman Empire. During the 7th and 10th century a mix of local Berber tribes and the Arab Umayadden dynasty took over. During the 15th and 16th century the Portuguese took over and began building fortifications for the harbour. Legend says they called it Mogador to honour the local saint Sidi Mogdul who still is patron of the city. More legends say, that this saint is of Scottish origin and was a Mac Donald who fled his harsh homelands and lived here. Locals worshipped him (we just can speculate that this might have something to do with some beverage that he might have brought from his home) and after his dead he was honoured as Marabout.
During the late 18th century Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah developed the town to the largest seaport of Morocco at this time. The French prisoner Théodore Cornut was commissioned to build the new fortifications and several quarters of the town, which led to an atypically medina (old town) with mostly rectangular arranged streets.
During the late 60ies of the past century, the hippies discovered the area and had a good time. Amongst them was a certain Jimmy Hendrix who wrote a few songs here and owned a house in nearby Diabat. About 15 years later French windsurfers discovered the ridiculous wind statistics of the area and started to join wealthier people from Marrakesh who come over here on holidays to get relieve from the inland summer heat. During the early nineties guys from Tarifa started to buy property and take advantage from the constant trade winds and the local herb.
As you might learn from this history, the town always was a melting pot of cultures and has somehow developed a collective gene of tolerance and open mindedness that is still alive.
Besides the still growing tourist industry – the medina now is UNESCO world heritage – the economics of the town are still based on fishing, the wharf, trading and wood and silver crafts.
The town borders a large beach that is protected from all but the biggest swells by the Island Mogador. Trade winds blow hard and side-offshore during the summer months. The resulting excellent conditions for windsurfing – and nowadays kiteboarding – were and are the reason for these folks to come. From early May to August you get usually about 25 days a month with winds good for sails from 4.0 to 5.5. As there is not much swell action in this time of the year conditions are perfect for freestyle, bump and jump and the first merits in high wind sailing. Just make sure not to swallow any water and keep open wounds and cuts protected, as the water is quite a bit polluted by the harbour and the non-existent canalisation.
There are a few hotels and apartments to rent in town and even a windsurfing resort. This makes Essaouira the perfect base camp for windsurfers as the class wave-sailing spots Sidi Kaouki and Moulay Bouzerktum are just half an hour drive away. If you come in winter or spring in search of a few waves make sure to bring your surfboard.
Check the gallery for some more impressions.
Also worth a visit are the related stories “Moulay” from Chris Hafer and the report about the legendary Essaouira Wave Classic.