The name is pronounced in an interesting way, the “Es” an in-breath, rather than a pronounced sound, hardly heard, before the out-breath “Sweera”.
Tourism has definitely found it but the town seems not to have deteriorated into a caricature of itself as it’s gotten busier, like some other places in Morocco. Maybe it’s because it takes a bit more effort to get there than to Fes or Marrakech, but even the shops that cater to visitors have a gentler “sell” than in other places with names you might more readily recognize. It, fortunately, hasn’t changed a great deal in the 16 years since I first spent time in this lovely walled fishing town, built with its toes on the edge of the Atlantic.
Inside the medina wall.
Approaching the house, left, across from the carpenter's workshop.
The front door, blue, of course.
After staying in a variety of hotels, friends in Marrakech, about a 2 hour drive away, found me a house to rent in the town’s compact medina, the oldest part. As you might imagine, having my own peaceful place made a world of difference. While visitors inhabit the walking streets closest to the harbor and the cafes of Place Moulay Hassan, once away from there and into the back streets, the atmosphere changes to the shouts of children and rarely other than residents finding their way past one’s door.
The house was quite a big one and while I’d stayed in similar places, riads, before, never on my own. It was comfortable and traditional with courtyard, lounge and kitchen on the ground floor, like most medina houses, and upstairs devoted to bedrooms and a stairway to the roof terrace, the center of the building lit during the day by a large skylight.
Inside the door.
Nadine in the lounge.
Stairs to the roof.
Bedrooms and clothesline above.
A traditional kitchen.
The carpenter's bicycle across the lane.
My habit was to have breakfast in the peace and quiet of home, then head mid-morning or lunchtime to my favorite cafe on the Place Hassan, the one on the end that seemed favored by locals inside, a few tourists outside with a view of their fellows in the string of al fresco dining spots. Have you ever noticed how small children and dogs seem to find each other, looking past all else until they connect with beings most like themselves? Such is the world of tourists, it seems, “if they like it, so will I”.
My favorite cafe on the Place Moulay Hassan.
Le propriÉtaire, peut-Être?
Place Moulay Hassan
Beyond Place Hassan toward the Atlantic is the harbor, first some fresh fried fish stands with counters or tables and benches. Then the fish market, where the goods go from boats onto the pavement and are immediately bought, I suspect, mostly by restaurant owners, and then the harbor basin full of blue boats. A left turn from the Place Hassan takes one outside the wall, through the Place Orson Wells, toward the windy beach, la plage, mostly frequented by wind surfers.
Out in the water, guarding the crescent of the beach, is Mogador Island with it’s abandoned buildings of the fortress and prison variety. When I lived briefly long ago in Paris, the owners of the theatre where I worked also owned another, The Mogador. When I first came to Essaouira and was told the name of the island, I was pleased to be reminded of the earlier Mogador and another time in my life when Paris was as enormously exotic to me as Morocco was later. Life is funny that way, when you’re paying attention.