Question: Where in the world is this seaside refuge nicknamed the “windy city of Africa”?
Answer: Essaouira, Morocco
With a strong coastal wind blowing from the Atlantic and history dating back millennia, the artistic town of Essaouira, Morocco is an idyllic artistic retreat. This seaside oasis was once one of the biggest port cities in Morocco on the Atlantic coast but today has a laid-back atmosphere. It beckons visitors to wander the UNESCO-designated medina, stroll along the beach, and watch local fishermen sell their catch of the day from bright blue wooden boats at the port.
With the nicknames of the “windy city of Africa” and the “pearl of the kingdom”, the city gets its magic from the artistic influence throughout. It has whitewashed neighborhoods with blue-painted doors, ornate architecture, craft workshops, and colorful markets. The narrow, maze-like streets are lined with colorful pottery, handmade textiles, and leather goods. Artisans in these spice-scented lanes carve ornate trinkets and boxes of lemonwood with mother of pearl inlay. Restaurants and cafes serving up nous-nous (a Moroccan style of coffee) are plentiful.
Archeological evidence shows that the area has been inhabited since prehistoric times. In the first century B.C.E., Berbers here produced purple dye which was exported to the ancient Roman Empire for the trimming of their senatorial robes. Essaouira has also long been considered one of the best anchorages of the Moroccan coast. In 1505, its walled fortress was built by Portuguese conquerors and used as a stronghold for exporting sugar and molasses as well as a mooring point for pirates.
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By 1760, the sultan of Morocco put great effort into building up the city as the principal shipping port of Morocco. It grew so powerful as a port city that at one time, European nations had their diplomats and trade delegations stationed here and at Tangier. Along with the rest of Morocco, Essaouira fell under French rule from 1912 to 1956, and during this time, it was known as Mogador. Some still consider this the rightful name of the city.
Essaouira has appeared as the set for HBO’s Game of Thrones and the movies Gladiator, Alexander, and Lawrence of Arabia. Outside of the city are miles of sand dunes and forests of argon, a species unique to Morocco. Today, the city is a relaxed getaway for artists, windsurfers, musicians, backpackers, travelers, and more.
4 More Captivating Cities in Morocco:
- Erfoud: Known as the Gates of the Sahara, this oasis town has awe-inspiring views of the massive desert and ancient fortified villages. The scenic dunes have been the setting for Hollywood movies and the town is home to the only palace in the Sahara Desert. At the traditional souk, you can browse Berber handicrafts and fresh local foods.
- Chefchaouen: Nestled into the Rif Mountains, the blue-washed village of Chefchaouen sits in stark contrast with its desert surroundings. This picturesque destination has one of the country’s most charming medinas with narrow lanes and buildings painted in various shades of blue. The blue coloring is supposedly used to keep the city cool in the warmer months and according to some locals, represents the sparkling Mediterranean Sea.
- Ifrane: This quiet resort town in the Middle Atlas Mountains looks more like it belong in the Alps, not Morocco. It was founded by the French in 1928 so Europeans could get relief from the summer heat. It’s surrounded by the largest cedar forest in the world, picturesque lakes, hiking trails, and ski slopes.
- Ouarzazate: In the High Atlas Mountains, Ouarzazate was long a crossing point for African traders on their way to Europe. During the French rule, it expanded greatly as a garrison town. Nearby is the impressive Aït Benhaddou—a historic ksar of earthen clay architecture and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since the 1950s, it has been a noted film-making location. Nicknamed “Ouallywood” it’s provided a convincing backdrop for movies set in ancient Rome, Egypt, and Tibet.
Explore the breezy coastal city of Essaouira during the Atlantic Coast: Artistic Essaouira & Casablanca post-trip extension to Morocco Sahara Odyssey.