Morocco Journal 5: Essaouira Blue

EssaBlue9222013_2-24On Morocco’s Atlantic Coast of North Africa is the old port of Essaouira (essah-wee-rah) also known by its Portuguese name of Mogador.  Founded by Phoenicians and developed by Moors, Essaouira is an ancient trading center where African, European, seafaring and nomadic cultures converge. 

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The Phoenicians came here for the murex and purpua snails that provided the purple dyes for Roman senatorial togas.  The snails were over-harvested and died out long ago. Jews escaped the Spanish inquisition and settled here to bring their skills in silver jewelry making and commerce. The French arrived in 1916 to establish a protectorate, and their language and educational system prevail.

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Today, Europeans get inexpensive direct flights from London, Paris, Rome, and Madrid for long beach weekend and shopping holidays.

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The seafood is fantastic.  Grilled lobster, crab, sardines, sole, bass, monkfish, octopus, squid, and shrimp are plentiful.  If you eat on the wharf, be prepared, though, to pay outrageous prices.  My lunch was 230 dirham, about $30 USD. I was really surprised, but I didn’t argue too much because the food was delicious, but I really should have settled on the price first.  I understand that’s it’s even expected to bargain with the food vendors!

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The blue fishing boats bring their haul in late morning and the chefs and cooks of the town come to the wharf to choose the best of the catch.  They make a seafood pastilla here that is a flaky butter pastry stuffed with scallops, shrimp,  calamari, and whitefish.

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The old city is built inside a protective high wall with ramparts.  Houses are stacked on top of each other.  We duck into dark, winding, narrow tunnels that connect the sections where people live with the main pedestrian commercial avenues.

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Motor vehicles are forbidden except for garbage collectors and motorbikes with attached truck-beds.  Men wheeling carts carried our luggage through the streets and down an alleyway to our riad.

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There are so many cats that I can’t imagine that there are any mice or rats here. The cats are fat and happy nibbling on what is cut away and left on the wharf.


This is a white city with touches of this extraordinary blue accented with yellow.  The more winding alleyways and courtyards I discover, the more intrigued I am with this place where many histories converge.

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