Essaouira is a city on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, 190 km west of Marrakech (2h30 drive). The fishing port is one of the best tourist attractions in Essaouira.
The first thing you detect at Essaouira port is the cool air mixed with the smells of fresh fish.
In this port, you will witness a magic contrast between the classical decor and the exciting mood.
From the 7th century BC, the bay of Essaouira was a big stopover point for global trade. The Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Portuguese passed through this place.
In the 17th century, The sultan Mohamed Ben Abdellah promoted free trade policies. He encouraged the settlement of wealthy Jewish merchants in Essaouira. He also ordered the establishment of a quarter for foreign merchants next to the city harbor. The reason is to ease business with Europeans.
Passengers arriving at Essaouira port (old picture)
By the middle of the 19th century, the harbor was handling half of Morocco's foreign trade. Export articles included gold, ostrich feathers, ivory, dried camel skins, and slaves. The British brought Manchester cotton and tea.
Nowadays, the port of Essaouira is not a major center of Moroccan maritime traffic. But it was the most important trading center of the country in the 17th century.
The port has a modest size. Today, it is the third sardine fishing port in Morocco. Yet, the port finds itself in competition with larger ports for sardine fishing. The lively atmosphere and the development of tourism made this harbor one of the best things to do in Essaouira.
From the first hours, the boats gather in an indescribable disorder around docks.
A few hours later, when baskets full of fish arrive, the noise is at its height.
The colorful boats, the women fixing the fishing nets, and the fishermen unloading the sardines make the port an exciting place.
In the hot hours of the afternoon, do not miss the hour of the siesta. The fishermen fall asleep curled up in their nets.
The most captivating spectacle takes place at the auction. Groups of seagulls come to steal the fishermen's stalls in front of their eyes.
There is also a rudimentary shipyard. Carpenters are building boats and painting them in blue. The reason is that sardines are strongly attracted to this color. So it makes the job of fishers much easier.
In 1769, during the fortification of the city, Sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah built Bab El-Marsa.
On the seaside, two fluted columns support a pediment. Three crescent moons engraved under the pediment symbolized the Ring of the Sultan.
This gate is a beautiful neoclassical construction. Despite the presence of the two watchtowers, it is more decorative than defensive.
An inscription from 1769 indicates the architect who built this gate. The architect was an English renegade named Ahmed El-Eulj (El-Eulj means the European in Arabic).
Old Image of Bab el-Marsa
Bab El-Marsa connected the city to the boarding docks. It let the boats enter while remaining safe from fire from any enemy ships offshore.
The gate is connected to the Sqala of the port (artillery platform) by a fortified bridge.
Sqala Of The Port
To the right of Bab el-Marsa, under a large square tower, a beautiful fortified bridge gives access to the Sqala of the Port.
The Sqala of the port is an artillery platform, longer than that of the casbah.
The Sqala of the port defended the port from external attacks by a series of battlements and watchtowers. The Sqala has a dozen armored bronze cannons facing out to sea. In the end, the Sqala has a roundabout designed to move heavy artillery pieces.
We can still see on the four sides of the castle the engraved inscription Barakat Mohammed. Barakat Mohammed is the motto of the city. It is invoking the blessing of the Prophet on the town and its inhabitants.
The sqala has a panoramic view. From there, you can see the medina, the port, the sqala, the bay, and the island of Mogador.
The dance on the air of seagulls is another beautiful spectacle you will appreciate. After letting themselves be carried by the winds, they like to come and rest for a moment on the pinnacle of one of the four watchtowers.
In the morning, you will witness the return of the fishing boats. And walking there at dusk will allow you to rediscover the theatrical atmosphere of this platform.
Time To Visit: every day from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission fee: 10 dirhams.
You can access the port of Essaouira by going through the customs checkpoint. In front of the gate, there is a tower that houses the oldest weather station in Africa.
The port is at the foot of the ramparts. Its location is at the end of the long fine sandy beach of the city.
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