It is the coastal wind – the beautifully named alizee, or taros in Berber – that has allowed Essaouira (pronounced ‘essa-weera’, or ‘es-Sweera’ in Arabic) to retain its traditional culture and character. For most of the year, the wind blows so hard here that relaxing on the beach is impossible, meaning that the town is bypassed by the hordes of beach tourists who descend on other Atlantic Coast destinations in summer. Known as the ‘Wind City of Africa’, it attracts plenty of windsurfers between April and November, but the majority of visitors come here in spring and autumn to wander through the spice-scented lanes and palm-lined avenues of the fortified medina, browse the many art galleries and boutiques, relax in some of the country's best hotels and watch fishing nets being mended and traditional boats being constructed in the hugely atmospheric port.
Sights in Essaouira
Essaouira’s walled medina dates from the late 18th century and was added to Unesco’s World Heritage list in 2001. It is an outstanding and well-preserved example of European military architecture in North Africa.
Essaouira's large working port is noisy, pungent and hugely atmospheric. Along with the flurry of boats arriving and departing, nets being repaired and the day’s catch being landed.
Just off the coast to the southwest is the Île de Mogador, which has some interesting structures. It's actually two islands and several tiny islets – also known as the famed Îles Purpuraires (Purple Isles).
Skala du Port
Down by the harbour, this bastion offers picturesque views over the fishing port and the Île de Mogador. Looking back at the walled medina from here, through a curtain of swirling seagulls.
Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah Museum
Housed in an old riad, this somewhat fusty museum has a small collection of jewellery, costumes, embroidery, woodcarving and weapons from the region. Its collection of ritual and musical instruments.
Skala de la Ville
Closed for restoration on our last visit, this bastion is part of the ramparts that protect the medina from the crashing Atlantic waves. The town's main woodworking souq is on the narrow street underneath.
Mosque Sidi Ahmed ou Mohammed
This 18th-century building near Pl Moulay Hassan has an important library (closed to visitors) containing some manuscripts donated by Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah.
Daily auctions of fresh fish take place in the market hall just outside the port gates.