Travel Guide > Travelling
Marrakech: An overview - Part 26
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Visiting the port of Essaouira
In the previous section on places you can go on a day trip I mentioned the port city of Essaouira. It is certainly possible to do Essaouira as a day trip from Marrakech. You can get an early morning CTM bus from the gare routière, a tour coach at 8:30am or a grand taxi from a rank behind the bus station. All these will get you there by 10 or 11am and although Essaouira is worth at least a couple of days, if time is at a premium, then a long day can work just as well if you follow the tips below.
While you might find Marrakech a continuous dusty pink this sunny and wwindswepttown on the Atlantic coast is all blue and white. It is also known as the Wind City because of the constant winds. The affluence of the city was at its height in the 18th and 19th centuries. This was when it was the most important port on the North African coast offering trade routes to the interior. It faded from the scene in the 20th century as land transport became more reliable. However it started to draw plenty of travelling hippies in the 1960s and early 1970s, Jimi Hendrix famously passed through, as did Frank Zappa. The hippy influence lingers on with the annual Gnawa Festival d’Essaouira which attracts musicians from around the globe. It has been described as the world’s biggest jam session, Cat Stevens, now Yusuf Islam, still returns each summer. The agreeably and relaxed atmosphere is only mildly stirred in late afternoon when the fishing fleet returns.
Essaouira‘s current layout can be traced back to 1765. That year, the town’s local ruler captured a French ship and hired one of its passengers, an architect, to rebuild his port. He had the city surrounded with a heavy defensive wall, much of which still stands. The most impressive stretch is the Skala de la Ville, where you can walk along the top of the ramparts and examine several ancient cannons.
Place Moulay Hassan is the focal point of Essaouira. It is a square in two parts, narrow and elongated to the north and opening out at the southern end. It lies between the medina proper and the port, and everybody passes through it at some point. It’s lined by small cafés, where most of the people of the town seems to pass some of their time during the day or evening.
The Skala du Port is Essaouira’s port and it is guarded by a small square fortress. It is still a working port complete with a boat yard, where vessels are still constructed out of wood. A daily market starts the day between 3pm and 5pm with the arrival of that day’s catch. Visitors can watch as the fish are auctioned off and follow that up by feasting on fresh sardines, grilled to order at the port end of Place Moulay Hassan.
Continued in part 27
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Page added on: 27 May 2018
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