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An alternative and relaxed city

Just 170km from bustling Marrakech and 175km from Agadir, this coastal retreat is home to a historic old town that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Essaouira is considered an alternative, laid-back city with a blue skyline that contrasts with its pink ochre fortifications and blue-framed white houses. No wonder this city is called the blue pearl of the Atlantic.

Part of Essaouira's essence is said to come from the time it was occupied by the Portuguese, back in the 16th century when they attempted to control the West African coast. Although they only stayed for about 20 years, they did manage to completely transform the city, formerly known as Mogador, by building its first port. Soon Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah came to understand the strategic importance of this commercial port (the closest to Marrakesh) and wanted to modernise it. This favoured the arrival of Jews who, with their trading skills, secured a prosperous economy. Many traces of their passage are still visible today, such as the remains of Talmudic schools and synagogues scattered throughout the Jewish quarter or Mellah.

A very curious fact is that during the 60’s and 80’s Essaouira experienced a new springtime thanks to the hippie movement driven by artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and The Rolling Stones. Furthermore, another curious fact is that Essaouira has been the setting for major Hollywood productions such as Game of Thrones.

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Cover image of the Guide to África