Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador)
Medina Of Essaouira (formerly Mogador)
Cultural Morocco Arab States Province Of Essaouira, Tensift Region

Essaouira is an outstanding and well-preserved example of a late 18th-century European fortified seaport town translated to a North African context. With the opening up of Morocco to the rest of the world in the later 17th century, the town was laid out by a French architect who had been profoundly influenced by the work of Vauban at Saint-Malo. It has retained its European appearance to a substantial extent.

Since its foundation in the 18th century and until the beginning of the 20th century, Essaouira has played a fundamental role as an international trading port between Morocco and the rest of the world. A number of consulates and traders from different countries were established there. Essaouira is a leading example of building inspired by European architecture, a town unique by virtue of its design: it was created in conformity with a predetermined plan, the Cornut plan. Since the beginning, the medina of Essaouira has been a major place for the peaceable coming together of the architectural and town-planning models of Europe and of Morocco itself. In this way a symbiosis was achieved between building techniques from Morocco and elsewhere that gave birth to some unique architectural masterpieces: the Sqalas of the port and of the medina, the Bab Marrakesh bastion, the water gate, mosques, synagogues, churches, etc.

Archaeological excavations have shown that the site of Essaouira was originally a Phoenician trading settlement, followed by Cretans, Greeks and Romans. The earlier name of Mogador derives from Migdol, meaning a small fort. In 1506 it was to become the site of a Portuguese fortress, but this was abandoned soon after.

The present town dates from 1765, when the Alawite Sultan Sidi Mohamed ben Abdellah decided to build a port that would open Morocco up to the outside world and assist in developing commercial relations with Europe. He sought the help of Nicholas Théodore Cornut, a surveyor specialist in military fortifications from Avignon, who was strongly influenced by Vauban's defences at Saint-Malo. He partially dismantled the Portuguese fortress to build an esplanade with a row of cannons. The entire town was enclosed by a defensive wall on the Vauban model. In order to control maritime trade, he closed the southern coast to European traders, obliging the European consuls at Safi, Agadir and Rabat to move to Mogador, where all southern mercantile activities were concentrated. The new port became one of the country's main commercial centres;it was called the 'port of Timbuktu' as it was the destination of caravans bringing a variety of products (including slaves) from black Africa. The town was made up of three separate districts. The kasbah comprised the old administrative district. The medina was crossed by two main axial streets, one running from Bab Doukalla to the harbour and the other from Bab Marrakesh to the sea. At their intersection there were four markets, for fish, spices, grain and general goods respectively.

The Mellah is the Jewish quarter;it played a very important role in the history of the town, as the sultan made use of this community to establish relations with Europe and to organize commercial activities with them. The main features of the town are: the ramparts, most of the northern section of which survives;the town gates, especially the ornamental Sea Gate (1170-71);the bastions and forts (borjs ), especially the Sqala of the Port and the Sqala of the Medina and the Bastion of Bab Marrakesh;the kasbah , which was originally the seat of power and the military garrison, and is now integrated into the town proper;the Mellah (Jewish quarter), which retains many of its original special features;the prison, located on the offshore island (now a refuge for rare birds, such as hawks);the many mosques, in a characteristic style, and especially the mosques of the Casbah and Ben Yossef;the synagogues (in particular the 19th-century synagogue of Simon Attias), which preserve the dynamism of the Jewish inhabitants;the late 18th-century Portuguese church;the Dar-Sultan (old Royal Palace);and the very attractive private houses.