Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador)

Province of Essaouira, Tensift Region
N31 30 50.8 W9 46 13.1
Date of Inscription: 2001
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Property : 56.7 ha
Ref: 753rev
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Essaouira is an exceptional example of a late-18th-century fortified town, built according to the principles of contemporary European military architecture in a North African context. Since its foundation, it has been a major international trading seaport, linking Morocco and its Saharan hinterland with Europe and the rest of the world.

The Medina of Essaouira, formerly named Mogador (name originating from the Phoenician word Migdol meaning a « small fortress »), is an outstanding example of a fortified town of the mid-eighteenth century, surrounded by a wall influenced by the Vauban model. Constructed according to the principles of contemporary European military architecture, in a North African context, in perfect harmony with the precepts of Arabo-Muslim architecture and town-planning, it has played a major role over the centuries as an international trading seaport, linking Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa with Europe and the rest of the world. The town is also an example of a multicultural centre as proven by the coexistence, since its foundation, of diverse ethnic groups, such as the Amazighs, Arabs, Africans, and Europeans as well as multiconfessional (Muslim, Christian and Jewish). Indissociable from the Medina, the Mogador archipelago comprises a large number of cultural and natural sites of Outstanding Universal Value. Its relatively late foundation in comparison to other medinas of North Africa was the work of the Alaouite Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah (1757-1790) who wished to make this small Atlantic town a royal port and chief Moroccan commercial centre open to the outside world. Known for a long time as the Port of Timbuktu, Essaouira became one of the major Atlantic commercial centres between Africa and Europe at the end of the 18th century and during the 19th century.

Criterion (ii): Essaouira is an outstanding and well preserved example of a mid-18th century fortified seaport town, with a strong European influence translated to a North African context.

Criterion (iv): With the opening of Morocco to the rest of the world at the end of the 17th century, the Medina of Essaouira was laid out by a French architect who had been profoundly influenced by the work of the military engineer Vauban at Saint Malo.  For the most part, it has retained its appearance of a European town.

Suggested Bases:

Essaouira is a coastal city in Morocco. In addition to the new town, Essaouira offers a picturesque medina (old town) surrounded by seawalls and city walls, designed by a French architect in the 18th century, a harbor with fish market, and a long beach with numerous water sports opportunities. Once a hippie hangout, Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens spent some time here. Orson Welles filmed part of his Othello in town; west of the medina there’s a square named in his honor. Essaouira is a perfect example of a late 18th century fortified town, with the original canons still in place and where Orson Wells shot his Othello, “The Moor of Venice”. The walled center of town, the Medina, is supposedly restricted to non-motorized vehicles, but this rule is widely ignored in the case of mopeds which are an increasing nuisance. Other than that, there are occasional donkey carts to dodge. Taxi costs a flat fee of 7 dirham during day and 8 dirham after 20:00 (as of Jan 2018) [read more].

Safi or Asfi is a city in western Morocco on the Atlantic Ocean. It is the capital of Asfi Province. It recorded a population of 308,508 in the 2014 Moroccan census. The city was occupied by the Portuguese Empire from 1488 to 1541, was the center of Morocco’s weaving industry, and became a fortaleza of the Portuguese Crown in 1508. Safi is the main fishing port for the country’s sardine industry, and also exports phosphates, textiles and ceramics. During the Second World War, Safi was the site of Operation Blackstone, one of the landing sites for Operation Torch. The city’s name as it is locally pronounced is “Asfi”, which was Latinized as “Safi” and “Safim” under Portuguese rule. “Asfi” means flood or river estuary in Berber and comes from the Berber verbal root “ffey/sfi/sfey” which means to flood, to spill or to pour. 11th-century geographer Al-Idrisi gave an apparently false explanation to the origin the name “Aasafi” as he linked it to the Arabic word “Asaf” (regret); Asafi (my regret) [read more].

Marrakech, also spelt Marrakesh, is one of the imperial cities of Morocco. The name Marrakech originates from the Amazigh (Berber) words mur (n) wakush, which means “Land of God”. It is the third largest city in Morocco after Casablanca and Rabat, and lies near the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains and a few hours away from the foot of the Sahara Desert. Its location and contrasting landscape has made it an enviable destination in Morocco. The city is divided into two parts: the Medina, the historical city, and the new European modern district called Gueliz or Ville Nouvelle. The Medina is full of intertwining narrow passageways and local shops full of character; it also contains the large square Djemaa El-Fna, where many hotels are located and tourists, locals and vendors congregate. In contrast, Gueliz plays host to modern restaurants, fast food chains and big brand stores. Marrakech is the main tourist destination in Morocco and thus it is also a place where many Moroccans try to become rich fast by ripping off tourists [read more].

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