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Essaouira: Fiby Has a Homecoming

Essaouira (pronounced ess-ah-WEER-ah) is a tiny white-walled port city on Morocco’s Atlantic coast.  It’s where Fiby, Laura’s mom, was born and raised. Essaouira, called Mogador while Fiby was growing up (the name was changed around the end of French colonial rule),  is a  picturesque and refreshing beach town, about a two-hour after (straight, flat, dusty) drive west from Marrakesh.  The city is situated on a rocky promontory guarded on the seaside by heavy crenelated and turreted stone walls.  The old Portuguese fort, Castello Real, was the inspiration for Jimi Hendrix song “Castles Made of Sand.” 

We visited Essaouira in July 1994 with Fiby, Jon and Candie. Below, Fiby, Jon, Laura and Lou sit on a canon on the ramparts of the sand castle.  See Fiby’s Raiders jacket? Keep an eye on it!

Below, Jon and Fiby stand in front of a tower on the ramparts of the sand castle. Seagulls are continuously gliding overhead, their cries occasionally silenced by the muezzin’s call.  The sand-colored fortifications soothingly contrast against the azure sky and sea . 

 

Lunch in the port of Essaouira is a gastronomic and atmospheric highlight. Rows of big wooden tables surrounded by benches are interspersed with stands where fishmongers display their freshly caught wares and cook them to order over open charcoal fires. Freshly grilled sardines (before lunch you can watch the fishing boats coming in), chopped salad, baguette and bottled water is on the menu, more than you can finish for under $2.00.   Below, Fiby (still in her Raiders jacket) and Laura enjoy a classic Essaouira lunch.

Inside the medina, Essaouira gleams refreshingly white and brilliant blue.   In the 1950′s Orson Welles famously shot “Othello” on Essaouira’s medina streets.  Below I crouch in front of a butcher’s shop, inspecting a crate of goat heads. 

Below is a common sight throughout Morocco’s casbahs: kaleidoscopic pyramids of rare and redolent spices.  

We visted many of Fiby’s old hangouts, like her elementary school (below)…

… and the shop where she had her first job (below).

We also visited an old Jewish cemetery. Jews once constituted a large part of the Essaouira’s population; however, Essaouira’s last Jews began to leave following the Six Day War, emigrating to France, Canada and Israel.  Below is a photo with us and the caretaker of the cemetary.

Remember Fiby’s Raiders jacket? Well, below is an example of the medina’s ageless system of barter.  Essaouira is known for its woodwork. The artists’ specialty wood is from the Thuya tree, a highly prized wood with a delicious perfume, found only in this part of Morocco. Thuya is a very dense mahogany-like hardwood. Below, Fiby has traded her jacket for a box crafted by a woodworker (pictured are the woodworker and his son). We’re in the part of the medina known as the Skala de la Ville, or woodworkers souk. The area houses workshops that are piled high and stuffed solid with intricate inlaid wooden items. 

Essaouira possesses a distinctive and graceful atmosphere, to which fishermen, merchants, craftsmen, musicians, and artists of all kinds have contributed for hundreds of years.  We feel very fortunate to have visited Essaouira with Fiby.

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