The names of Casablanca & Marrakesh, Morocco’s famed cities, are well known to most people – thanks, in part, to popular movies and music (think “Marrakesh Express!“) However, the delightful Moroccan coastal town of Essaouira is much less known – and that factor only adds to its many other charms.
After experiencing the high-octane intensity of Marrakesh, enchanting Essaouira’s low-key atmosphere is a perfect way to end a visit to fascinating Morocco. In fact, I did just that at the completion of an excellent Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) tour of Morocco in November 2018.
Why Essaouira is So Special
Located on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, Essaouira is around a 5-hour drive south of Casablanca and a 3-hour drive west of Marrakesh. Along the seafront are a series of commanding forts built by the Portuguese, French, and Berbers during the different periods of occupation.
Essaouira is a popular, laid-back resort town which offers nice beaches, a temperate climate, and strong winds which make it popular with windsurfers – thus “The Windy City” nickname! The old town’s peaceful and charming, centuries-old medina (below, right) is easy to navigate and great fun to explore.
The old city is still partly surrounded by well-preserved walls & ramparts built in 1506 by the Portuguese. Until the 1960s, Essaouira was known by its Portuguese name of Mogador. The town’s new name means “little picture” in Arabic. Definitely a photographer’s delight!
Essaouira’s Fascinating Old Fishing Harbor
In addition, Essaouira has a bustling old fishing harbor (aka port), which supplies fresh fish to the local fish market and the town’s many popular seafood restaurants. This incredibly picturesque harbor is filled with small bright blue wooden fishing boats, colorful fishing nets, and large trawlers bringing in their daily catch.
On my travels, I love to visit old harbors where local fisherman are still plying their trade the traditional way they’ve done for many years – sometimes even centuries! I spent 2 1/2 fascinating hours one morning exploring Essaouira’s Old Harbor – which is what I am sharing in this Photo Essay blog post.
The morning’s harbor exploration was so much fun & so interesting – Essaouira is my favorite fishing port ever! An amazing frenzy of activity takes place whenever a large trawler carrying a fresh catch of fish arrives in port and sets about unloading its precious cargo.
I was able to enjoy this lively harbor scene up close & personal. I watched two different trawlers laden with sardines to see the whole process from arrival to folding up the nets at the end. In addition, as I wandered the port, I observed fish sellers setting up their stalls with a beautiful array of fish, plus local women with buckets scooping up any dropped sardines so they too could make a sale on the streets.
I hope you enjoy this vicarious visit to Essaouira’s old Fishing Harbor! May you have the pleasure of a trip to this lovely Moroccan city sometime soon. I know you too will be captivated by its charms!
Essaouira Old Harbor Photo Essay (captions above photo)
The famed Marine Gate (below) leads from Essaouira’s bustling fishing port to the old town, with its glistening white buildings. This beautiful fortified stone doorway dates from the 18th century & is one of Essaouira’s most iconic landmarks.
This is another of Essaouira’s iconic shots (below) – with its picturesque blue wooden fishing boats in one section of the town’s old fishing port, watched over by a centuries-old stone defensive tower (Skala du Port) & seagulls flying above hoping for some fresh fish!
I loved the sea of traditional blue wooden fishing boats (known as feluccas). One fisherman told us that Essaouira has around 340 feluccas and 105 of the larger trawler boats. He said the boats go in and out at different times for the different types of fish.
Two fishermen heading out to sea in their felucca powered by a Yamaha 25 horsepower motor. It sure beats using the wind as old fishing boats used to do!
Meet my charming, impromptu local harbor guide. It all started when I was eyeing a spiny crab. He spoke good English and for the next half hour, toured me around the port. He shared that he’d worked as a fisherman for 45 years.
Of course, he was expecting a tip at the end – which I happily gave. The tin can he is proudly holding says “Sardinky” – filled in the past with local sardines.
Here’s the spiny crab he first showed me – the one that began the “What type of fish is this?” conversation.
A colorful fish vendor stall – with a beautiful collection of fish of all types.
Closeup (below) of the fish stall. Wish I knew all the different names of the fish but I don’t.
Check out the spotted eel on the left and the stingrays on the right!
More fish closeups – note those sharp teeth. Plus shell fish on the right. Essaouira clearly has it all – okay, maybe not all, but a lot!
The ship repair yard is also located on the harbor’s dock with a colorful trawler under repair. My guide said they need to do repairs every year.
One of the exciting sights of Essaouira’s Harbor – watching a fish laden trawler motoring into port with a flock of sea gulls as escorts.
Check out the short video (below) of a fishing trawler coming into port with a frenzy of sea gulls flying and squawking!
Closeup photo (below) of trawler returning to port with crates of sardines ready for unloading. So, what is a trawler fishing boat? Trawling is a method of fishing that involves actively dragging or pulling a “trawl” – fishing nets pulled along the bottom of the sea or in mid-water at a specified depth through the water to capture the fish.
We were told Essaouira’s fisherman use hooks and nets – not sonar or radar. Many fishermen take their boats out at night to be able to sell their fresh catch the next morning. That’s why the harbor is particularly bustling with activity in the morning!
Fishing Trawler coming into the dock.
Video capturing the challenge of docking a large trawler in a busy port with not a lot of dock space. Watch out – don’t ram the other boat!
View down into the newly arrived fishing trawler with its precious cargo of sardines – with stacked crates of fish on the deck. In addition, there are many more sardines stored below in the large hold. You can see the open metal door of the hold (next to the blue pole).
Also note the long, narrow wooden plank on the left. This is used to slide crates of sardines along until they are hoisted by hand up to the dock.
Hoisting up crates of sardines from the boat to the helpers on the dock.
The ship’s crew is now passing along crates of sardines from the hold below. (photo below)
“The Iceman Cometh“! The “iceman” arrives in his special motorized cart with a fresh load of ice to be used to preserve freshly caught fish.
This cart (below) is filled with ice destined for the ship’s hold – so that newly caught fish on the next trip out to sea can be stored chilled until the boat returns to port. The workers are preparing the blue tarp “slide” for the ice’s journey to the ship’s large hold below deck.
Check out the video showing ice traveling down the slide into the hold.
Many people gather to watch each newly arrived fishing trawler unload its cargo. Some are there working in various capacities – and some like the young boy & the two local ladies (on the left with their faces covered with hats and scarves) are waiting to snatch up any left over or dropped fish.
Here’s packing the sardines neatly into crates so they can be stacked and transported. Note the local lady (“pretty in pink”) on the left picking up sardines that spilled over from the crates.
Icing sardines in the crates as each level is stacked.
Next step – loading crates of sardines into the truck to take them to market. Essaouira has an active inside fish market located in the old medina.
Once a fishing trawler’s cargo is unloaded, the hard working crew (in their waterproof overalls) turns their attention to the fishing nets that were used to catch the fish. Here they are folding up the burgundy red nets dockside.
Where there are fishing nets, there are those who need to repair the holes.
Photo of colorful stacked fishing traps in pretty shades of blue – sitting alongside the ancient fortress walls of Essaouira.
And what’s a Fishing Harbor Photo Essay without a cute kitty who’s made him/herself comfortably at home on a high perch amidst all the bustle.
So, yes, this is for all you cat lovers (like me!). What an adorable face!
More fishing harbor scenes: Locals with their fish truck / carts – with “Cooperative Poisson Mogador” written on one.
Nearing the end of my special time at the port as light sprinkles turned into heavy rain, which finally sent me scurrying back to my hotel. Note the fish seller on the right (below, with the woman in red). His stall is in the closeup – next photo below.
The fun & friendly fish seller with a beautiful display of shellfish.
Closeup of the conch shell fish.
A local with his simpler “fish stall”.
Another classic Essaouira shot (below) of the fortress tower and old city walls at the entrance to the port – along with colorful fishing nets & two local ladies selling their fish which they “freshly caught” (most likely from the sardine crates run off!).
Final Photo – Another colorful photo of a wrapped up fishing net with orange floats.
COMMENTS: Have you visited Essaouira or other parts of Morocco? Do you also love visiting old fishing ports? Do you have some favorite places to share?