Warm sea breezes sweep over the ramparts of this gentle city, where tolerance is a legacy of an illustrious past.



Essaouira defies adjectives. A city of blue shutters, yellow doors and whitewashed walls encircled by wind-burnished red walls, the ocean and time. A beach on Morocco's Atlantic coast swept by Mediterranean breezes.

Designed by a French military architect in the 18th century, Essaouira is one of the world's few cities that was entirely laid out on paper before being built.

A crossroad between Europe and Africa, it was the first Moroccan port open to world trade and a paragon of neighborly relations between Arabs, Berbers. Jews and, as gnawa music attests, former African slaves. Something of this illustrious past survives today.

Essaouira is harmonious, lightearted, relaxed -and mysterious. Economically the place is dying, but it preserves traces of the welcoming, tolerant days when it was called Mogador-the prince's city.

The best way of visiting Essaouira is to wander through the narrow streets without a guide, admiring the wooden ceilings that cover many of them, the doors, the traditionally clad women and the children who sell hats and speak an astonishingly rich French.

Essaouira defies adjectives. A city of blue shutters, yellow doors, encircled by wind-burnished red walls, the ocean and time

Any street you take-Attarine, Draa, Rif-eventually leads back to Moulay Hassan Square, which is lined with rubber trees and welcoming sidewalk cafes. Tourists and foreigners in search of a home port, recently arrived artists and old-time residents, beggars and shoeshine boys move from table to table. A stand sells French, English, German and other newspapers and the Chez Driss pastry shop purveys croissants and cakes.

Aside from windsurfing and strolling or flying kites on the beach, vacationers will not find much to do in Essaouira-other than walking, visiting the markets on either side of the avenue d'Istiqlal (one of them holds an auction every day at four in the afternoon), burrowing into the medina, sitting next to the cannons at the Sqala, buying rugs and porcelain, gazing at the thuya sculptors and enjoying the scent of oil from the argan tree, which grows wild in the area. You won't resist the temptation to linger a while, let time go by, take advantage of life's simple pleasures and enjoy the colors and smells.

For a spectacular viewpoint, leave the medina by Bab Doukala at the far end of avenue de l'Istiqlal/Zerktouni. Walk about half a mile through the former industrial area, pass the horse-and-carriage stop and turn left, where scrap metal dealers occupy a traffic island. From here is a panorama of the harbor and old city that's better than any postcard. The best time to go is at sunset.