On the powerful allure of Essaouira
Nicholas Woodsworth (from Financial Times)
- "In Essaouira many things are a mystery.
- Along with the light cast down come the faint sounds of the ocean
pounding against the rocks.
- This is a secretive place, full of endless, half lit, covered
passageways, blank walls, constricted alleys, stone-carved doorways,
emblazoned with unintelligible signs and symbols.
- Surrounding it all are thick, high defensive walls and towers,
beyond which the Atlantic surges and crashes against saw-toothed
rocks.It is damp everywhere, heavy with an ocean air that flakes
whitewash, crumbles plaster, erodes stone. Essaouira built as a
trading port only 200 years old, looks 1000.
- More secretive than its streets are Essaouira's inhabitants. Monk
-like , their faces obscured beneath high, pointed hoods, men clad
themselves in dark, flowing burnouses . More mysterious still, their
women are concealed from head to toe in ghostly white robes and black
veils, leaving nothing but a narrow slit for eyes heavy with
- They glide through humid streets and passages like mute and
disembodied wraiths, appearing suddenly in a shaft of light,
disappearing again. Is it simple imagination? Over the dank town,
faint but perceptible, hang disquieting suggestions, airs of sinister
portent. What unnamable things happen, Iwonder, in the blind corners
of Essaouira's alleys and behind its doors ?...
- "Madame Jeanne has been coming to Essaouira for almost 20 years.
This eerie lost windblown place is her second home, a retreat from
the arid and formal lecture halls and classrooms of her native Paris.
Does the cold logic of political economy suit madame Jeanne? Perhaps.
She has been teaching it for a lifetime . But Essaouira , exercising
its own odd, peculiar power, draws something other than logic from
her and everyone else who spends time here".
- "I first meet madame Jeanne at the little book shop on the Place
Moulay EL Hassan, the square lively tree shaded, presents Essaouira's
most comforting and familiar face. Here at the cafe of the hotel BEAU
RIVAGE, at Chez Driss, the pastry shop, at tea restaurant Essalam,
among sun -splashed, white-washed walls and blue painted doors, the
atmosphere is holiday-island Greek. This is the sunny and insouciant
Essaouira of the windsurfers, the backpackers, the tourists who come
for the vast sweep of beach and the cool, incessant summer winds. It
is a thin veil which, like the back goes covering the faces of
Essaouira's women, hides a deeper life beneath".
- "What is it, I ask. The luminosity of the sea air? The isolation ?
The enigmatic inhabitants? The strange beauty of a place crumbling,
maze-like encircled by walls and battered by winds? I do not know.
Even the usually down -to-earth Guide Michelin does not know. It
calls Essaouira "insaisissable" -ungraspable- a place-where
everything contributes to open the sense of poetic perception and
- "This has always been a place of mystics, of secret brotherhoods,
arcane rituals and spiritual mysteries. As invisible and omnipresent
as the wind, their influence swirls and eddies through every corner
- "With sky dark above us now and the stars out, madame Jeanne talks
into the evening of the Essaouira Regregras, an arabian sect which
commemorates the coming of the seven saints of the prophet Mohammed
to Morocco; visiting forty holy sites nearby it assists in the
fecundation, through magic and ecstatic trance of earth and sea".
- "Moslem mysticism is not the only kind in Essaouira"(....) , there
are also Gnaoua, descendants of black slaves driven of the Sahara,
who brought with them the rite of African animism. They take their
music and faith-healing to the community at large; in the privacy of
their sanctuary near the sea walls they celebrate darker rites-
possession by supernatural beings who animate their souls and
- "The Aissaoua brotherhood- mystic poets, drummers, and totemic
animal mines; the Hamadcha confrerie-ecstatic dancers who through
acts of self-mutilation make supplication to the devil-goddes Aicha
Kandisha; the Talmudic cabals of the Moroccan Jews who long lived
here- there are more secrets , more mysteries here than I would care