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Essaouira, the city that inspired Jimi Hendrix

Dal Kikin
November 27, 2018

Photo: iStock/StreetFlash

The walls, the medina, the mosque, the labyrinthine souk, the beaches, the surf ... A walk through the coastal city of Morocco where Ridley Scott shot parts of 'Gladiator'

Photo: iStock/StreetFlash

Who would have told a Roman senator that the purple of the toga that reported his status came from a small African port. If one talks about Essaouira, which means "well designed" in Arabic, it may not sound like it, but if its Portuguese name is mentioned, Mogador, reminiscences are emerging. This ancient Phoenician settlement in Morocco became famous for processing the so-called purple of Tire, extracted from a small mollusc, a luxury item that marries perfectly with the first impressions of the city: a sheet of silvery sand in which a glittering Atlantic breaks by the winter sun. In Essaouira, in December deep the temperature is 25 degrees, with that I already tell you everything. And 25 kilometers to the north and to the south, in Moulay Bouzerktoun and Sidi Kaouki respectively, surfers from all over the world are dissipated by the strong and constant winds called taros by the Berbers.

Photo: iStock/koufax73

Fort of the 16th century

Photo: iStock/frentusha

At the end of the relaxing seaside promenade of Mohamed V of Essaouira, the perspective of the fort built by the Portuguese at the beginning of the 16th century dominates, a defensive complex full of blazoned cannons in Latin, whose walls served for the hallucinogenic corners of the Orson Welles chamber during the shooting of Othello (1952). His stones also recreated Astapor, the Red City, in the third season of the series Game of Thrones, where Daenerys Targaryen frees the Immaculate and turns them into his army. Inside, the port is full of ships in repair and fishing boats painted blue, and a rula where you can buy fish that still move and go with them to an improvised position where they are roasted: a grilled sardines can cost about four euros, but beware of the seagulls, which are ubiquitous.

Photo: iStock/Luigi Silipo

The Marine Gate

Photo: iStock/Leonid Andronov

We enter the villa through the Marine Gate and walk to the Mulay Hassan Square, which is the place to sit on one of the many terraces, have a drink-for a few beers, you have to look for the establishments with rooftop, on foot street they do not serve them- and continue going into the medina, world heritage. The ocher colored wall keeps the souk inside, a capillary network of stores that extends to the door of Bab Doukkala with jewels, clothes, food ... In that labyrinth was where the director Ridley Scott was lost to film parts of Gladiator ( 2000) - "What we do in life has its echo in eternity", said Máximo Décimo Meridio- or to make it pass through the streets of Jerusalem in The Kingdom of Heaven (2005), and Oliver Stone recreated an Alejandro here Great a little drag. Surely one of the two filmmakers visited the Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah, a small museum in an old riad that traces the history of Essaouira showing Roman and Phoenician pieces, weapons, Arab and Jewish jewels, Berber musical instruments, the fantastic carpets from Chichaoua …

Photo: iStock/IgorDymov

Mellah, the Jewish quarter

Photo: iStock/Louis-Michel DESERT

A little further on, about five minutes on foot, in the Kasbah fortress (from the 18th century), more walls full of canyons are displayed, where you can walk and take color based on sun and salt air. In that flanear that the streets incite can be reached by the street of Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah to the Jewish quarter, the Mellah, a bit defaced, the truth. It's time to sit down in a little square with charm, that of the cereal market, next to the avenue of Mohamed Zerktouni; or contemplate the mosque of Ben Youssef, the largest in the city (covers 2,000 square meters), from which five times a day the muezzin will call to prayer.

If you have time, about 50 kilometers from the city, you will find the Contemporary Art Center of Essaouira, with a permanent collection of Moroccan artists that also has a fantastic view of the Atlantic Ocean. And for fetishists, remember that not only does Esauira live in cinema: in the summer of 1969, guitarist Jimi Hendrix spent a few days there, and they say that observing the mobile dunes of the beaches he composed his song Castles Made of Sand. Who knows, the only sure thing is that if you have a truth and a legend, the most profitable thing is to keep the legend.