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Things to Do in Essaouira, Morocco Travel Guide

Posted by Alecia Cohen on July 7, 2016 at 6:55 AM Comments comments (0)

=Essaouira, Portuguese Ramparts

Ramparts[/caption]Essaouira is the perfect excuse to head southwest of Marrakech to experience a one-of-a-kind coastal town in Morocco. Laid back with a hippy vibe, windswept Essaouira, also referred to as “old Mogador,” attracts the Bohemian types searching for an inspiring destination where a keen combination of savory cuisine, local markets, artisans and seaside walks can be found. For the last century, Essaouira has attracted artists, writers, architects, and surfers, those with wanderlust along with retirees who came for a stop over and decided to make it their home.

This charmed Moroccan town is the ideal travel destination to independent travelers interested in discovering the insiders guide to coastal living. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Essaouira’s medina is surrounded majestic stonewalls. Its tranquility, sandscapes and diverse population have made it a trendy summer getaway. In the ’60s and ’70s, Essaouira was a pit stop on the hippie trek from Marrakesh. Jimi Hendrix made the pilgrimage, as did Bob Marley and Cat Stevens. Essaouira was the inspiration for Hendrix’s song “Castles Made of Sand.” Home to some of Morocco’s best chefs, Essaouira’s unique combination of tasty local fare, fresh produce, and delightful markets created a Moroccan hub where foodies congregate. Whether you are visiting Essaouira on a one-day trip from Marrakech or as part of a Private Tailor-Made Morocco Tour this ancient city and it’s white washed walls with painted cobalt blue shutters offers a wealth of history, old world architecture and culture that is not to be missed.

Essaouira’s History Says It All The medina of Essaouira is a UNESCO World Heritage listed city, an example of a late-18th century fortified town. Essaouira’s history is a reminder of the times when Spain, Portugal and England fought to maintain control over its coasts. It has a typical Portuguese harbor that is a stunning example of Moorish and Portuguese architecture. Essaouira, originating from the Phoenician word Migdol meaning a “small fortress” was the first port in Morocco and once linked the country to the rest of the world. Since its foundation Essaouira has been known for its diverse ethnic groups of Amazighs, Arabs, Africans, and Europeans with a mix of Muslims, Christians and Jews.

Domain Val d'Argan, Essaouira Winery

Essaouira Things to Do

The medina of Essaouira and its ramparts are the essential place to begin your exploration and as time allows an excursion to a local winery or a fromagerie is also highly recommended.

Visit Place Moulay Hassan Take a stroll along the town’s sunlit pedestrian main square, Place Prince Moulay el Hassan and the Skala du Port, the fishing harbor, offers breathtaking views of the Portuguese ramparts. Explore the Portuguese ramparts and the spice souk, dozens of boutiques selling silver jewelry and the medina’s clock tower.

Visit Orson Welles’ Square and memorial, designed by Samir Mustapha, one of the towns artists, which pays homage to Orson Welles filming of Othello in Essouaria.

Thuya Workshops Indigenous to Essaouira is the Moroccan thuya tree. Only in this coastal town can travelers visit Skala de la Ville, also known as the woodworker’s souks. Intricately designed thuya wood items can be found hand laid and inset ebony, walnut and citrus wood. There is a prior tradition of artists harvesting their own wood. Today this ancient tradition has been abandoned. Many artist cooperatives offer the option to design and command on order tables and other objects with thuya. Don’t miss out on seeing how these small treasures are made.

Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah Musuem This local historical and craft museum contains a wide variety of carpets, textiles, clothing, jewelry, metalwork, woodwork and historic photos. It is one of the few museums in Essaouira and definitely worth a visit. Address: ‪Street Rue Laalouj‬

French Institute Part of a network of 12 institutes under the umbrella of the French Institutes in Morocco. While the French institutes aims to promote French language and culture it also offers concerts, cultural events, debates and exhibitions along with other cultural events. All are free of charge. Address: 9 rue Med Diouri, Derb Laalouj

Local Attractions Domaine:

Val d’Argan, Excursion to a Local Winery In 1994 Charles Melia created this boutique winery using organic farming methods, just a few kilometers from Essaouira. The Val d’Argan wine tasting is a perfect afternoon excursion from Essaouira and consists of a combination of many elegant offerings. The wine tasting can include a peppering of reds, rose, whites and Moroccan Gris, all consumed with local cheeses or the option of Moroccan lunch. As the result of Val d’Argan, Southern Morocco offers a new vintage each year that make up the wide range created from The Gazelle of Mogador, El Mogador, the Val d’Argan and Orients of the Val d’Argan. Many of the wines made at Val d’Argan can be purchased and are also offered at local restaurants in Morocco. Book in advance! Address: Ounagha Phone: +212 5247-83467 La

Fromagerie Located on Route Cotiere de Safi, just 8 kilometers from Essaouira is Abderrazzak Khoubbane's La Fromagerie. It is one of two fromageries in Morocco, the other being in the rural region of Fes. True to its name Abderrazzak runs a and farm to table restaurant with some of the best “cheese, cheese and more cheese.” The menu is prefixed unless you request a la carte. It consists of local organic wine, home made lightly fried cheese for an appetizer with sides of minty fruit jellies, then a hardy vegetable fresh cheese salad along with a main of Moroccan grilled / smoked meat and upon request a vegetarian, cheese tajine. For desert, a wooden plank is served up with various types of goat, cow and camel cheese. More then a meal, this is an experience. Address: R301, Phone: + 212 666-233534

Horseback Riding in Diabat or Essaouira Proper For a side-excursion within Essaouira consider a visit at Ranch de Diabat, located in the small village Diabat. Ranch de Diabat arranges tours of high quality with camels or horses - and it can be for 2 hours or it can be for several days. If your preference is to stay in Essaouira proper consider Equivasion. Address: Douar Diabat n°6 Phone: +212 662-297203

Cooking Class with Khadija's Kuzina, a Local Essaouira Experience Go local. Explore authentic Moroccan at a private, home cooking class in Essaouira. Learn how to make the most delicious meal you will have in Morocco. You will be met by your local chef and experience an overview of Moroccan cuisine. Enjoy a medina walk to discover the spice market, the fish monger and the various kinds of local fresh produce available. Enjoy a demonstration of how Moroccan bread is made. Moroccan Meal Description: 
Prepare two Moroccan cooked salads, chicken and lemon tajine with preserved lemons and olives or pastilla, and fruit salad or pastilla with milk for desert. Participate in a Moroccan tea ceremony. Dine on the mouth-watering lunch that you prepared.

Jewish Essaouira, Where to Daven Essaouira’s population is approximately 70,000 with fewer then 25 Jews. Visit the Essaouira Jewish Synagogue & Mellah: Jacky Kadoch is the president of Essaouira’s Jewish community. Rabbi Chaim Pinto, the synagogue of the revered Pinto is located in Essaouira’s medina within the Jewish Mellah. The building is an active synagogue, used when pilgrims or Jewish tour groups visit the city. The synagogue is on the second floor of a three-story, courtyard building inside the walls of the old city that also contained Rabbi Pinto's home and office. Essaouira's mellah covers over 10 percent of the town, but Jews constituted almost 40 percent of the population in the late 1880's. Jewish stars on the doors to the mellah show the degree to which Jews were accepted in Essaouira, to the point that some of the richer Jews did not even live in the mellah. Commemorative plaques indicate the buildings in which synagogues were located. Former inhabitants of Essaouira, most of them Jewish, formed a committee to rehabilitate the town. An important member of the committee is King Hassan II's Economic Advisor, Andre Azoulay. The Jewish cemetery, just outside the city gates, is extremely well kept. The hiloula of Chaim Pinto is held in September.” Rabbi Chaim Pinto is buried there.

For more information about Things to Do in Essaouira.

Morocco’s Imperial Cities, Seaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villages, A Taste of Morocco, Magical Kasbahs, Ruins & Waterfalls, Absolute Morocco, The Best of Marrakech, Fes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel. We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

A Tribute to Jean Luc-Manaud at Essaouira's French Institute

Posted by Alecia Cohen on June 18, 2016 at 9:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Jean-Luc Manaud, Photographer

In the spring and summer of 1995 the writer and filmmaker Pierre Guicheney, the ethnologist Viviana Paquew and photographer Jean-Luc Manaud produced for the French edition of Geo Magazine a report on Gnawa and Aissawa rituals and pilgrimages in Marrakech, Meknes, Moulay Brahim, and Tamesloht. Jean-Luc Manaud brought back exceptional images from the immersion. The French Institute in Essaouira is featuring a comprehensive exhbition and homage to Manaud from May 12 to through July 23, 2016 called "7 Colors of Jean-Luc Manaud." The exhbition is comprised of two levels of photographs that are mounted on the historic walls of an 18th Century building that the French Institute in Essaouira occupies on Rue Laaloug.There is also a complimentary documentary by Pierre Guicheney Le bal des génies,1998, that is being screened during this exhibition.

Jean-Luc Manaud-Photographer of Ritual & Aissawa in Morocco

Jean-Luc Manaud was born in the southern city of Gafsa in Tunisia. Manaud was a regular contributor to Le Figaro Magazine and Géo, touring the world of guerillas from Eritrea to Cambodia. In the early years of 2000, Manaud began painting on Polaroids, writing travel and children’s books combining calligraphy, drawing, cut-outs and photographs. Manaud passed away in 2015. The exhibition at the French Institute in Essaouira is a tribute to his works of Art, made in Morocco.

For more information about Essaouira Art Tours.

Morocco’s Imperial Cities, Seaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villages, A Taste of Morocco, Magical Kasbahs, Ruins & Waterfalls, Absolute Morocco, The Best of Marrakech, Fes, and Ouarzazate


Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel. We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

19th Annual Gnaoua Music Festival May 12th - 15th, 2016

Posted by Alecia Cohen on April 22, 2016 at 5:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Gnaoua Festival 19th Annual Program

Morocco announces the 19th Gnaoua Festival which will take place in the Coastal town of Essaouira from May 12th - 15th, 2016. This annual festival will feature artists from around the world along with Gnaoua Maalem greats. The Gnaoua Festival is sponsored by Maroc Telecom, Sidi Ali, Bankque Populaire, Oulmes and several other Moroccan companies. The Gnaoua Festival is the voice of a tradition, memory and music. Nineteen years ago, a team of local Souri's started an event, 100% Moroccan which enabled the Gnaoua Maalems to usher in a new chapter of their life.

Maalem Mahmoud Guinea

Once called, Mogador and the Port of Timbuktu, Essaouira continues to host this annual fetival that has received international acclaim. The unique combination of International stars, Jazz greats and traditional Gnaouas makes it one of a kind. Tributes to this years annual festival will be made to Maalem Mahmoud Guinea and the great Doudou Ndiaye Rose, magician of the Senegalese drum. Mahmoud Guinia was a Moroccan Gnawa musician, singer and guembri player, who was traditionally regarded as a Maâllem, i.e. master.

Doudou Ndiaye Rose

Doudou Ndiaye Rose was a Senegalese drummer, composer and band leader, and was the recognized modern master of Senegal's traditional drum, the sabar. He recorded for both domestic and foreign labels, and collaborated with numerous western musicians. There will be a combination of residences, early evening and late night Concerts along with conference style meet ups, all Gnaoua and Souri style. Below is an up close view at the 19th Annual Gnaoua Festival's line up and artist program.

Artist Line Up - Essaouira 19th Gnaoua Festival From the USA:

Randy Weston: Africa Jamaaladeen Tacuma: Groove Christian Scott: Hewho youth to jazz Jeff Ballard Trio Blitz The Ambassador Hassan Hakmoun: International Gnaoui

From EUROPE: Las Migas: Flamenco witha female fusion tone Jaba & Friends: Roots & reggae

From AFRICA: Hoba Hoba Spirit: The Moroccan music phenomenon event! Mohamed Derham N3rdistan: Rock, rap and Arabic poetry! Songhoy Blues:the quiet force of Timbuktu DoudouN'diaye Rose family:Tribute to mathematician of the Drum! Mehdi Nassouli: The Hajhouj conquering the world RachidaTalal,The pearl of the South Oudaden, rebirth of Amazigh music 3ADA Swiria Issaoua of Fez Hmadcha

Festival Stars from MOROCCO Festival stars: Maalemsfrom all over Morocco (Casablanca, Marrakech, Essaouira, Meknes, Rabat, Ksar El Kebir) MAALEM HAMID EL KASRI: The Santana of the Gnaouis MAALEM ABDELLAH AKHARRAZ: Worthy successor of the Guinea heritage MAALEM ABDESSLAM ALIKANE: Themaalem of maalems MAALEM HASSAN BOUSSOU: The prodigal son MAALEM OMAR HAYAT: For love of Reggae MAALEM ABDELKEBIR MERCHANE, The Gnaoui with silver hands MAALEM MOHAMED KOUYOU, The most American of maalems! MAALEM MAHJOUB KHELMOUS, The magician of the guembri MAALEM MOKHTAR GUINEA:Tagnaouite running in his blood MAALEM SAID OUGHESSAL:A Hispanic breeze blowing on Gnaoua MAALEM ABDENBI EL GUEDARI: An electro Gnaoui MAALEM MUSTAPHA BAQBOU:The hippy Maalem MAALEM SEDDIK BOUNHAR:The passionate Gnaoui who has travelled the world MAALEM AHMED BAQBOU: The gnaoui prince of the ochre-colored city MAALEM Said BOULHIMAS: Maalemin spite of himself MAALEM ALLAL SOUDANI: Ancestral Gnaoui MAALEM SAID BOURKI: Faithful to tradition MAALEM ABDELKADER AMLIL:The Gnaouibluesman MAALEM ABDENBI EL MEKNASSI:“ ElMeknassi” MAALEM RACHID EL HAMZAOUI:Gnaoui Ghiwani

The Official Festival Program - Essaouira 19th Gnaoua Festival

May 13th, 2016 Place: Zaouia Disna Bilal Artist Line Up: Maalem Allal et Najib Soudani and Maalem Said Boulhimas and Maalem Said El Bourki Time: 11:00pm Place: Dar Loubane Artist Line Up: Anciens Gnaoua Time: 12:00am Place: Dar Loubane Artist Line Up: Maalem Seddik Bounhar Time: 12:05am - Residence Place: Dar Loubane Artist Line Up: Songhoy Blues and Maalem Abdeslam Alikane

May 14th, 2016 Time: 8:00pm Place: Place Moulay Hassan Artist: Maalem Abdellah Akharaz Time: 8:05pm Place: Place Moulay Hassan Artist: Movie Projection - Maalem Mahmoud Guinea Time: 9:15pm Place: Place Moulay Hassan Artist: La Releve Gnaoua and Musiciens de Doudou N'Diaye Rose Time: 10:40pm Place: Place Moulay Hassan Artist: Christian Scott Time: 12:00pm Place: Place Moulay Hassan Artist: Maalem Hamid El Kasri Time: 11:00pm Place: Dar Loubane Arist: Maalem Abdenbi El Meknassi Time: 12:00pm Place: Dar Loubane Artist: Maalem Rachid El Hamzaoui Time: 8:30pm Place: Scene de la Plage Arist: Khalid Amrhoche, Khalid Lzoubaz, La Releve Gnaoua, Mohamed Bomzor Time: 9:35pm Place: Scene de la Plage Artist: Songhoy Blues Time: 11:30pm Place: Scene de la Plage Arist: N3Rdistan Time: 11:50pm Place: Scene de la Plage Artist: Maalem Mustapha Baqbou Time: 11:00pm Place: Borj Bab Marrakech Artist: Maalem Abdenbi El Guedari Time: 11:00pm Place: Zaouia Issaoua Place: Tarifa de Safi Time: 12:00am Place: Zaouia Issaoua Artist: Maalem Mahjoub Khalmouss

May 15th, 2016 Time: 5:00pm Place: Place Moulay Hassan Artist: Oudaden Time: 6:00pm Place: Place Moulay Hassan Artist: Maalem Mustapah Baqubou, Mohamed Derham, Nabil Khalidi, Omar Sayed  

For more information about Essaouira or the Gnaoua Festival Morocco’s Imperial Cities, Seaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villages, A Taste of Morocco, Magical Kasbahs, Ruins & Waterfalls, Absolute Morocco, The Best of Marrakech, Fes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel. We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

Hindi Zahra Rocks the Essaouira Gnaoua Festival

Posted by Alecia Cohen on May 17, 2015 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Hindi Zahra, Gnaoua Festival 2015, By Lynn Sheppard

The 18th Annual Gnaoua Music Festival took place in Essaouira, on Morocco's Atlantic Coast from May 14th -17th. Every year, the festival showcases the best of Moroccan Gnaoua musicians and a wide array of Gnaoua and world music. Gnaoua is a musical genre based in Sufi Islamic culture with its roots in sub-Saharan Africa. Moroccan and international artists are also invited to perform, often, in unique fusion concerts alongside Gnaoua groups. One of the most anticipated World Music acts at this year's festival was Hindi Zahra, a Moroccan-born vocalist who played Essaouira for the first time. Born in Morocco in 1979, Hindi Zahra (her stage name is an inversion of her real name) released her first album, Handmade, in 2010 to critical acclaim, winning various awards in France, where she has been based since 1993. Hindi Zahra sings principally in the unusual combination of the Berber language of Morocco and in English. In contrast to her Moroccan linguistic heritage, her musical heritage is an international mélange of folk, rock, jazz, soul and blues, as well as African, Spanish and Latin influences. The timbre of her voice and the fluidity of her movement reveal her North African roots.

Hindi Zahra, 18th Annual Gnaoua Festival, by Lynn Sheppard

In Essaouira, the audience was treated to an early release of tracks from Hindi's new album, Homeland, released in April 2015, as well as some popular favourites from her back catalogue. She strutted on stage, channelling a rock goddess persona, to open with To The Forces, a song, which celebrates the mountain Berbers of Morocco, strong and proud, living at one with nature, despite conditions of extreme poverty. The song is the opening track from Homeland, an album that was largely written in Marrakech, at the end of the promotional tour for Handmade. At this time, Hindi says, she was exhausted after 400 gigs in 2.5 years.She shut herself in a traditional riad (townhouse) with only an internet connection and her own creativity. The result is Homeland, an album conceived in and inspired by Morocco.

After a night of powerful funk, fusion, jazz and Gnaoua music from the likes of Gnaoua rock star, Maalem Omar Hayat and Nigerian Afro Beat drummer, Tony Allen, Hindi Zahra had a challenge ahead of her to maintain the energy of the night's concerts and capture the attention of the Essaouira audience. She not only held her own, she rocked the main stage. Her lilting voice recalls Joni Mitchell or Norah Jones, but these comparisons belie her rock star presence, which is far larger than her petite frame would suggest. The locals were enthused by her Berber lyrics and she was clearly excited to be finally playing at Essaouira with such a wealth of new material. The appeal of Hindi Zahra is in the way she embodies both fragility and strength and in the sheer diversity of her songs, which she writes herself. Her voice and her energy transform themselves effortlessly from the Latin rhythms of her big hit from her first album, Beautiful Tango, through the jazzy tones of Imik Si Mik from the same album and sung mainly in Berber, to Stand Up (from Homeland), which in Essaouira she performed to a ska/reggae arrangement with Mehdi Nassouli of Agadir. In Any Story, from the new album, Hindi Zahra's voice haunts with a mystery that suggests an artist more experienced and accomplished than her years. Hindi Zahra's albums are available to download on I-tunes and on her website directly.

Written by Lynn Sheppard  Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients.

For more information about the Essaouira Gnaoua Festival Morocco’s Imperial Cities, Seaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villages, A Taste of Morocco, Magical Kasbahs, Ruins & Waterfalls, Absolute Morocco, The Best of Marrakech, Fes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

Remembering Jewish Essaouira, Heritage Sites & Synagogues

Posted by Alecia Cohen on May 7, 2015 at 8:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Muslims & Jews in Essaouira, Praying for Rain

Essaouira owes much of its past, present and future to its situation on a bay sheltered from the fierce trade winds of the Atlantic Ocean by an archipelago of small, rocky islands. Towards the end of the 18th century, Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdullah (Mohammed III) created a strategic role for Essaouira in his new trade policy oriented towards the Atlantic. He instructed the construction of the Kasbah (King's Quarters) and the Skala fortifications which became the basis for the medina (old city) we see today. He ordered the closure of Agadir harbor, further south, and effectively routed a large amount of trade between Europe and West and Central Africa through his new port. The Sultan was the first Head of State to recognize US Independence in 1776, thereby creating a strategic linkage in support of his trade objectives in Morocco.

In order to ensure the success of his strategy, Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdullah invited 10 prominent Jewish families from the key commercial centers of Morocco to settle in what was known then as Mogador and manage the trade. These families were largely the descendents of those expelled from Andalusia at the end of the 15th century and had gained a strong reputation for their skills as merchants. They became the "Tujjar as-Sultan", the Sultan's traders. These families - and many foreign consuls and negociants - settled in the newly-built houses of the Kasbah, which featured typical Swiri architecture of rooms set around a colonnaded interior patio, the latter often large enough to accommodate merchandise. Such buildings can be seen in the area near Bab el Minzeh and Bab Sbaa and along Rue Laalouj, where the French Institute and Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdullah Museum are excellent examples.

Chaim Pinto, Jewish Synagogue Essaouira

By the start of the 19th century, the population of Essaouira was majority Jewish. There were as many as 40 synagogues. Some, like the Simon Attia synagogue were the private synagogues of a large family, while others, such as the Slat Lkahal, were community centers of worship. As the affluence of the city grew, it attracted many migrants from the rural areas, seeking economic opportunities. The Mellah, a typical feature of a Moroccan city and a principally Jewish neighborhood, was built to house these families. Essaouira also had a Mellah Kdim, the "old Mellah", which was an extension of the Kasbah and housed the Jewish middle classes. Mogador was unique in Morocco in that Jews, Muslims and Christians - those of Jewish, Berber, African, European and Arabic descent - lived side-by-side. There was a fruitful exchange at all levels of society, from artisans like silversmiths passing on their trade, to the interchange of intellectual and musical influences such as seen in the Andalusian music which continued to be taught and performed in Mogador long after the flight of Jews and Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula.

Jewish Cemetery, Essaouira

          Today, there are a number of Jewish sites which can be visited and/or are under renovation in Essaouira. Essaouira's two Jewish cemeteries are open to visitors by calling the number of the guardian posted on the door. The older of the two is only separated from the sea by a wall and is regularly inundated. It features the mausoleum of Rabbi Haim Pinto (1748–1845), which is the subject of a hilloula (pilgrimage) every Fall. The graves are often laid on top of each other and the inscriptions are no longer legible. All that remains are circular or triangular symbols indicating whether the occupant was male or female. The 'new' Jewish cemetery, across the street, was opened in the 18th century to accommodate the growing population. It is the final resting place of a number of rabbis, intellectuals and musicians as well as many of the 'ordinary' residents of Essaouira-Mogador. The cemetery tells the stories of many great families of Mogador such as the Corcos, the most famous of the original ‘Sultan’s merchants’ and the Yuly and Levy families – some of whom are certainly ancestors of the first Jewish US senator, David Levy Yulee. The guardian of the cemeteries can also grant access to the Haim Pinto synagogue, just back inside the medina at Bab Doukkala, in the Mellah. The neighborhood is part of an urban clearance program and the synagogue, although thoroughly renovated inside, sits in a precarious position surrounded by crumbling and decaying buildings, the former homes of Jewish families.

Slat Synagogue, Essaouira Restoration Project

Just a few doors along, back towards the central medina, is Slat Lkahal, a community synagogue currently under painstaking renovation by Haim Bitton, helped by the generous donations of members of former Mogador Jews. Those who are lucky to meet him there will learn of the intricate connections between Jewish communities in Manchester, London, Italy and Mogador. So far, he has managed to rescue key elements of the original synagogue from demolition and is carefully restoring them using local artisans. He hopes to turn rooms on the upper floor into exhibition and meeting spaces. Back in the Kasbah, the Simon Attia synagogue is the subject of an ambitious restoration program. Once also the Rabbinical Court of Mogador, the aim is to restore the space used for worship on the ground floor and create a library of documents related to Moroccan Judaism alongside accommodation for students of these works upstairs. Most of Essaouira's synagogues are long gone. Few have actually been demolished, but most have passed into alternative uses and only the older members of the Mogador Jewish diaspora recall their location. There are still plenty of clues to the size of the former Jewish population of Essaouira, however. A wander around the labyrinthine alleyways of the Mellah or Kasbah will reveal several doorways with the Star of David on the lintel and a conversation with any of Essaouira's older residents will reveal the proximity and goodwill of the Muslim and Jewish communities in times gone by.

Written by Lynn Sheppard  Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients.

For more information about Essaouira Jewish Heritage Sites or an Essaouira Jewish Heritage Tour Morocco’s Imperial Cities, Seaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villages, A Taste of Morocco, Magical Kasbahs, Ruins & Waterfalls, Absolute Morocco, The Best of Marrakech, Fes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

The Artists Studios Essaouira, and Joutiya Market

Posted by Alecia Cohen on March 31, 2015 at 6:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Naive Artist Studio, Essaouira

The port city of Essaouira, on Morocco's Southern Atlantic Coast, is known for its white-washed walled medina (old city), fabulous seafood from its working port, a windswept sandy beach great for watersports and swimming and its annual music festivals, which reflect its culturally diverse past. Essaouira is also known as a town of artists - both indigenous and international - who are inspired by the relaxed atmosphere, creative environment and fabulous light. The streets of the Essaouira medina are lined with boutiques and galleries, which present plenty of opportunities for purchasing locally produced pieces. One famous gallery is the Galerie Damgaard near the clock tower. Danish collector Frederic Damgaard is credited with bringing the naive art of Swiris (native Essaouirans) to a wider, global audience. In the 1980s, he spotted the potential of self-taught local artists, many of whom were fishermen, farmers or members of the local Gnaoua brotherhoods of Muslim sufis who practice music, song and trance. Damgaard likened the style of these autodidactic artists, working in two and three dimensions, to the increasingly popular indigenous art of other cultures. Today, the work of the better-known artists such as Mohammed Tabal, Aberrahim Harabida and Fatima Ettalbi are regularly exhibited in Essaouira and internationally.

Joutiya Market Artist, Essaouira

For those who seek direct contact with lesser-known artists, it is possible to visit their makeshift art studios in Essaouira's quartier industriel (industrial quarter). The best time to visit is during the weekly Sunday flea market, known as the joutiya (from the French, jeter, to throw or discard), when an art tour can be combined with a rummage through the second-hand and antique treasures on the many stands lining the streets. You will also see junk stalls and architectural salvage yards where those restoring riad townhouses in the medina might find a period piece or a rare gem.

Joutiya Market, Expo

Working with found materials, salvaged boards and other objects ripe for up-cycling, the Joutiya artists have their studios in unpaved alleyways running parallel to the ocean. They are surrounded by the materials of their craft: broken tiles, abandoned furniture, carpenter's off cuts, shells and pebbles.

Joutiya Market Art, Essaouira

Although you can find the work of the joutiya artists such as Abdelaziz Baki, Ali Maimoune and Asmah Ennaji in the medina, they are happy to welcome you in to their studios, where they exhibit the full range of their work. In Baki's studio you will find brightly coloured sculptures of fantastical beasts - half bird, half fish or part man, part animal. He also decorates small pieces of furniture in his inimitable style featuring eyes (the evil eye is common theme in Islamic and Jewish cultures) and dots reminiscent of Aboriginal art. Asmah's paintings feature solemn-faced portraits of doe-eyed subjects, sometimes so tightly crammed into the frame as to be disturbing. Others seem positively benevolent and gentle. Look out also for Filali, whose naive portraits of local characters, simply portrayed on chipboard, are comical and appealing in their lack of perspective or conformity to accepted norms. His portrayal of marrying couples - sometimes looking a little reluctant - make a quirky gift. If you aren't in town on a Sunday, the newly renovated Centre Artisanal (Artisans Center, opposite L’Heure Bleue) is also a great place to discover local arts and crafts. Written by Lynn Sheppard  Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients.

For more information about Essaouira Art at the Joutiya Market or an Essaouira Tour

Morocco’s Imperial Cities, Seaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villages, A Taste of Morocco, Magical Kasbahs, Ruins & Waterfalls, Absolute Morocco, The Best of Marrakech, Fes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

Springtime in Morocco, Your Morocco Tour Guide

Posted by Alecia Cohen on January 11, 2015 at 4:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Valley of Roses Festival Morocco, Springtime

Springtime In the depths of winter, once the end-of-year festivities are over, is a great time to plan a spring break. Just dreaming of longer, sunnier days makes the winter fade and the spring seem closer. And where better to travel in spring than Morocco? You will find agreeable temperatures, trees in full bloom after the rains of winter and a range of activities and festivals in Morocco to give you a deeper insight into the natural and cultural diversity of this fascinating country.

Unless you wish to undertake specific activities which are dependent on the climate, the spring (March-May) and Autumn (September-October) are the best times to visit Morocco. This way, you will avoid the rain and chills of the winter and the searing heat of the interior and desert of the summer. For example, in Marrakech in Spring, the temperature is around 18-27°C (64-85°F) and in the evenings a light sweater is usually sufficient. Marrakech is a great starting point for a spring tour of Morocco. Once you have explored the sights and souks of this former imperial city, you can head into the Atlas Mountains, to the west.

The mountainsides of the High Atlas and (further north) Middle Atlas ranges are Morocco's fruit bowl. Depending on the location and when in spring you travel, you can trek, climb and ride on horseback among the beautiful blossom of apple, walnut, almond or cherry trees. A popular day trip destination is the Ourika Valley, where you can enjoy lunch in the valley base beside the babbling Ourika River and hike up through a series of waterfalls. More experienced trekkers will find spring an ideal time to ascend Mount Toubkal, North Africa's highest peak at 4,167 m (13,671 ft) and will still find a little snow at the top! A longer tour might take you towards the spectacular Tiz-n-Test pass as you head south towards the Souss Valley and Anti Atlas region.

As you travel out of Marrakech, you will pass many plantations of conifers and fruit trees. The area around Ouirgane is stunning at this time of year and hikes in the hills and valleys can easily be combined with a visit to the historic Tin Mal mosque - built in 1154 and one of only 2 mosques in Morocco open to non-Muslims. Despite its isolated location, Tin Mal was the cradle of the Berber Almohad empire. If you travel to Morocco in May, we recommend you take in the Rose Festival in Kelaa M'Gouna. Dedicated to the famous roses of this area in the spectacular Dades Valley, this festival also celebrates local rural life and all the derivatives of rose you could ever imagine, including cosmetic products and the delicate rose water present in most Moroccan pastries and cakes. Your trip in this region could also take in kayaking or canyoning the rivers full of snowmelt, a night in an ancient fort along the 'Route of 1000 Kasbahs' or a trip into the Sahara Desert when the days are balmy and the nights clear and starry. You shouldn't miss the opportunity to see a Saharan sunrise or ride a camel over the dunes!

Festival Printemps des Alizés Festival 14th Edition, Springtime

Spring is also a good time to visit Morocco's Atlantic Coast. In Agadir, temperatures are already summery, providing for days of golfing, swimming and watersports. To the south in the Souss-Massa National Park, spring is a great time to see native nesting bird species and bid farewell as migratory birds head north. Further up the coast in Essaouira, the trade winds start to pick up in spring, bringing fresh fish to the dockside.

Essaouira is also the venue for the Festival Printemps des Alizés - a classical music festival held to coincide with the main moussem season (period of festivities and pilgrimages to honour local Muslim and Jewish saints) in April/May. If you are lucky, your trip might coincide with a display of Arab horsemen, known as a fantasia. At these events, teams compete to charge their horses and fire their rifles in unison. It is a unique event not to be missed if you are in Essaouira Province in spring! Springtime is a great time to visit Morocco. From Marrakech, you will see snow-tipped mountains while sitting in a climate like a Northern European or North American summer. The opportunities to explore Morocco's countryside - the mountains, desert and coast - are unparalleled at this time of year and a range of festivals also offer an insight into Moroccan culture.

Written by Lynn Sheppard  Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients.

For more information about the Best Time to Travel Morocco Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

Essaouira's Atlantic Andalucía Festival, Your Morocco Tour Guide

Posted by Alecia Cohen on November 9, 2014 at 6:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Photograph - Lynn Sheppard -  Jalal Chekara and Chekara Flamenca, Essaouira Atlantic Andalucia Festival

Photograph - Lynn Sheppard - Jalal Chekara and Chekara Flamenca, Essaouira Atlantic Andalucia Festival

The Festival des Andalousies Atlantiques (Atlantic Andalucía Festival) celebrated in October 2014 its 11th year in Essaouira, on Morocco's Southern Atlantic coast. It is now a well-established fixture in the annual schedule of this festival city, alongside the Gnaoua World Music Festival (which held its 17th edition in Essaouira - 2014) and the Printemps Musical des Alizés (the Spring chamber music festival initiated in 2000). All three festivals celebrate the rich cultural diversity of Morocco and in particular the urban coexistence of different religious and ethnic groups in Essaouira (or Mogador, as it was once known). Despite its modest size, 19th century Mogador was Morocco's foremost port.

This was Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdullah's strategic objective. He had created the kasbah (King's Quarters) of Mogador to house his officials alongside the families of 10 Jewish merchants he invited to develop trade with Europe and the new world. European traders and consuls soon followed and the Sultan's recognition of US independence in 1776 (the first head of state or government to do so) assured a significant market for the erstwhile 'port of Timbuktu.' Some of these prominent Jewish families - and the less wealthy families who followed them and found their home in the Mellah of Essaouira - were descendants of the Megorachim, who had fled the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the 15th century after the fall of Al-Andalus. They came to Mogador from cities such as Tangiers, Tetouan and Fes, where many exiles has settled. This cultural melting pot of Muslims, Jews and Christians, of Arabs, Berbers, Europeans and Africans, fuelled great intellectual and artistic collaboration.

This is typified in the Andalusian style of music, which draws on Jewish, Arabic, Berber and Spanish influences. The poster for the 2014 edition of the Essaouira Atlantic Andalucía Festival features French painter Eugène Delacroix' work, 'Jewish Musicians of Mogador'. Delacroix didn't visit Mogador, but was present during the visit of a French delegation to the palace of Sultan Moulay Abd Er Rahman in Meknes in 1832. Wishing to present the best of his Empire, the Sultan brought an Andalusian style orchestra of Jewish and Muslim musicians from Mogador to play for the visitors. The 2014 festival presented a recreation (without the aid of any written records) of the piece which this group played for the Sultan's guests almost 200 years ago.

Photograph by Lynn Sheppard - Neta Elkayam at the 2014 Essaouira Atlantic Andalucia Festival

Photograph by Lynn Sheppard - Neta Elkayam at the 2014 Essaouira Atlantic Andalucia Festival

The annual Festival celebrates this common yet diverse heritage, as does the Conservatoire (Music School) of Essaouira, which today trains young musicians to preserve these rich traditions. The young artists, such as local talent Hicham Dinar Souiri, follow in the footsteps of great masters - some of whom, such as Abderrahim Souiri, ('Souiri' meaning 'of Essaouira'' and by extension its traditions), were on stage during the festival and who themselves have been influenced by the great names of the genre, such as Samy el Maghribi. In 2014, Festival-goers were also treated to the great Andalusian Orchestra of Tetouan, directed by Amine Al Akrami; flamenco dance and song from Chekara Flamenca in collaboration with both Rabbi Haim Louk (a master of Moroccan Jewish liturgy) and Abir al Abed (lead vocalist with all-female group, Arige); and the modern ensemble of Neta Elkayam (a gorgeous, talented and energetic female singer of Moroccan origin based in Israel) and Maher Khalil Deeba (Palestinian singer and oud musician from East Jerusalem). The significance of this Festival is not only in celebrating this past, but its contribution to a future in Morocco where inter-religious and intra-community tolerance and respect continues. As Mr André Azoulay, Patron of the Festival, Adviser to HRH King Mohammed VI and Jewish son of Mogador said on the occasion of the 2014 festival: "This story is not only written in the past." Morocco lives these principles today - no more so than in Essaouira.

Written by Lynn Sheppard 

Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients. You can contact Lynn at: lynn@maroc-o-phile.com

For more information about Essaouira's Atlantic Andalucía Festival or an Essaouira Tour   Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

The Moroccan Music Scene, Your Morocco Travel Guide

Posted by Alecia Cohen on September 16, 2013 at 8:20 AM Comments comments (0)

On Marrakech’s Jemma el Fna Square amongst  the orange juice stalls and story tellers you will find stalls with  CD’s  testifying to the popularity and importance of Morocco’s contemporary music scene which began with the accession of King Mohammed VI in 1999 when greater liberalization of musical genre  especially for young people  who sought music which reflected  their aspirations was gradually phased in and supported with musical festivals organized with royal support and sponsorship like the  annual Mazawine Music Festival in Rabat, The Gnawa  Festival in Essaouria and the World Sacred Music Festival in Fez.  Moroccan TV and radio channels also play an important role with live performances. Young musicians are encouraged to perform and Morocco which has successfully fused elements of its ancient Berber musical traditions with modern music such as Chaabi, Hiphop and Rai and Rap. This has not been without controversy with orthodox Islamic opinion and 14 young members of a heavy metal band were arrested for making “satanic music”, though they were eventually released. Rap stars who make sensitive political comments are sometimes imprisoned. Members of the Islamic led PJD government have also criticized music festivals for corrupting Moroccan youth but generally Morocco’s spirit of compromise wins through despite the tensions affecting the region. Indeed you can see and hear moveable cassette vendors with their barrows playing religious music with other wares for sale on the main Avenue Mohammed V in Marrakech’s  ville nouvelle, Gueliz. Traditional Berber folk village music called Ahwash, is very much alive and is on display in July each year at the National Festival of Popular Arts at the Badii Palace in Marrakech.  The music performed by professional musicians called Raiss includes comedy and dances in their performances. 

Two famous traditional musical bands are Bachir Attar’s  Master Musicians of Jajouka who originally met with Brian Jones and the Rolling Stones in 1969 and recorded with them. Their music celebrates the pagan rites centered on the figure of Boujeloud who has been likened to Pan. They perform regular concerts  in Morocco and abroad including the United States and Germany playing with international musicians. They recently featured in Anthony Bourdain’s  “Parts Unknown “  program on CNN. The other traditional band is the Daqqa of Marrakech who perform a ritual dance for the religious festival of Ashura.

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Chaabi is a popular music descended from Moroccan folk music. Originally performed in markets, it is now performed during celebrations or meetings. Chaabi songs end with a swift rhythmic section and syncopated clapping. Modern instruments like electric guitars and buzuks are also used as well as lutes and a drum. Andalusian classical music called Al Ala was brought to Morocco following the Reconquista in Spain when Muslims and Jews were forced to leave. It is an urban form of music which is highly popular and performed with large orchestras frequently on TV and radio.  Jewish musicians had a profound influence on Al Ala. Gnawa was  brought to Morocco by Sub-Saharan Africans and later became part of the Moroccan tradition. Much of the modern fusion draws on Gnawa and the annual Essaouira Gnawa Festival is now broadening its musical performances to include a more contemporary repertoire. Classical Malhun  music which translates as “gift” or “inspiration” is Arabic in origin and is derived from  Sufi inspired Arabic Andalusian poetry. Sufi Brotherhoods (tarikas) are widespread in Morocco, and music is an integral part of their spiritual tradition. The purpose is to induce a trance state which inspires mystical ecstasy. Leading  Sufi Brotherhoods include the Derkoua, Hamadasha, Aissoua and the Jilala. Modern music includes Rai which is associated with Algeria in the international music scene, but Morocco has produced its own stars lincluding Cheb Mimoun and Hanino. Other genre include Hiphop, Electronica and Fusion, which draws on Gnawa,  Jazz and heavy metal. Casablanca is a major center for contemporary Moroccan music. Pirating remains a concern for Moroccan musicians as it is difficult to establish copyright for music performances and CD’s, although Morocco has an intellectual property rights law. In Marrakech an English music producer Nick Wilde set up Marrakchi Records a record label, music publishing and artist management  company to support young Moroccan musicians. Marrakchi Records provides a management service for Moroccan musicians and promotes them thus helping to establish them in the fast moving contemporary Moroccan music scene. It covers all genres from Rock, Hiphop, Electronic,   gnawa ,  blues and African music. Artists who have successfully produced albums with Marrakchi Records include Caravane, Blue Medina, DJ Haze, Mwanssa, Chaabi and Nisrine. By Colin Kilkelly

For More Information about a Marrakech Tour and the Marrakech Music Scene Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

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Essaouira's Jewish Heritage, Your Morocco Tour Guide

Posted by Alecia Cohen on July 27, 2013 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (0)

In the new Moroccan constitution adopted in 2011 in the context of the Arab Spring , His Majesty King Mohammed VI reaffirmed the "Hebrew distinctive characteristic" of Morocco as " one of the age-old pieces " of "its national identity"" and he called for "the restoration of all the Jewish temples " in the Kingdom. In a message at the restoration ceremony of the 17th century Slat al Fassayine Synagogue in Fes, King Mohammed VI reiterated his commitment to religious freedom and spiritual diversity, and emphasized the importance of the three-thousand-year-old Jewish legacy in Morocco. King Mohammed VI commended the institutions and individuals whose years of effort led to the restoration of Slat al Fassayine and called for the restoration of all Moroccan synagogues.  Morocco is intent on making the Judeo-Moroccan cultural heritage a priority as part of its larger domestic program to preserve the unique and historic aspects of Moroccan culture. "As is enshrined in the Kingdom's new Constitution," His Majesty said, "the Hebrew heritage is indeed one of the time-honored components of our national identity. For this reason, I wish to call for the restoration of all the synagogues in the other Moroccan cities so that they may serve not only as places of worship, but also as forums for cultural dialogue and for the promotion of our cultural values."

Essaouira is the site of an annual pilgrimage to the grave of the renowned Rabbi Chaïm Pinto,known for many miracles during his lifetime, he died 1845. His home and synagogue are preserved as an historic and religious site. It is situated in the Mellah. The hiloula of Chaïm Pinto is held in September every year and is attended by many devout jews from all over the world.. The Chaim Pinto Synagogue, is an historic site in Essaouira, Morocco, formerly known as Mogador,   and was the home and synagogue of Rabbi Chaim Pinto.

Although there is no longer a Jewish community in Essaouira, the building is an active synagogue, used when pilgrims or Jewish tour groups visit the city. The synagogue is on the second floor of a three-story, courtyard building inside the walls of the old city that also contained Rabbi Pinto's home and office. The building is of whitewashed plaster over masonry. The synagogue consists of a single large room. There are two women's sections, one across the courtyard and one on the third floor, both with windows looking into the synagogue. The synagogue room underwent a modern renovation in line with the policy of restoring  Morocco’s Jewish synagogues announced by King Mohammed VI, concealing the ceiling and column capitals, and painting the wood of the Torah Ark and Bimah light blue.

The other synagogue being renovated is Slat Attias Essaouira's mellah covers over 10 percent of the town, but Jews constituted almost 40 percent of the population in the late 1880's. Jewish stars on the doors to the mellah show the degree to which Jews were accepted in Essaouira, to the point that some of the richer Jews did not even live in the mellah. Commemorative plaques indicate the buildings in which synagogues were located. The Jewish community formed an important link with the outside world for Morocco not only as regards trade but also in terms of art and culture. André Elbaz the painter is one of many, who lives in France but always remembers his birth place, Essaouira, and continues to exhibit there at the Contemporary Art Centre at Essaouira. Former inhabitants of Essaouira, most of them Jewish, formed a committee to rehabilitate the town.

The Jewish cemetery, just outside the city gates, is extremely well-kept. The cemetery  is renowned as the site of an annual pilgrimage to Rabbi Haim Pinto. Annually, on the hillula or anniversary of the rabbi’s death (26 Ellul on the Jewish calendar), Jews from around the world come on pilgrimage to the rabbi’s grave. Essaouira was founded in 1765. The oldest tombs date from 1776. These tombs carved out of marine sandstone, are interesting. Contrary to Jewish tradition and Mosaic Law, they are sculptured with very marked human forms. A famous citizen of Essaouira, the adviser to King Mohammed VI , André Azoulay ,who is Jewish, has said that his birthplace Essaouira is, “the single place in the Arab world equipped with a population mainly Jewish until 1930, could be used today as example for the dialogue between the Jews and the Moslems throughout the world” During the 19th century the Jewish population in Essaouira grew from 4,000 to 12,000 from 1830 to 1912, and declined to about 6500 in 1936.This is attributed to the decline of commerce and other economic activity during the French Protectorate era in Mogador in favor of Casablanca and Agadir. The immigration trends of the 1950s and 1960s caused the Mogador Jewish community to dwindle. n the early 1970s most of its Jewish community members resided in USA,Canada, Europe and Israel. By 2005, the community had almost disappeared. Essaouira used  to be an example of a small town in which Muslims and Jews lived side by side in both rich and poor districts, working together but socially segregated - and in peace.

The rise of Essaouira as a commercial port in the 19th century because of the cotton trade and the links with major ports such as Manchester and Liverpool saw the Jewish community involved in export –import trade in Essaouira reach its zenith. It was unique because there were almost as many Jews as there were Muslims, so the term "minority" did not really apply, as it did in every other town and city in Morocco and everywhere in the Arab world. Aside from ownership of the land in and around the town, which always remained in the hands of the caids and makhsen - local landed gentry and royal family clans - most urban-style import-export business was dominated by Jewish families. The one exception was all artisan work connected to wood, directly linked to the vast forests around the town. From the very beginning of royal trading in the 18th century, the Corcos family dominated the import of tea leaves from Britain, which originated from its Far East colonies, and was thus responsible for making tea the traditional morning beverage in Morocco. Essaouira's last Jews began to leave following the Six Day War. Many of the working-class families left the mellah, the Jewish district in Arab cities, for Israel.

The Kasbah's well-off business leaders headed mostly to France and Canada. But thousands of Jews remain here, buried in two cemeteries on the edge of town, including Rabbi  Chaim Pinto. Thousands of Jews return each year to venerate his tomb and those of the many Moroccan Jewish saints and ancestors uniting them with their past and  also celebrating the future. Many religious schools, a yeshiva, and several English-French Jewish schools were founded in Essaouira in the 1800s. In the early 20th century, the Jewish population in Essaouira was still higher than the Muslim population, and urban life was regulated by the Jewish calendar. Essaouira's real beginning as a import-export center came in 1760 when the sultan of Morocco appointed families from Casablanca, Marrakech and other northern cities to settle here and become official royal traders. Many if not most were Jewish. The town grew. According to Ottmani, seven of the town's leading families in the 19th century were Muslim, while 25 were Jewish, with names such as Corcos, Afriat, Bensaoud, Cohen Solal, Belisha, Ohana, Pinto and El-Maleh. In the beginning, these families conducted trade by ship mostly with Britain, but also handled local trade and the camel caravans coming from Timbuktu across the desert, with links to Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Cairo and Mecca.

In modern times the caravans disappeared, but international trade focused on Europe became highly competitive. The silver jewelry work was famous for the much sought-after filogram design, the Dag Ed Essaouiri - thin lines converge on a circular center as meticulous radii, a design that was instantly recognizable as native to Essaouira. The master silversmiths were all Jewish, as were many of the workers, who lived mostly in the mellah. Today, the remaining silver designers are Berbers, many of whom worked with the local Jews until they left. The local Arab jewelers all work in gold. Israel has been a part of the attempt to commercialize. There is an ongoing attempt to link French-speaking Jews back to their countries of origin in North Africa. In some cases, it has been successful, as French and Canadian Sephardim, and in some cases Israelis, have bought homes there. The Essaouira Alliance Israélite Universelle School, was founded in 1765. While no longer an Alliance school, the building remains the same, with its open courtyard, narrow staircases, and rooftop view of the Atlantic ocean.

For More Information about the Essaouira's Jewish Heritage or an Essaouira Tour 

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

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