Culture

A History Lesson on Essaouira

HISTORY Today Essaouira is a small port city, popular with tourists and known for its fresh seafood. Yet trace the history of this Mogador city back and you'll find a different place. When the Romans came to town, they had other interests in Essaouira. And they weren't the same interests as vacationers have today.


Prior to 146 B.C., Essaouira was a province belonging to the Berber monarchy and made up of nomadic tribes.

But things were about to change. At the time, the Roman Empire was the most powerful in the Mediterranean Sea. After having provoked and overwhelmed their biggest enemy during the first two Punic Wars, the Romans, worried about a counterattack from Carthaginians, originally from the Tunisian Gulf, began to invade the Atlantic coast, the current Morocco.

Once the region surrendered it became a client state, in support of the Empire.

Before long, the Romans began to impart their wisdom and develop various industries along the coast. They found other uses for salt, so-called salting, such as preserving food, meat and fish. And it was here that they found a resource that became dear to them, murex.

Off the coast of Essaouira, rising out of the ocean, the purple-coloured islands are a favourable breeding ground for aquatic flora and fauna. Among them is the shellfish murex, which Roman democrats and generals viewed as a luxurious natural resource. The thorny shellfish, tinted with orange and red colours, was used to create the purple tint. Discovered by the Phoenicians, the Romans used this dye for their ceremonial clothing.

In fact, the colour found here is what gives the islet its name, Purpuraires.

Then, in 42 A.D, the Empire decided to annex the region, creating Mauritania Tingitane. The region quickly fell to the side and the industries here went bankrupt. Over time, Essaouira went from being the purple of Rome, to its mystical blue that suits it so well. The city in the sky and the ocean.