Fishing boats under the ramparts of the Moroccan port of Essaouira on the Atlantic coast on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography iain-mallory-300-19_essaouira

Essaouira – A Fishy tale in Morocco’s Windy City

Essaouira on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, is known as the ‘Windy City’, and it’s not difficult to understand why. Even when there is little more than a breeze, it gusts through the streets, market places and along the beach. Its touch caresses the sand and reaches every hidden space within the town.

Returning fishermen in the port of Essaouira on the Atlantic coast of Morocco on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography iain-mallory-300-12 fishing_boat

Coming home

“shark and other fish, simply sold off the pavement in the fishing port”

That Essaouria s described as a city is a little more difficult to comprehend. Despite the many exclusive hotels, riads, bars and restaurants it’s still little more than an ‘overgrown’ fishing village. It is this feeling of authenticity absent from some other larger Moroccan cities which  appeals to me.

Read more from Morocco here: Morocco; A story of three Medinas

Essaouria – A Working Port

I enjoyed several hours in the harbour, watching the fishing boats arrive with their catch, to be unloaded onto the wharf. Some of the fish makes its way to the nearby market but plenty of it, is merely sold off the pavement in the port.

The last of the Essaouira fishing fleet returning from the Moroccan Atlantic on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photographyiain-mallory-300-8 essaouria

Last of the fleet

The small boats are for long-lining, all coloured blue they make a striking sight when docked together. They use fishing lines which are several kilometres in length and catch the bigger fish such as red tuna, rays, bass and sharks such as blues.

There are larger boats; trawlers which drag nets for catching the smaller fish such as sardines, mackerel and shrimp. Fishermen buy and sell their catch along the quay and in the fishmarket along with the live lobster and spider crabs caught in traps.

The fish selection on display in front of individual ‘fishmongers’ is quite startling and a little sad, especially the obviously juvenile blue sharks which are probably the prize catch for the fishermen.

Moroccan fishermen doing net maintenance in Essaouira harbour on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography iain-mallory-300-6 moroccan_fishermen

Repairing nets

It is a little surprising that the Essaouira air is not filled with the stench of fish, in fact the market area is much more pungent. Fishermen tend their stalls gutting and filleting their catch whilst bartering the best price with the restaurateurs of the city. It seems likely that it pays to buy in bulk and there is some collaboration between restaurants or street food sellers, guaranteeing to buy the entire catch of certain fishermen.

Fishermen selling his catch at the wharfside Essaouira, Morocco on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Wharfside fish merchant

Once the days catch is sold, possibly enough being retained for dinner, preparations for the next fishing expedition take place. Rough hands weathered by the sun, wind and sea spray work on nets, often in teams , repairing any holes. Other fishermen work on the trawlers cleaning decks, and still more lay out long lines along the wharf ensuring hooks and fishing lines are ready for action.

A streetfood seller seafood display in Essaouira, Morocco on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Seafood display

Tourists mingle with those working in the port and parents looking for something to feed their family that day. The docks throb with the comings and goings of those that make their living from the sea. Character filled faces etched from a life spent in the glare of the sun and the unforgiving power of the ocean lean against boats and discuss best practice.

Seagulls fill the sky with aerial warfare, avian fighter pilots performing ‘dogfights’ in search of the best scraps. Their piercing cries fill the air, high-pitched squawks, if they cannot wrestle anything from their adversaries then possibly scare tactics is another option.

Occasionally the odd over aggressive bird may ‘divebomb’ an unsuspecting two-legged adversary and avoiding their less sociable ‘shares’ is one of the hazards of the port.

Avian Dogfights

Discover Morocco’s souks here: The Joy of Souks

Although the blue which is prevalent throughout the Essaouira medina is only visible on the long-lining boats it is still an attractive harbour. Protected from the elements by the fortified ramparts and a long breakwater. Built for practical and historical defence from the ocean and marauding pirates of foreign enemies they also add charisma to the port.

“avoiding their less sociable ‘shares’ is one of the hazards of the port”

Strolling away from the wharf towards the city the nearby street food sellers are found, providing yet fish dish options. The displays are dazzling and the hawkers responsible for attracting customers will happily poke the crustaceans into displaying just how fresh they are, pincers raised in aggressive defence.

Selling fish on the wharf at Essaouira, Morocco on Mallory on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography iain-mallory-300-17 essaouira_morocco

Market on the wharf

Feeling hungry, merely select a fish, it will be quickly prepared and cooked to order, how’s that for bespoke cuisine?

After enjoying a meal of the freshest fish possible, perhaps with some rice or salad and a local wine there is plenty of time to watch the everyday comings and goings of Essaouira. It is easy to imagine little has changed here, in truth little has, the fishermen still leave the port early each day, although now they use motorised engines and not the power of the ever-present wind.

The fishing fleet of Essaouira safe at harbour in the Atlantic coastal port in North African, Morocco on Mallory on Travel adventure travel, photography, travel iain-mallory-300-15 essaouira_boats

Colourful fleet

Fishing boats under the ramparts of the Moroccan port of Essaouira on the Atlantic coast on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography iain-mallory-300-19_essaouira

The reserve fleet of the Blue Harbour?

Fully satiated and yet only half the day has gone, it’s time to head into the narrow back streets of the medina but that’s a whole new adventure.

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Comments 26

  1. Simon

    I traveled throughout Morocco close to 20 years ago and I still clearly remember the charm of Essaouira. And the wind…

    As you mention in your writing, I liked its authenticity, the colors and the smell.
    I’ve been wondering sometimes how much it had changed over the last years. Apparently, not that much. Glad about that 🙂

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      Iain

      It became one of my own favourite places in Morocco Simon, so pleased I had a chance to check it out for myself.

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  2. Jack

    Great shots, they capture the vibrancy of colour and bustle perfectly.

    Alas, I didn’t manage to enjoy life at the harbour without receiving a ‘present’ from the seagull squadrons when I visited 🙂

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  3. Liz

    Hi Ian, thanks for sharing your sights and thoughts on Essouira. I liked it so much a couple of years ago that I’m going back, but this time I take some friends to show them how lovely, charming, colourful this place is. Already fowarded them your post to be honest!

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      Iain

      That’s great Liz I’m sure you’ll have a great time with friends, hope to get there myself one day soon and hopefully spend a little while longer there next time.

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  4. Jeremy Branham

    I appreciate a look at the real life, work a day fisherman. Their job is a tough one and I am sure it’s not easy getting up and going out to get their catch each day. I know some of the fish, sharks, crabs, etc are prized because of their value. I do like the idea of getting fresh fish right there. I visited a small fishing village like this in Portugal. It’s not a lifestyle that I would want but I appreciate what they do.

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      Iain

      I agree totally Jeremy it is not an easy life and especially in the current climate of reducing stocks of fish worldwide, it often seems idyllic but taking a closer look and the truths of it are more evident than they first appear.

  5. Carol

    thanks for this wonderful and amazing post. I really love it. Hopefully I can read again your next article writing.

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      Iain

      I am not a great fan of cities Ava, but it’s easy to make an exception for Barcelona, such a wonderful city.

  6. Si

    I love Essaouira. I could’ve just about spent a day walking around and looking at what the fishing boats brought in! It’s a quirky little place, too. The town is great for a wander.

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  7. Monica

    This brought back some great memories. Essaouira was my favourite place in Morocco, not just because I love fish but I loved the rustic vibe and being near the sea. The cats there are also gorgeous. I’m not usually a cat fan but seeing these fat guys lazing in the sunshine with a belly full of fish kept me entertained for days!

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      Iain

      Essaouira is one of my favourite destinations Monica, I really enjoy visiting Morocco anyway and still have a few places there i need to visit. Maybe a post is required “The Fat Cats of Essaouira”

  8. Laura

    Oh Essaouira, amazing place to be and I also been in Asilah, is situated more in the north and it is a really nice place. I found there the peace I need after being traveling around Morocco.

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