The Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador) is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Essaouira (English pronunciation: /ˌɛsəˈwɪərə/; Arabic: الصويرة, Berber: M-ugadir) is a windy city in the western Moroccan economic region of Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz, on the Atlantic coast. It was formerly known, by the 16th century Portuguese as Mogador or Mogadore. The Berber name means the wall, a reference to the fortress walls that originally enclosed the city.
The bay at Essaouira is partially sheltered by the island of Mogador, making it a peaceful harbor protected against strong marine winds. Essaouira has long been considered as one of the best anchorages of the Moroccan coast. Archaeological research shows that Essaouira has been occupied since prehistoric times. The Carthaginian navigator Hanno visited and established a trading post there in the 5th century BC. Around the end of the 1st century BCE or early 1st century CE, Juba II established a Tyrian purple factory, processing the murex and purpura shells found in the intertidal rocks at Essaouira and the Iles Purpuraires. This dye colored the purple stripe in Imperial Roman Senatorial togas.
The present city of Essaouira was only built during the 18th century. Mohammed III, wishing to reorient his kingdom towards the Atlantic for increased exchanges with European powers, chose Mogador as his key location. One of his objectives was to establish a harbour at the closest possible point from Marrakesh. The other was to cut off trade from Agadir in the south, which had been favouring political rival of Mohammed III, and the inhabitants of Agadir were forced to relocate to Essaouira. For 12 years, Mohammed III directed a French engineer, Théodore Cornut, and several other European architects and technicians, to build the fortress and city along modern lines.
Originally called "Souira", "The small fortress", the name then became "Es-Saouira", "The beautifully designed". Essaouira is an exceptional example of a late-18th-century fortified town, built according to the principles of contemporary European military architecture in a North African context. Since its foundation, it has been a major international trading seaport, linking Morocco and its Saharan hinterland with Europe and the rest of the world.
Nowadays Essaouira presents itself as a city full of culture: number of small art galleries are found all over the town. Since 1998, the Gnaoua Festival of World Music is held in Essaouira, normally in the last week of June. It brings together artists from all over the world. Although focussed on gnaoua music, it includes rock, jazz and reggae. Dubbed as the "Moroccan Woodstock" it lasts four days and attracts annually around 450,000 spectators.