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Travel Tips from Edith Kohlbach

Agadir

…. lays in a wide protected bay with kilometre long fine sandy beaches and is the main bathing resort for foreign tourists with numerous hotels, especially better class ones. The provincial capital, with 599.300 residents, was completely rebuilt at an new location after the massive earthquake from 1960. As such there are no historical cultural monuments to be found.

This modern city is ideal as the starting point for excursions to the hinterlands and end point for a relaxing couple of days of bathing. This Oceanside resort, completely catering to all tourists wishes, has a mild climate. During the winter, the temperature is hardly ever under 16° C and in the summer seldom over 27° C. With comfortable water temperatures, it is an ideal place to spend the winter. However, up until midday it is often foggy. As I returned to the city from Imouzzer with more than 30° C at the end of May, the fog cooled the temperature down to about 20° C.

The history of Agadir

Translated, Agadir means “Fortress of the cliffs”, a suitable name for the strategic positioning, which was recognised quite early. There was a Carthaginian trading station named “Rusadir”, as well as a roman “Portus Risadir” but there is not much known about them. In 1505 a commercial station was setup by Portuguese and was called Santa Cruz.. A successful trade developed, which improved after the Merenids took over in 1541. Santa Cruz became an important harbour for Taroudannt, the Sous inland capital. In the main, sugar cane, dates, gold and slaves were shipped through the harbour.

During the 17th century the cheaper Brazilian sugar displaced the native product from the market and Agadir’s fall began.

In 1765, Sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah closed the harbour in favour of Essaouira, founded by him. As a result Agadir became completely insignificant.

At the beginning of the 20th century, due to the rich ore deposits in the interior, many German companies setup business. The French were displeased with the fact that this strategically important harbour was in German hands. The Gunboat “Panther” entered Agadir on the 1st of July, 1911 to protect German interests and almost started the first world war. Through a contract closed in the same year, the Germans were awarded a part of French central Africa in exchange for leaving Morocco. Agadir developed quickly under the French protectorate.

On the 29th of February 1960 a mild earthquake, with the source directly under the Kasbah, reduced the city to rubble within seconds. 15.000 of the almost 40.000 inhabitants lost their lives. Relief work from many countries helped the young state with reconstruction. A modern, clearly structured city was conceived, three kilometres from the previous earthquake endangered position.

Places worth seeing in Agadir

The only evidence of the old days, are the remains of the Kasbah, built by Sultan Mohammed ech Cheikh in 1540, left over from the earthquake, on a 256 meter high hill overlooking the harbour, from where he besieged the Portuguese. In 1752 Moulay Abdallah made extension to the fortress. A plaque with inscriptions in Arabic and Dutch commemorates a commercial base from 1746. The twenty minute climb is well worth the effort just for the impressive view of the wide Agadir bay alone. Unfortunately you will not have peace for very long, children and youths are out looking for business with the tourists.

A visit to the fishing harbour is interesting, when the cutters return from their nightly trips and deliver their catch to the auction. Agadir is the largest sardine harbour in the world, the fish is canned directly and is exported the whole world over. Other fish is transported in refrigerated trucks all the way to Europe. Just the same a part of the catch is grilled and served on long tables for very reasonable prices or sold to housewives and restaurants. The harbour restaurants used to be an open secret but they are among the most expensive today.

The main street is the wide Avenue Mohammed the 5th, on the west side of which, parallel to the 8 kilometre long beach, is the hotel zone with restaurants, cafés and elegant boutiques along the parallel running Boulevard du 20 Août.

Boulevard du 20 Août

On the beach promenade there is a McDonalds and Pizza Hut. Whoever visits Agadir during the summer must realise that they will be sharing the beach with the locals. That means it is very full and quiet nap is hardly possible. The largest part of the beach is open to the public, but several hotels have their own beach areas where you can easily rent a beach umbrella and beach lounger (side by side of course) including service. This costs around 15 to 20 Dirham per person. There is also Paragliding available at the beach.

To the east of the Avenue Mohammed V is the business quarter with the Uniprix supermarket, the city administration, post office and theatre. A market hall offers an abundant selection of fresh fruit, fish, cheese and sausage. Opposite the Hotel Salam is a small museum displaying traditional craftsmanship. In the Rue de Marrakech is a Catholic Church where regular services are held.

Essaouira

Perhaps the prettiest city on the Atlantic route is Essaouira, a picturesque town surrounded by a high belt of dunes. It lies with its completely preserved Medina dating from the 18th century and the important fishery harbour on a rock terrace on the coast. The popular spa with 61,400 inhabitants has mild climate the year round. The strong wind impairs the stay somewhat, but this makes the coast paradise for surfer. In the winter months, there are very high waves on the Moroccan Atlantic coast. As such this sport can only be recommended to experts due of the rocky coastline. You should bring your own equipment. As the water temperature is about 16°C, a full neoprene suit of at least 4 mm is recommended.

Strolling in Essaouira

A visit to the fishery harbour with its fort dating from the 18th century is worth while.  Early in the morning the catch auction takes place. At noon, you will find fresh grilled sardines on the dock, a tasty and low price enjoyment. At the Place Moulay el-Hassan, a little lane goes to the left along the wall to the Skala de la Kasbah, a platform with several canons on the fort wall. At the north bastion at the end, one has a pretty view over the city. Under the Skala, lay the carpenter workshops for which Essaouira is famous. There the produce carved wood furniture out of Thuja wood with inlays of lemonwood, ebony, mother of pearl and silver.

In the museum Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah in the Rue Laalouj, one can admire the prettiest products of this craftsmanship. On the ground floor, there are music instruments and ritual objects of the different brotherhoods Aissaoua, Hamadcha and Gnaouas are displayed. Music instruments of the Berber, Andalusian and the Malhoun music are to be seen here. On the first floor, works in Thuja wood, pottery-products from the Haha region, carpets from Chiadma-women, artistically painted doors and panels, clothing, jewellery and weapons can be seen. There is also a display of paintings.

After which a stroll through the picturesque lanes to the market surrounded by arcades is to be recommended. Behind the lighthouse at the town entrance, lies the Kubba of Sidi Mogdul, the patron and name giver of Mogador. The Irishman was shipwrecked before the coast and was stranded on the coast. Through his technical capabilities, he became an esteemed man and was honoured like a holy man when he died. The camping ground is also found there.

Marrakech

The one time royal residence, with 736,500 inhabitants, the fourth largest town in the country, is considered the prettiest and most oriental city in Morocco and is, year for year, a place of attraction for innumerable tourists. A picturesque town on the Haouz plain in the middle of a gigantic Palm tree forest, with the snow-covered Atlas Mountains summits in the background.  Here one sees girls in modern jeans next to deeply veiled women. In this way the modern new town Gueliz lies harmoniously next to the traditional Medina. This was always an important transfer point between the north and south, the "pearl of the south" has, even today, a lively trade and fair atmosphere.  The population is mainly of Berber descent. 

Development of the Medina of Marrakesch

During the period as a French protectorate (1912 - 1956), new administration and apartment buildings sprouted outside of the traditional Medina. The substance of the old buildings was left unchanged. Since the independence the Moroccan upper class has moved to dwellings in the new towns, the Medina became the quarter for the middle and lower income, There has been little done in the maintenance of the building substance. Later it was however recognized that the old town has a cultural relevance in our world and therefore was entered into the World Heritage list by the UNESCO.

From the 90's, tourism contributes crucially to the preservation of the old parts of town. That becomes particularly clear by the example of the Medina of Marrakech. Traditional Bazaar stalls have been converted into modern shops, without losing any of their architectural beauty. Old palaces have become exquisite restaurants with belly dance and andalusian music. The sale of Riyadhs, (houses with atrium-like inner courts or gardens - sometimes even with a pool, of which there are about 2.800 in the city) to Europeans is booming. At the end of 2000, there were already 500 Europeans in the possession of houses, with a rising tendency. As a result, the prices have risen immensely. The possession of a Riyadh in Marrakech has become, in the meantime, a status symbol. Nevertheless the city offers exotic pure, with a fascinating panorama before the often snow-covered summits of the high Atlas as well as all-season sunshine and it hardly ever rains. Besides that, the city can be reached within a few flying hours from Europe.

Moroccan-French real estate companies take care of the complete purchase inclusive the land registry entry, reconstruction and decoration. The ownership of this kind of property is attractive due to the lower cost of living in the city; even employing domestic help is possible in comparison to Europe. The majority of the houses are used privately as holiday or retirement homes, but many are guesthouses open for tourists. In the meantime there are 110 Maison d'Hôtes, which usually offer only 3 to 10 rooms and offer a very authentic and comfortable accommodation.

With only 2,800 Riyadh's and already 500 of them with foreign owners - many of them have bought several houses next to one another - it is clear that an end of the purchase development and a rise in prices are to be foreseen. In the meantime even simple houses are being bought up and torn down, and then rebuilt completely in the Riyadh style with an inner court. Besides which the old part of town is being restored, revived and equipped with a modern infrastructure. As a result jobs are being created for craftsmen and service personnel. Nevertheless it cannot be overlooked that the sell out to foreigners, with their different European life-style (many homosexuals live in this liberal city) as well as dependence on the foreign capital can produce tensions.

The best place to begin a city tour is at the Djemaa el-Fna, which allegedly got its name by the fact that in former times the heads of the hanged were publicly displayed there. Ideally you check into one of the hotels direct in the place and then to observe the hustle and bustle of this fascinating world in miniature. There are also roof terraces above the Cafés, from which you can enjoy the view (and above all a photogenic one) of the multifaceted show place below while enjoying a drink.

My tip! A stroll over the market can get very arduous, but with right attitude can be very pleasant. The trained Marrakeschian eye immediately recognizes the uncertain stranger and forces themselves upon them - sometimes quite aggressively - as a guide or they request a tip for photos, which one did not want to shoot. The water carriers, in their picturesque red clothing with their wide hats and large money bags made of leather and covered with coins, are particularly skilful in this. These days they make their money only as photo models. For those who want to accosted, they should leave cameras and handbags in the hotel and with a little change in their pockets, and walk self-assured and without eye contact over the market place. It is quite amazing, how many people have something to say to you. If you simply ignore them, they soon give up.

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