They say that a city that is hundreds of years old has a spirit; one that holds the spirits of all those whose life came to a full cycle there! But what if those spirits’ lives came to an abrupt end, too soon? Does that necessarily mean doomed to being HAUNTED?!!

Essaouira, the city of opposites!

The beautiful, the ugly; the light, the dark; the open and touristy, the closed and private; the alive, the haunted; the full, the empty; the happy and the grim… Essaouira strikes you with its beauty and vacation mode that it instantly puts you in, then stuns you with its grim, darker side that blows on you in the form of a chill down your spine as it turns into a complete freak show at night! Yes, I am absolutely aware of what am describing! However, in Essaouira, you can’t help but be made to think about these creepy feelings because the stories, the symbolism and rituals… are all over the place. And all this happened in only 3 days! I loved it when I got there, and could not wait to leave it when I did. To me, 3 days were way more than enough! Here is a recount of that experience!

 

Once we reached Essaouira, I felt so happy.

It has a very pleasant feel to it, more than any other city in Morocco, and at first glance you feel very familiar. Like a typical touristic city on the coast, you instantly experience a shift in your brain that screams: “Vacation!” A line of open restaurants – offering the best ever seafood, straight from the ocean, surrounded by green trees everywhere and overlooking the coast – greets you as soon as you get there. Then an old gated city to your right, where tourists are flocking in. Looks very promising and I can’t wait to get inside that gate and explore every inch!

First, we lunched at those amazing seafood restaurants and appreciated being out in that amazing sunny day, after being stuck on the road for a few hours. As soon as lunch was over we head towards the old city, and typically it is beautifully aged, with all things looking antique and a few modernised and hip joints greet you as you stroll down its narrow alleys.  On either side of the walls, dangling fabrics of every which colour you can dream of, with the familiar Moroccan patterns stir back at you as you walk. I and my lens are loving this beauty, the colour, the shade and the sun. I could not stop snapping photos, everything was so easy on the eye, that I unwittingly wanted to capture for ever. Rugs, pillow cases, pashminas, and many a traditional Moroccan hooded coats and leather loafers are every where your eye turns, covering the old, peeled and rusted original walls of the city.

A contrast that in daylight looks so pretty and alive.

 

Cafes & Riads

Room

The Cafes and bistros with shaded entrances and chalkboard menus are seducing your just-filled appetite to go in and sneak a bite… tourists crowding every shop, and every alley along with cats and seagulls, the place is full of life, where everyone is either buying or selling, and in my case, capturing every moment. By the time we reached the Riad, my brain was already intoxicated with colours, patterns, and all the interesting exchanges and interactions taking place in those alleys. I had heard lots about Riads in Morocco, and how they are a ‘must experience’, I was finally going to experience one firsthand.

The Riad is very different to any place I ever stayed in during any of my travels, and I highly recommend you stay at one in Morocco instead of a hotel, because it really allows you to experience the authentic Morocco and introduces you to the culture, cuisine and lifestyle way better than an intercontinental experience ever could. Riads are very similar to boutique hotels, very homely, with very few rooms, a house kitchen, and a feel of exclusiveness and community rather than stranger accommodation. I loved the very feminine pink, Victorian floral room I was given. Victorian yet very specifically Moroccan with all the Talisman art hung on the white walls, along with a large wooden window that once opened makes the room feel like a terrace, bringing in sharply nippy wind contrasted by the warmth of the afternoon sun.

We head out for the rest of the day, going about our business, carrying on with the shoots and savouring the beauty of this curious city.

 

When the sun sets

Before you know it, the day is over and the slightly shaded yet over exposed alleys start to turn darker, and by the time it is fully night, they are barely lit. Arched Alleys with yellowish overhead lights very scattered, each barely covering a square meter, the rest is pitch dark. It is not long until you are literally the only one roaming around, it seems that in a blink, everything is tucked away, doors are locked and people just suddenly disappear, except for the occasional hooded person swifting by so suddenly. In the absence of light and all the decorative merchandise being all tucked away, the walls start revealing their true age and a sense of weariness is all over, very melancholic and somewhat grim!

A complete metamorphosis takes place in less than two hours, changing this vibrant, colourful, alive beauty of a city into its aged, lonely and sepia filtered beastly twin. Despite coming from the same origin the two have nothing to do with one another! Regardless, we walked on until we got to the Riad. There, we had a banquet of tagines and other local appetisers. An amazing feast of local foods, that unwound our minds. At this point no one remembered the dark reality outside the doors of the Riad. We ate, laughed felt merry in the presence of some local people, the owners and staff of the Riad, along with a few other Moroccans who were part of the production team… After dinner we were all talking about the difference between night and day in Essaouira, and there started all the inside stories about the common belief that Essaouira has a dark spirit!

The Pirates of Essaouira

Essaouira as it turned out, was once upon a history overtaken by pirates. These pirates wreaked havoc all over the city for years and years. Many people were killed, abused, hurt and so on, and it is commonly believed that the spirits of those people haunt the city!! Essaouira, as we were told, was also the place in Morocco that is known for black magic! In fact, not only do people believe and practice that magic, but as described, practitioners from all over the place come to Essaouira to learn the practice on the hands of the Masters!!!

The stories went on, and only got more incredible, from a mad woman, or spirit of a woman roaming the forest nearby. To production teams being forcefully expelled out of shoot locations for disturbing the spirits haunting the caves… And the spirit of a young girl, haunting the Riad and crying in the corner for the loss of her father or someone she loved (can’t really remember the details)… have heard so much about magic and Morocco, and know that many people believe this stuff…  Yet I must admit, that while it made me slightly uneasy, and anxious at times, I really think most of the stories are folk tales. I think that when we hear such stories we are bound to stop and at least consider them, but I cannot believe phenomenon until I actually encounter one, which of course never happened! However, it did affect my sleep, I was weary all the time (the whole mood is just too dark for me). Despite being exhausted, I mean we were working the schedules like there was no tomorrow, literally pulling 12-16 hours a day! Yet, the freezing cold, unheated room, the stories and the weariness had kept me up and when I blinked gave me terrible dreams!!! I could not believe what I was hearing! It felt like one of those scary camp nights, when everyone gathers around the fire, with the torch lights against their faces and telling scary stories as a form of thrill! I could not believe that while we all know those scary stories are entertainment on a bored night, I was experiencing this with people who actually believe in this ever so fully! Essaouira is windy, and extremely cold. There is no heating system in the Riad except a fire place at the corner. I don’t know whether it was the cold, the drifts of wind passing through the cracks or the stories, but I could feel a chill that made me uneasy!

(I am not suggesting any supernatural  presence here, merely saying cold and slight anxiety in reaction to what’s been said are the reason I felt that way!)

In the end, Essaouira was highly interesting. Beautiful then metamorphosed, when I first stepped there, I had no idea it was going to turn out the way it did! A true contradiction in every sense. It was massively charged with so many emotions, and very much like a roller coaster ride! Believer or not in any of the Essaouira madness, the city will charm you and won’t allow you to feel like it was just another ordinary city. Perhaps it’s spirit is so unique that we could only explain it as being haunted!!!

Loved it, hated it, appreciated the “new” in that experience, but was very happy to leave it when I did! 3 days, were more than enough for me to say: “Been there, done that, and that is that!”

 

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