Famous Cities in Morocco Series (Episode 8 of 13): Agadir
By: Claire Boyle / Arab America Contributing Writer
The country of Morocco has so many interesting towns and cities as well as beautiful landmarks. From the astonishing city of Casablanca to Marrakech, Fes, and Rabat; Morocco has everything one might hope to experience. These places boast historical monuments, such as the Hassan II Mosque, the Jemaa el-Fnaa, and many others. In this article series, we will be featuring cities and landmarks in Morocco that are historically and culturally significant. In this eighth installment, we will be traveling to Agadir. Then we will learn about the important cultural and natural areas of the city. These are the Souk el Had and the Argan Biosphere Reserve in Agadir. Finally, we will learn about the history of the cities themselves as well as some of their famous and associated landmarks.
Historical Synopsis and Background of Agadir:
The city of Agadir, Morocco has a very long history and one that has been fraught with much destruction due to two major earthquakes throughout its time of existence. Still, these troubles show the resolve and strength of the Moroccan people in that Agadir has been rebuilt every time it has fallen. Agadir also has a storied past that dates to the ancient times of the Phoenicians. It is thought that Agadir’s first historical occurrence was as early as 1104 BC; however, we do not have many details to support those claims. If we fast forward a very long time to the medieval period, we see that Agadir’s first cartographic (map) entry was around 1325 and that it was settled by Berber tribes. In the early 1500s, Agadir was visited by the first Europeans who were the Portuguese which makes sense because their geographical locations are very close to one another. Eventually, the city became a major trading post for the Portuguese, Moroccans, and Berbers.
Moving forward into the 1700s, more Europeans arrived including the Dutch, French, and English. 1731 was a tragic year because the first major earthquake struck Agadir and it completely demolished the city. At this time, Agadir was in ruins and it was not until the late 1800s that the city was reopened for trade, it became stronger after this moment. During the 1900s, Agadir went through European hands again. Most notably, those of France and Germany. It is important to note that Morocco achieved its independence from France in the 1950s as well. Tragically, another earthquake struck the city in 1960. Agadir was rebuilt again, and it now has higher-quality structures that can hopefully withstand earthquakes. Finally, Agadir has become a “major urban center with a population of over 900,000 people” and a hotspot for tourists who come to Morocco for some sand and sun.
Historical Landmarks—the Souk el Had and the Argan Biosphere Reserve:
Souk el Had:
So, you might first be wondering, what on Earth is a souk? In Arabic, the word for market is ‘souk’, and they are typically open-air institutions that are located within the old town or ‘medinas’ of cities in the Arab World. Usually, the medinas and their adjoining souks are typically walled-off from the rest of the newer city and you must walk through the cavernous streets as driving is not allowed. Each shop within the souk sells unique things including pottery, clothing, housewares, food, statues, lanterns, and the list goes on. So, now that you know what a souk is, you are probably asking, what makes the Souk el Had in Agadir so special?
First of all, the Souk el Had is considered to be both one of the largest and the most well-organized souks in all of Morocco. The Souk el Had is known to organize the locations of their items by the specific gate that you must traverse to find them. By far, it appears the most famous item that you can only exclusively buy at the Souk el Had is their locally-grown olives. Finally, the Souk el Had also has a phenomenal café where you can get a bite to eat and relax. We will now pick up our shopping sackcloth and head over to the UNESCO Biosphere Site in Agadir known as the Argan Biosphere Reserve!
Argan Biosphere Reserve:
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Argan Oil? Most of us know that Argan Oil is used in items such as shampoo, beauty products, and is renowned for its health benefits that include its “antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.” I highly doubt that the first thing anyone thinks of is, guess what(!), Argan Oil is made from the wild Argan tree that grows in Morocco! In southwest Morocco (near Agadir), Argan trees grow in a specific area which now is called the Argan Biosphere Reserve. This place is also known as the Arganerie which refers to both the tree and its ecosystem which are endemic to Morocco.
If you visit the Arganerie, you can see how it is made through a time-consuming and arduous process. Argan Oil is made from extracting the seed from the Argan fruit. Hence, workers are required to hit the seed on a stone block with a mallet-type instrument to crack it. This process usually takes all day long. The Arganerie also offers jobs to women through “Argan oil cooperatives to make sure the export price actually supports local families and helps the environment in the area for the trees which makes them a win-win.” This work allows parents to send their young girls to secondary school which again is beneficial for the whole society as well. So, next time you’re buying Argan Oil, please consider purchasing products that are made through a cooperative so the whole world benefits.
Thank you for joining me on this eighth episode of the series “Famous Cities in Morocco.”. This time we journeyed to the wondrous city of Agadir which in my opinion is one of the most stunning places on Earth because of its deep blue seas, cavernous souks, and beautiful natural areas. Stay tuned for the next installment featuring the amazing city of Taliouine, the land of saffron! I hope you got to learn a little bit more about the majestic landscapes and landmarks that Morocco has to offer. If you are ever in Agadir, I highly recommend you visit the city itself. Not to forget the exquisite Souk el Had. Finally, take a stroll around the Argan Biosphere Reserve, you will not be disappointed!
This is the eighth installment in a series of thirteen focusing on cities in Morocco with an emphasis on its history and famous landmarks. Each article will feature a historical synopsis about the city and 2 to 3 significant landmarks. Keep an eye out for the next article about Taliouine, Morocco coming soon. Thank you for reading!
To read episode 7 which features the city of Tangier, the St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, and the Tangier American Legation Museum, please click here!
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