Asilah Cultural Festival – Tangier Day Trip

Day Trips from Tangier. Just an hour south of Tangier is a delightful seaside town, Asilah on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. Its old town, or medina, is enclosed by well-preserved fully intact, 15th-century ramparts and gates, built by colonial Portuguese. The medina is an art hub, known for its murals and Moussem Culturel International d’Asilah, an annual festival. Many of the houses of Asilah feature Mashrabiya windows, known as oriel windows. Small enclosed balconies where young women could view their suitors selected by their fathers.

An easy day trip from Tangier and much quieter than larger Moroccan cities. A popular summer getaway for locals, it exudes charm, has safe swimming beaches, quaint streets with buildings painted in bright blue and white. The cobbled streets, and old wooden doors embody the small town’s Spanish heritage. It’s a treasure trove of Spanish and Portuguese and Moorish architecture. The murals change every year during the Asilah Cultural Festival, which takes place in late July or August. You can easily stroll the cobbled streets in a few hours.

The town’s history dates to 1500 B.C., when Phoenicians occupied a site called Silis, Zili, Zilis. The Portuguese kept hold of the town but in 1589 the Moroccans briefly regained control of Asilah, but then lost it to the Spanish.

In 1692, the town was again taken by the Moroccans under the leadership of Moulay Ismail.  Asilah served then as a base for pirates in the 19th and 20th centuries, and in 1829, the Austrians punitively bombarded the city due to Moroccan piracy.

The restored Raisuni Palace is in the mid-northern part of the medina, alongside the sea walls. It was built in 1909 by Moulay Ahmed er Raisuni, (also known as Raisuli), a local rogue and pirate who rose to power and declared himself pasha of the region. He rose to notoriety and wealth partly through kidnappings and ransoms, you may remember the Wind and The Lion film with Candace Bergen and Sean Connery, depicting Raisuli. It’s a little dated, but who tires of Sean Connery or Candace Bergen in a vintage film? Raisuli, a Berber chieftain, triggers an international incident, drawing the involvement of Theodore Roosevelt, when he kidnaps an American widow and her children in 1900s Morocco.

Leaning over a sea wall, I caught a glimpse of an old cemetery, Sidi Mansour cemetery, which extends out to sea, I didn’t see a door or entry and it appears to be washed by waves. It includes two small structures, the domed Marabout or mausoleum of Sidi Ahmed ibn Moussa and, across from it, the mausoleum of his sister, Lalla Mennana. Between these structures, the ground is covered with other graves which are covered in beautiful ceramic tiles. I wouldn’t mind being laid to rest here near the sea, under an ancient tile.

Life in Asilah, Morocco

Highly Recommend a day Visit to Asilah.