Asilah is a small fishing village whose history stretches back nearly 3,500 years.
The reason for this is that Asilah, already known for its beaches, is also a natural harbor that has been used by many groups throughout the centuries including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Byzantines, Romans, Arabs, Normans, and Portuguese.
The Portuguese built the large walls, ramparts, and fortifications that give the town its distinctive appeareance to this day. Asilah was finally reunited as part of Morocco near the end of the 17th century, and served as a major pirate haven for the next 200 years.
It’s a far quieter place now, with pirates and wars long forgotten, though the city walls and ramparts remain in beautiful shape because of restoration work. The town is sleepy for most of the year, but in the summer months its population triples and the streets and town beach are crammed with sun-seeking families.
A NEW INTERNATIONAL HAVEN FOR ART LOVERS
Much of Asilah’s transformation can be traced to 1978, when the governement invited artists to paint murals on the medina’s peeling walls. That creative impulse soon spawned the “International Cultural Moussem of Asilah“, a summer festival with concerts, design lectures, poetry readings, and artists who come from all over the world to cover the whitewashed city with colorful, elaborate graffiti.
The festival takes place every July/August and now draws a crowd of 100,000 people, turning the town into a vibrant open-air museum and creating a street scene that’s picturesque enough to rival Morocco’s famously blue city of Chefchaouen.
But Asilah’s charms go beyond the festival: Several sublime beaches lie at the foot of the village’s fifteenth-century ramparts, and in the souk inside the Andalusian-style medina, merchants sell Berber rugs, vintage textiles, and hand-painted furniture, all of it authentic.