5 imagesMarrakech is not only a fantastic city, it is also a symbol of the Morocco that once was, and which still survives here. While Arabs and Berbers mingle in most parts of Morocco, Marrakech remains a center of Berber culture. Like many North African cities, Marrakech comprises both an old fortified city (the médina) and an adjacent modern metropolis (called Gueliz). Dubbed the "Red City" because of the red color mandated for the exterior of each structure, Marrakech was once the capital of Morocco and lays at the foot of the Atlas Mountains. The present city of Essaouira was only built during the 18th century. Mohammed Ben Abdellah al-Qatib (c. 1710-1790) was Sultan of Morocco from 1757 to 1790 under the Alaouite dynasty. He used a French engineer, Théodore Cornut, who had been captured and enslaved, and several other European architects and technicians, to build the fortress and city along modern lines. Cormut had been profoundly influenced by the work of Vauban at Saint-Malo. The result is an exceptional example of a late-18th-century fortified town, built according to the principles of contemporary European military architecture in a North African context. Originally called "Souira", "The small fortress", the name then became "Es-Saouira", "The beautifully designed". From the time of its rebuilding by Muhammad II until the end of the nineteenth century, Essaouira served as Morocco's principal port, offering the goods of the caravan trade to the world. The route brought goods from sub-Saharan Africa to Timbuktu, then through the desert and over the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech. The road from Marrakech to Essaouira is a straight line, explaining the King's choice of this port among the many that the Moroccan coast offers. The fishing industry is an important part of the economy. The kingdom has a total of 3500 km of coastline stretching along both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. For many people in this beautiful city, fishing is a way of life. Moroccan fishermen put a lot of pride and quite a number of hours in decorating their boats. Shopping in Essouira is best done if you head for locally produced handcrafts, like shoes or other colorful items. The streets of the old city are narrow and filled with life, providing hours of diversion. An afternoon of pleasant exploration is yours if you take the road to Essaouira.