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The town of Safi is still underestimated, sometimes even spurned, but it holds numerous appeals.
It has developed extensively in the last few years in terms of urbanism, shops, industries and even touristic and cultural substructures.
Situated on the North Atlantic coast, it is at 132 km from Essaouira, 154kms south of El Jadida and at 150kms east from Marrakech.
Its medina in the process of restoration, the walls of the medina, the reconstruction of its architectural heritage, its famous village of potters right in the town centre, its tin factories and its huge industrial compounds make up its various poles of attraction.
To make it a day trip from Essaouira is not impossible, all the better since the two roads leading to it are outstanding whether it be the coastal road passing through the very pretty villages of Moulay Bouzerktoun, Bihbah, Souira Kedima or the inner road going through a hilly countryside with a rich vegetation. Returning by the coastal road offers the opportunity of being a witness to magical sunsets.
The town was first mentioned in Arabic texts in the XI century under the name of “Asfi”and was then a small local harbour. “Safi Hadirat al Mouhit” or “City of the surrounding sea” according to the words of the geographer Ibn Khaldoun, Safi, being the port of the capital city Marrakech in the Almohad empire in the XII century, assumed direct trading relations with Andalusia and was a heavily urbanized place with, in particular, impressive fortifications and a big central mosque.
At the end of the XI century, Abu Mohamed Saleh, who has since become the saint patron of the town, founded a “ribat” or fortified convent in an adjacent neighbourhood thus giving Safi a religious status of a national and international scale.
In the XIV century, the town got richer, it had its own médersa and Safi became then an important seaport trading with Genoa, Seville or Marseille.
At the end of the XV century, the Portuguese increased the pressure and ended up occupying the town from 1509 until its retaking by the Saadiens in 1541.
Safi remained one of the most important ports of the Kingdom until the foundation of Essaouira in the second half of the XVIII century and its decline started in the XIX century.
The town renewal would come from industrial fishing and tin factories: Safi at the beginning of the fifties was the first sardine fishing port in the world and then from the exploitation of minerals. The town would take its first steps in major industry in 1972 by constructing an important chemicals compound.
When one goes across Safi along the shore, one comes into a long avenue where three quarters of the buildings are abandoned, ruins of the old flourishing tin factories of the last century, and then, a little bit further, one meets with huge phosphate factories (the three industrial compounds: Maroc Chimie, Maroc PhosphoreI and Maroc Phosphore II are one of the biggest centres for the fabrication of phosphoric acid in the world) a sight always astonishing for the innocent visitor.
The tin industry represents 70% of the total of the food industry sector and following some merging 27 units are still operational. They have a capacity to deal with 1 200 tons a day, employing about 13 000 people, both permanent and seasonal workers
Safi is famous too for its pottery, an activity that was mentioned as early as in the XII century with a notable increase of intensity in the XIX century. A ceramics school and a pilot workshop were created around 1920 which would permit the renewal and the continuation of activity on the hill. Safi is one of the important centres for what one should call the Art of Fire.
Through a maze of winding and steep lanes, the visitor can access one of these hills bathing in light where the potters are settled in a virtual anthill of workshops and kilns.
Historic monuments to visit :
Historic monuments well worth visiting are the ramparts built by the Portuguese between 1510 and 1540 which go round the medina, the church which is an old cathedral built by the Portuguese in 1519 and dedicated to Saint Catherine : a Gothic work of art unique in North Africa.
One can also mention Dar Sultan, a citadel as well as a Kasbah dating from the XVI century and built by the Saadiens sultans or The Sea Castle, a fortress erected by the Portuguese in 1523.
Not to be missed is the minaret of the medina whose history is unknown but whose features remind one of the Almohad art.