Asilah Tourism: Sights and Attractions
A few decades not long ago, Asilah was just a small fishing port on the Atlantic that was quietly stagnating due to Spanish colonial administration indifference.
Today, whitewashed and undergoing a real revival, it is a great blend of cultural and tourist town.
Asilah’s rich and varied history through the ages is manifested in the beautiful ramparts and walls it is so famed for. All of this against the backdrop of a relaxing pace of life in the aptly named Paradise Beach, a major tourist attraction of the town.
No mention of Asilah is complete without its famed International Festival. Held every year during August, it attracts performers from around the world with a programme including art, dance, music, poetry and painting. The festival made Asilah the artists’ favourite hang out, and propelled the town into cultural eminence in the country.
The Medina and the Ramparts
The Medina in Asilah is small, exceptionally clean and very easy to wander around. The major attraction here is the circuit of wonderful square stone ramparts and towers.
The towers include three main gates, the first of which is Beb el Homar, on Avenue Hassan II. The second is Beb el Kesaba, which can be reached by passing the Grand Mosque and the venue centre for the festival. The third gate is El Hamra or the red tower.
The square overlooking El Hamra is used for the exhibitions during Asilah’s annual festival. The painted murals here form an interesting mix of representational art and geometric designs. Equally, the offset the whitewashed walls of the medina with the mix of cool pastel shades.
The Beach and the Harbour
For more isolated strands, walk south pas the Medina ramparts and towers for about fifteen minutes. If you walk further down, there is Paradise Beach, a secluded spot with some excellent and romantic views on the Atlantic Ocean.
The other popular beach is Briéche Beach. Just north of town, you can reach it by petit taxi in fifteen minutes. This beach is situated where a river meets the ocean, making for some surreal views.
Asilah International Festival
Every year, the medina becomes the centre of the International Cultural Festival, with artists, musicians, performers and thousands of spectators descending into town.
The Asilah Festival takes place in August and runs for three to four weeks. The programme usually includes art, dance, music, film and poetry with a strong Islamic and Spanish / Andalusian slant. Towards the end of the festival, a grand Moroccan fantasia takes place ( a horse festival with a musket-firing cavalry charge).
The main focus of the numerous workshops and public art demonstrations is at the Centre Hassan II des Rencontres Internationales, a modern cultural centre inside the Medina. International painting and sculpture are exhibited in its gallery or at the nearby Portuguese fortification of El Khamra Tower.
Palais de Raisuli
At the heart of the Medina and stretching over the sea is Palais Raisuli.
The Palace was built in 1909 by a strange figure called – no surprise there – Er Raisuli. He started his life as a bandit, getting notoriety for kidnap and ransom of Westerners in Morocco, to eventually get appointed as governor of North West Morocco!
Today, the Palace is mostly bare but the interior is worth seeing, especially its large reception room and the glass roof. This latter is said to be the favourite spot of Raisuli to walk his prisoners to their death: a 27 metres drop to merciless rocks on the sea!
The Palace is open to the public except during the International Festival in August. If you’re staying in Asilah, ask you hotel to write you a note in Arabic to hand to the caretaker in charge and you should be let in.
Church of San Bartolome
The Church of San Bartolome in Asilah was built by Spanish Franciscan priests. It has an interesting mix of Spanish-style interior and Moorish style chapel, with carvings of Islamic and Christian prayers alike.
This is one of only a handful of churches to still ring their church bells in Morocco. You are welcome at any time during the day, just ring the bell and the nuns will happily usher you in.