A small arichpel at the shore of Essaouira
From the port of Essaouir it is possible to see an archipelago that protects the bay from the waves of the Atlantic, known as the Mogador Islands or the Purpurar Island. They are composed of several tiny islets and two bigger islands. The island of Pharaoh which is 400 m2 and the largest island which is the island of Mogador, with an area of 30 hectares, It shelters abandoned fortifications including a prison and a mosque. These islands protect the bay from the strong waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Mogador islands are considered as a protected site, sheltering a bird sanctuary. A couple of endangered Eelanora’s falcons live there, with some gulls. Since 1980, these islands were classified as a Site of Biological and Ecological Interest (SIBE).
The Mogador Islands: a rich history
Archaeological research has proved that the Mogador islands were formerly frequented by Greeks, Cyprians, Phoenicians, Mauritanians, Carthaginians and Romans since the 6th century BC. In 1950, the first excavations recovered coins -currently exposed in the archaeological museum of Rabat-, ceramic fragments and some Roman amphoras. In 1951, researchers discovered older treasures at a deeper level of 2 meters: Punic lamps and a Semitic epigraphy. And between 1956 and 1959, more excavations revealed Phoenician ceramic, fragments of Greek amphoras, plus some Cyprian vases.
The island is deserted since the end of the reign of Sultan Moulay ben Abdallah, in the 19th century, it includes the ruins of an old prison built by Sultan Moulay El-Hassan.
The islands of Mogador are also known as the purpura islands, as the Mauritanian king Juba II established a factory there to extract the famous Tyrian purple dye. Murex –a type of mollusc- is collected, and its shells are processed to get a powder that provides the purple pigment. The fame of the Mogador Islands was acquired thanks to the Romanians who appreciated very much the purple colour considered as a sign of power and nobility.
Visit the Mogador Islands
A trip to the Mogador islands takes 15 minutesfrom the city of Essaouira, but not anyone is allowed to have it. It’s mandatory to get a permit from Essaouira authorities to head to the island, which is normally reserved only for scientific purposes.