The Final Countdown: Asilah

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 | Asilah, Morocco (map)

Asilah proved to be one of my favorite Moroccan towns, not least because of its beautiful murals, like this calligraphy-based one.
This past weekend, in our continuing effort to see as much of Morocco as possible before our impending departure, Jacqueline and I hopped aboard the northward train, and disembarked several hours later beside the town of Asilah (أصيلة), on the Atlantic halfway between the ports of Larache and Tangier.

Asilah itself remains, nominally at least, a fishing port. But its charmingly colorful medina attracts so many European tourists—including many who have settled permanently—that tourism has clearly eclipsed the town's traditional trade.

In Asilah's bright murals, immaculate streets, reserved shopkeepers, and relaxed atmosphere, Jacqueline and I felt we had escaped Morocco. It was unlike any other town we have visited here so far. Where tourism seems only to increase resentment, racism, and crime in most Moroccan cities, in Asilah it seems to have had a beneficial effect, bringing some elements of modernization and tranquility. The result is a wholly pleasant destination—clean, free of trash and graffiti, and chock full of art galleries, cafés, and fresh seafood restaurants. There were, to be sure, a small handful of obnoxious faux guides as usual, but Jacqueline and I managed to ignore them and simply enjoy ourselves.

For an afternoon, we strolled through the medina, past the El-Khamra Tower and through the Palais de Raissouli, to the Koubba of Sidi Mamsur, a small shrine whose roof gives a perfect view of the city's sea wall, lit by the sunset. We dawdled over trinkets, snapped pictures of murals and vivid doorways.

That night we found a room at and a heaping seafood meal outside Bab al-Kasaba.

Yet on that first evening in town, long before we grew sleepy, Jacqueline and I ran out of sites to see, and found ourselves meandering in circles. Ultimately, it was our only lament: that Asilah was not larger, was not quite big enough to justify never leaving.

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