Asilah Tourist Attractions
The little town of Asilah is situated 40km/25mi from Tangier on the north western tip of Morocco's Atlantic coast. It has been Roman, Spanish and Portuguese.
Bastions, towers and imposing ramparts now offer the setting for delightful seaside walks and restaurants famous for their fried fish dishes.This picturesque Andalusian town has Phoenician origins, and later became a medieval Portuguese trading post, before its fortunes declined. Today, after centuries of virtual anonymity, Asilah thrives once more - this time as an oasis of culture. Its prosperous harbor, bustling market and its important annual cultural pilgrimage, the moussim, have all combined to give the town a new lease of life.The town is surrounded by its original Portuguese defensive walls, which serve as a statement on the community's independence, but which have also had a limiting effect upon the town's growth. Construction has almost doubled in the past decade, but has included no new complexes, hotels or resort areas. Local residents have continued to construct the traditional Spanish-style homes of their ancestors.Newly-built private houses reproduce the facades of their older neighbors, usually incorporating elements salvaged from the ruins of older structures, such as doorways and arcades.During the cultural festival in August, Asilah becomes an enormous gallery where artists exhibit their work in the Pasha Raïssouni palace, the streets, or even on the walls of the town.
Tourists are attracted throughout the year by Asilah's pleasant climate and centuries-old buildings, but for two months each summer it is the center of one of Africa's most important artistic festivals. The annual gathering of eminent writers, poets and artists from all over the Arab and African world is also part of a wider project - that of architectural renovation. The project was initiated some 20 years ago, and has turned Asilah into a model for third world development.The appearance of the town's center seems unchanged, and conceals from its 150,000 annual summer visitors the forces behind its astonishing transformation. Once a run-down, rat-infested village, with streets strewn with rubbish, its living conditions had deteriorated to such an extent that by the mid 1970s a group of local intellectuals decided to save the town.Headed by Mohammed Benaissa and Mohammed Melehi, the group felt that if Asilah became the hub of worthwhile cultural activity, with support from the local inhabitants, the government would follow suit and upgrade the infrastructure by installing better drainage and improving electrical and water supplies. Mohammed Benaissa, now Morocco's Minister for Culture, and Mohammed Melehi (then president of the Moroccan Painters Association) first stood for election to the Municipal Council. They began by initiating a study of the ways in which the town's basic services operated. They found much wastage of time and energy, which could be mostly eliminated by involving the local people and asking for their co-operation. For example, refuse collectors using donkeys were wasting a great deal of time knocking on doors and asking for rubbish.By persuading people to put their rubbish outside on collection days, the problem was addressed in a practical manner. Today, 500 local children compete in two groups to clean the beach. Residents also supply either materials or labor whenever work needs doing on their block.The cultural program began in the spring of 1978, when a small group of artists were invited for the first municipal "Paint-In". They created large murals on the ramparts. Large groups of children joined in the painting and received prizes and gifts to foster their enthusiasm for the task. This also provided an incentive for the adults to pave the streets, using aesthetically interesting "wave" patterns rather than the more mundane squares. Later in the same year, writers, poets and musicians came to Asilah to participate in the first summer pilgrimage, an event which attracted about 1,000 onlookers, mostly from neighboring towns.As increasing numbers of people attended each successive festival, the government was persuaded to instruct the appropriate agencies to help the people in towns. Mohammed Benaissa, self-styled "professional beggar", began to raise private funding and mobilized corporate assistance to realize his vision of architectural harmony. The town's new prominence and its continued cleanliness, however, is due mostly to the local people's diligence.
Historic sites such as the Portuguese fortifications, the Al-Kamra Tower and the Raissouni Palace (an early 20th century structure) have all been restored and several public spaces have been re-arranged for commercial activities. The town has been designated a National Monument and in 1989 it received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The ongoing maintenance program incorporates individual houses, public buildings and mosques. Volunteers renovate the sanitary facilities of at least 10 sub-standard houses each year. The occupants of these houses are mostly poor people and live with relatives during the summer months, renting out their own homes. In this way they not only receive a welcome boost to their income, but also provide much-needed accommodation for the influx of visitors to the town.
Asilah Cultural Festival
The Asilah Cultural Festival is held in August. It features music, art, and other cultural activities.
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