A sultan turned Essaouira into a free port in 1765, and it rapidly became one of the most important commercial cities in North Africa. The city’s signature ramparts date from this period, along with its importance as a fishing port, a role it still plays. Within the past few years, formerly sleepy Essaouira has started to attract growing numbers of travelers looking for fresh salt air, some excellent seafood and good shopping. The walled seaside city has boomed in tandem with Marrakech, a two-hour drive away through austere, beautiful countryside where Morocco’s argan oil is produced. Aside from enjoying Essaouira’s beaches, it’s a delight to wander its whitewashed ramparts, visit the fish market and shop for the thuya wood marquetry boxes for which the city is famous.