Lying in a natural harbour to the west of Morocco, Safi (formerly Asafi) carries the weight of legend. As one of the oldest cities in Morocco, it is thought to have been founded by Hanno the Navigator in the 5th or 6th century BC. The etymology of the city’s name allegedly comes from a sailor who got lost and sighed as he passed Safi’s coastline (Safi meaning “oh my regret”). However, there could be another, more literal translation. In Berber, the word Asafi means to spill or flood, undoubtedly referring to the rich sea that makes Safi one of the biggest and safest seaports in the country.
The city has been - and still is - a major player in Morocco’s trading industry. Its port has seen everything from gold in the 11th century to today’s principal export, sardines. Portuguese rule in the 1500s saw the Castelo do Mar be built, an imposing fortress that still presides over the city today. Under Portuguese rule, other Europeans came and by the mid-16th century, Safi was Morocco’s principal trading hub. This would all cease however under Sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah in the mid-18th century, who would order that all foreign trade must take place in his newly built city of Mogador (Essaouira).
Famous for its pottery of all shapes and sizes, Safi is one destination where you will want to support the local economy. The potter’s quarter, just out of the city walls, boasts the country’s oldest kilns and is a mecca for all those who love both ceramics and tradition.