Asilah is in northern Morocco, approximately 30 km southwest of Tangier.
The region around Asilah has been inhabited since well before 1500 BC and Phonecian settlements in the area, but the Mulsim city know as Asila dates to the Muslim conquest and the Idrisid dynasty. It 966 the city was reconstructed by the Umayyad Caliph al-Hakim II. In 1471 the Portuguese conquered the city, and it remained European sovereignty until 1691 when it was reconquered by Mulay Isma'il. He built two of the cities mosques, a madrasa and hammam.
In the 19th century the city was bombarded by the Austrians in 1829 and the Spanish in 1860. Asilah was also an important fiefdom of the Rifi leader Mulay Ahmad al-Raisuni, who was named Pasha of the region in 1906. Spain occupied Asilah in 1911, and it reverted to Moroccan control with most of northern Morocco when the Protectorate ended in 1956. Restored in 1978, Asilah is a resort town and a major tourist attraction. It is best known for its annual arts festival that attracts major international talent, including graphic artists who use the city's walls as a canvas.
Sources: Guiguet-Bologne, Philippe. Un guide de Tanger et de sa région. Tangier: Philip Guiguet Bologne, 1996.
Roca, Juan, Ramon. Tangier and its surroundings. Alicante, Spain: Roca Vincente-Franquiera, 2011.
Recipient of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1989.
Asilah is an ancient coastal town founded in Phoenician times. Its defensive walls were built in the medieval period when it was a Portuguese trading post. Today it is a harbour, a market, a centre for cultural events and a summer resort. Protection of Asilah's architectural heritage began over 15 years ago with the efforts of the two founding patrons of the cultural association, and other interested intellectuals. The works they have restored and rehabilitated include the Portuguese fortifications and an early 20th-century palace. They relocated commercial facilities to the foot of the fortifications and introduced decorative pavings and murals by local artists. The patrons continue to guide and aid the improvement of the water and sewerage systems, as well as the maintenance of houses, public buildings and mosques. The jury notes that "from a modest start but with ambitious vision, a few native sons of Asilah took it upon themselves to upgrade the physical and cultural environment of their town. With perseverance and skill, they managed to raise the consciousness and mobilise the people of Asilah to implement this vision."