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The rich legacy of Jewish heritage in Morocco

Morocco is a country with a rich history of Islamic and Jewish culture. Heritage tours that focus on this history can provide an important window into Jewish life in Morocco.

These tours typically include a mix of historic site visits, shared experiences with the local community, prayer, and guided visits to ancient landmarks and Moroccan Zaouias. They offer a unique opportunity to learn about a hospitable and kind people and their country.

Morocco's long history of Jewish residents, and the close relationships between Jews, Berbers, and Arabs, make it an ideal destination for Jewish travelers today. Morocco has always been a country of religious tolerance, home to Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Jews first arrived in Morocco thousands of years ago, when the Phoenicians began trading along the Moroccan coast. For centuries, Jewish and Berber farmers lived and worked side by side in the rural areas, speaking the Berber dialect. In the cities, Jewish merchants and financiers were always highly regarded and protected by the Moroccan rulers.

Discover sacred Jewish spaces in Morocco

A journey through Morocco's Jewish heritage sites is a chance to discover sacred spaces that have had a profound impact on Moroccan Jewry. Licensed historical guides will provide detailed accounts of Moroccan Jewish culture and history, bringing to life the stories of Jewish Morocco that are hidden within the ancient cities and Berber rural regions. These storytellers are the keepers of memories, ensuring that the history of Moroccan Jewry is not forgotten.

Jewish heritage sites in Casablanca

Beth-El is considered the center piece of a once vibrant Jewish community. Its stained glass windows and other artistic elements attract tourists to this synagogue.

In Casablanca, he cemetery in the mellah is open and quiet, with well-kept white stone markers in French, Hebrew and Spanish.

Once a year, Casablancans celebrate a hiloula, or prayer festival, at the tomb of the Jewish saint, Eliahou.

Temple Beth-El is the Jewish Synagogue in Casablanca. Beth-El is considered the center piece of a once vibrant Jewish community. Its stained glass windows and other artistic elements attract tourists to this synagogue

Beth-El is considered the center piece of a once vibrant Jewish community. Its stained glass windows and other artistic elements attract tourists to this synagoguestone markers in French, Hebrew and Spanish. Once a year, Casablancans celebrate a hiloula, or prayer festival, at the tomb of the Jewish saint, Eliahou.

Jewish heritage sites in Fes

The Jewish Mellah in Fes dates back over 650 years. It is located next to the royal palace, which is known for its newly constructed brass doors. Jews took shelter in the palace during the 1912 pogrom.

The Jewish Cemetery: The nearby cemetery contains the tombs of more Jewish saints than any other cemetery in Morocco. One of the more important saints is Lalla Solica, who was killed for refusing to convert to Islam. This woman was born in Tangier in 1817. At the age of 16, she was courted by a Muslim man, but refused to marry him.

The great Jewish philosopher Maimonides lived in the city of Fes from 1159-1165. Despite suffering from the persecutions of the Almohad dynasty, he refused to convert to Islam and eventually emigrated to escape forced conversion. Today, there are many traces of ancient Jewish life throughout the old city of Fes, including the home of Maimonides.

The Danan Synagogue, located in Fes, is a simple yet beautiful structure. Entering through an unassuming door, one is immediately met with a short flight of stairs that lead into the high, rectangular space of the synagogue. The construction is masonry coated with plaster and the wooden ceiling is beamed and painted.

The room is lit by small windows high in the walls and, at one time, photos show a ceiling hung with numerous memorial lamps. The walls are wainscotted with blue figured Moroccan tiles and the large Torah Art, a cupboard filling the width of an entire wall, is made of carved wood. The wall above is decorated with intricately carved plaster work. Opposite the Torah Ark is a raised alcove, separated from the main prayer space by a wooden screen elaborately carved with a series.

Jewish heritage sites in Marrakesh

The Marrakech Synagogue was built in 1558 in the Jewish Mellah, a ghetto where the Jewish community was forced to live. Even though Jews weren’t allowed to own any property outside the Mellah, they enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy.

This is because they controlled the sugar trade. There are approximately 250 Jews still living in Marrakech, and most live outside the Medina. The Mellah area is now almost completely Muslim.

Jewish heritage sites in Meknes

The Talmud Torah Synagogue was the last remaining synagogue in Meknes, built in 1930. Meknes is often referred to as the Moroccan Versailles, due to the former Sultan's palace and grounds located there.

Jewish heritage sites in Essaouira

The Jewish Quarter in the port town of Essaouira is a symbol of the plurality of Moroccan culture. Essaouira was established in the mid-eighteenth century by Alaouite Sultan Sidi Mohamed ben Abdellah on the site of a sixteenth-century Portuguese fortress. It quickly became a major trading post between Africa and Europe. During that period, the Jewish Quarter, called Mellah, was established to extend the sultan’s protection to the Jewish inhabitants. Making up 40 percent of the city’s population, the thriving and productive Jewish community was deeply integrated into Moroccan society, and the Mellah played an important role in Essaouira’s economic development.

The first tombstones in the Essaouira Jewish Cemetery date to 1776. Unlike most other Jewish cemeteries, which follow the tradition of using only plain, unadorned stones in accordance with Mosaic Law, the tombs here are carved with very detailed and lifelike human figures. Some of the tombstones also have inscriptions in Hebrew and French. The cemetery is owned by the local Jewish community and is located right next to the sea.

Just outside the National Park in Ourigane, there is an old Jewish Zaouia (shrine) of Rabbi Mordekhai and Rabbi Abraham Ben Hammou. There is an old dirt road that leads to a compound of buildings enclosed by a gate, which is built on rocky terrain in the village of Ouirgane. Inside the shrine are three different tombs, leaving the precise burial spot of Rabbi Haim Ben Diwan in doubt — befitting the mysterious circumstances of his death.

Essaouira has long been a symbol of tolerance, with Jews and Muslims coexisting in peaceful community. However, during the French Protectorate, Essaouira ceased being a major trading post, which forced many families to migrate to bigger cities. After the founding of Israel, the Mellah lost around 98 percent of its population.

In the 1980s, the Jewish community abandoned the area after centuries of occupation. Now, a hybrid of Moorish and Art Deco architecture including residential buildings—many with the Star of David carved into the façade—more than a dozen synagogues, a Talmud school, and other buildings are the only physical evidence of centuries of Jewish presence in Essaouira.

Some structures remain abandoned, crumbling or demolished due to safety concerns, while others have been converted into boutique shops and hotels, with little regard to the history of the area and the architecture. Rehabilitation and redevelopment takes place in a piecemeal fashion, addressing individual buildings and not the area as a whole, and often incorporating modern materials. The history of the Mellah as a haven for religious plurality is being lost and forgotten.

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