The Jewish Neighborhoods in Morocco “Mellahs”
Mellah, derived from the Arabic word “ملح” meaning salt, was built in 14th century as a part of ” the new town”.
Close to the Royal palace, the Mellah is a Jewish neighborhood. Houses here are constructed in Jewish/Moor style : an interior courtyard, the Spanish patio where rooms are located and a wide balcony running the length of the facade. The Mellah was originally surrounded by walls and gates to separate Jews from Muslims which led to a full segregation between both of them. A night Kurfew was placed on the Mellah, gates were locked and no-one was allowed to walk there at night . The greatest part of the Jewish community is the synagogues like “Ibn Dahan synagogue” in Fez, “Beth-EL” and “Slat Laazama” in Marrakech and others. The synagogue is “The house of prayer” used for worship, study, as a social hall and office.
From all the Moroccan cities, Fes was the home of the oldest and largest mellah and it was established in 1438. The Jews played a strong economic role in all areas Morocco and it is not surprising to find them at the heart of the caravan trade, and at the heart of Fes. For a long time, the Mellah of Fes remained the only one of it’s kind until Marrakesh in the 16th century. The Mellah of Marrakesh had two gates that were regularly closed around 9 o’clock and the Jews had their own markets. In 1682, the third Mellah was found in the town of Meknes.
At the beginning of the 19 century, Sultan Souleiman ordered the Jews to move to Mellahs in the towns of coastal region like Rabat, Salé, Mogador, and Tetouan. The new Jewish quarters were called mellahs everywhere except Tetouan, where the Spanish word judería was used.
At the end of the century, the Jews start to move to the new neighborhoods leaving in the mellahs only the elderly people and the poorest families and since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, almost all Moroccan Jews have emigrated to the new Jewish state, some fleeing persecution and some encouraged by the Jewish agency. As a result, nowadays mellahs are only inhabited by Muslims, and the few remaining Jews have moved to modern quarters of Moroccan towns. A large part of them has become historical places to visit while in Morocco.