Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Heritage Tour’

Remembering Jewish Essaouira, Heritage Sites & Synagogues

Thursday, May 7th, 2015
Muslims & Jews in Essaouira, Praying for Rain

Muslims & Jews in Essaouira, Praying for Rain








Essaouira owes much of its past, present and future to its situation on a bay sheltered from the fierce trade winds of the Atlantic Ocean by an archipelago of small, rocky islands. Towards the end of the 18th century, Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdullah (Mohammed III) created a strategic role for Essaouira in his new trade policy oriented towards the Atlantic. He instructed the construction of the Kasbah (King’s Quarters) and the Skala fortifications which became the basis for the medina (old city) we see today. He ordered the closure of Agadir harbor, further south, and effectively routed a large amount of trade between Europe and West and Central Africa through his new port. The Sultan was the first Head of State to recognize US Independence in 1776, thereby creating a strategic linkage in support of his trade objectives in Morocco.

In order to ensure the success of his strategy, Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdullah invited 10 prominent Jewish families from the key commercial centers of Morocco to settle in what was known then as Mogador and manage the trade. These families were largely the descendents of those expelled from Andalusia at the end of the 15th century and had gained a strong reputation for their skills as merchants. They became the “Tujjar as-Sultan“, the Sultan’s traders. These families – and many foreign consuls and negociants – settled in the newly-built houses of the Kasbah, which featured typical Swiri architecture of rooms set around a colonnaded interior patio, the latter often large enough to accommodate merchandise. Such buildings can be seen in the area near Bab el Minzeh and Bab Sbaa and along Rue Laalouj, where the French Institute and Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdullah Museum are excellent examples.

Chaim Pinto, Jewish Synagogue Essaouira

Chaim Pinto, Jewish Synagogue Essaouira











By the start of the 19th century, the population of Essaouira was majority Jewish. There were as many as 40 synagogues. Some, like the Simon Attia synagogue were the private synagogues of a large family, while others, such as the Slat Lkahal, were community centers of worship. As the affluence of the city grew, it attracted many migrants from the rural areas, seeking economic opportunities. The Mellah, a typical feature of a Moroccan city and a principally Jewish neighborhood, was built to house these families. Essaouira also had a Mellah Kdim, the “old Mellah”, which was an extension of the Kasbah and housed the Jewish middle classes. Mogador was unique in Morocco in that Jews, Muslims and Christians – those of Jewish, Berber, African, European and Arabic descent – lived side-by-side. There was a fruitful exchange at all levels of society, from artisans like silversmiths passing on their trade, to the interchange of intellectual and musical influences such as seen in the Andalusian music which continued to be taught and performed in Mogador long after the flight of Jews and Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula.

Jewish Cemetery, Essaouira

Jewish Cemetery, Essaouira









Today, there are a number of Jewish sites which can be visited and/or are under renovation in Essaouira. Essaouira’s two Jewish cemeteries are open to visitors by calling the number of the guardian posted on the door. The older of the two is only separated from the sea by a wall and is regularly inundated. It features the mausoleum of Rabbi Haim Pinto (1748–1845), which is the subject of a hilloula (pilgrimage) every Fall. The graves are often laid on top of each other and the inscriptions are no longer legible. All that remains are circular or triangular symbols indicating whether the occupant was male or female.

The ‘new’ Jewish cemetery, across the street, was opened in the 18th century to accommodate the growing population. It is the final resting place of a number of rabbis, intellectuals and musicians as well as many of the ‘ordinary’ residents of Essaouira-Mogador. The cemetery tells the stories of many great families of Mogador such as the Corcos, the most famous of the original ‘Sultan’s merchants’ and the Yuly and Levy families – some of whom are certainly ancestors of the first Jewish US senator, David Levy Yulee.

The guardian of the cemeteries can also grant access to the Haim Pinto synagogue, just back inside the medina at Bab Doukkala, in the Mellah. The neighborhood is part of an urban clearance program and the synagogue, although thoroughly renovated inside, sits in a precarious position surrounded by crumbling and decaying buildings, the former homes of Jewish families.

Slat Synagogue, Essaouira Restoration Project

Slat Synagogue, Essaouira Restoration Project









Just a few doors along, back towards the central medina, is Slat Lkahal, a community synagogue currently under painstaking renovation by Haim Bitton, helped by the generous donations of members of former Mogador Jews. Those who are lucky to meet him there will learn of the intricate connections between Jewish communities in Manchester, London, Italy and Mogador. So far, he has managed to rescue key elements of the original synagogue from demolition and is carefully restoring them using local artisans. He hopes to turn rooms on the upper floor into exhibition and meeting spaces.

Back in the Kasbah, the Simon Attia synagogue is the subject of an ambitious restoration program. Once also the Rabbinical Court of Mogador, the aim is to restore the space used for worship on the ground floor and create a library of documents related to Moroccan Judaism alongside accommodation for students of these works upstairs.

Most of Essaouira’s synagogues are long gone. Few have actually been demolished, but most have passed into alternative uses and only the older members of the Mogador Jewish diaspora recall their location. There are still plenty of clues to the size of the former Jewish population of Essaouira, however. A wander around the labyrinthine alleyways of the Mellah or Kasbah will reveal several doorways with the Star of David on the lintel and a conversation with any of Essaouira’s older residents will reveal the proximity and goodwill of the Muslim and Jewish communities in times gone by.

Written by Lynn Sheppard 

Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at and for other travel industry clients.

For more information about Essaouira Jewish Heritage Sites or an Essaouira Jewish Heritage Tour

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Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

Jewish Heritage Tours Casablanca,Your Morocco Travel Guide

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Temple Beth-El, Casablanca

Casablanca is respectively admired for its longstanding Jewish Heritage. Casablanca is the perfect place to take a Jewish Heritage Tour. The Jewish community in Casablanca, Morocco has a strong history  that has survived along with it’s synagogues, cemeteries, monuments and shrines. When visiting Casablanca a Jewish Heritage tour from the Port or from your hotel offers insight into the ties of the historic Jewish community and what remains today.

The 4,500 Casablancan Jews in Casablanca live outside the mellah in the European city, where they worship in over 30 synagogues, eat in kosher restaurants, entertain themselves in community centers, and attend Jewish schools and social service centers. Jewish Casablancans worship at Temple Beth El, the largest synagogue and an important community center, seating 500 persons. The Jewish community of Casablanca also contributed to the construction of the Hassan II Mosque, the second largest in the world. On a Jewish Heritage Tour it is possible to visit the Muslim shine of Sidi Belyout.  Some Jews visit annually the Muslim shrine of Sidi Belyout, Casablanca’s patron saint. Many Jews of Casablanca celebrate the hiloula of the saint Yahia Lakhdar in Ben Ahmed, about an hour south of Casablanca near the town of Settat.

Jewish Cemetery, Casablanca

On a Jewish Heritage  Tour you will start your morning off visiting Casablanca’s Jewish Sacred sites and then continue seeing the highlights of old Casablanca. The synagogues, cemeteries, monuments and communal institutions of Casablanca show how important the city has been to the Jewish community during the twentieth century.

Temple Beth-El:
Visit Temple Beth-El, 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, is what attracts tourists to this synagogue.

Casablanca Jewish Syngagogue

Jewish Mellah: 
The mellah of Casablanca is young by Moroccan standards, not much more than a century old. It assaults the senses in the evening, with a sea of women in brightly colored djellabahs carrying and selling fruit and vegetables throughout the cramped, narrow streets.  While Jews no longer live in the mellah, kosher butchers are found in the old market, next to other butchers selling horse meat. The Jewish 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.

Visit the Museum of Moroccan Judiasm in Casablanca. The Museum of Moroccan Judaism of Casablanca is a museum of history and ethnography, created by the Jewish Community of Casablanca in 1997 with the support of the Foundation of Jewish-Moroccan Cultural Heritage. The Jewish Museum in Casablanca is tucked into a residential neighborhood and holds a treasure trove with it being the Arab region’s only Jewish Museum. It uses world-class standards of conservation for its national and international collections. The Museum of Moroccan Judaism presents religious, ethnographic and artistic objects that demonstrate the history, religion, traditions and daily life of Jews in the context of Moroccan civilization.

Museum of Moroccan Judiasm, Casablanca

The Jewish Heritage tour includes a visit of the Jewish Museum in Casablanca also referred to as the Museum of Moroccan Judaism which covers an area of 700 square meters, is the first of its kind in the Arab world. It consists of:

– A large multipurpose room, used for exhibitions of painting, photography and sculpture
– Three other rooms, with windows containing exhibits on religious and family life (oil lamps, Torahs, Chanukah lamps, clothing, marriage contracts (ketubot) Torah covers…pastedGraphic.pdf and exhibits on work life;
– Two rooms displaying complete Moroccan synagogues;
– A document library, a video library and a photo library.
– The Museum offers guided visits, sponsors seminars and conferences on Jewish-Moroccan history and culture, and organizes video and slide presentations. On special request, it organizes group visits in Arabic, French, English or Spanish.

Casablanca’s Jewish Cemetery:
The Jewish 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.

Casablanca’s Jewish Club: Option – If time allows.

Lunch Options:  Kosher Food in Casablanca, Seafood or Moroccan Fare.

Kosher Jewish Lunch:
– Cercle de L’Alliance is one of the centers/buildings where Jews from Casablanca hang around. The bottom floor/lobby is where people sit around, smoke cigars or cigarettes and socialize. You will also find a small bar and a mid size restaurant on the same floor with great appetizers and outstanding food

– D.E.J. J. is a restaurant that primarily serves dairy, pizzas, salads and pastas. Meat is not served here.

– La Truffe offers skewered chicken accompanied with sides of bread, salad, olives and pickles. It is the most reasonably priced kosher restaurant located in the downtown area of Casablanca across from the medina.

Searfood or International Fare:
An international seafood restaurant by Casa’s port, the Corniche, or reknowned seafood haunt, El Mer or Rick’s Cafe– a famous Piano Bar run by an American and named after the Movie “Casablanca.”.

Hassan II Mosque:
After lunch visit the Mosque of Hassan II. Casablanca is home to the Hassan II Mosque, designed by the French architect  Michel Pinseau. It is situated on a promontory looking out to the Atlantic, which can be seen through a gigantic glass floor with room for 25,000 worshippers. Next visit the Hassan II Mosque.The Mosque of Hassan II’s promontory offers lovely views overlooking Casa in the residential Afna quarter.

Casablanca Habous Market & Cooperatives:
– End the day with a visit to Casablanca’s Habous Market and Local Casablanca cooperatives. Shop and Explore local crafts and wood work traditions, leather and carpets.

For more information about an Casablanca Tour

For more information about Travel and Tours to Morocco plus highlights on Moroccan culture visit Morocco’s Imperial Cities,Seaside Resorts,Sahara DesertBerber villagesA Taste of Morocco,Magical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best ofMarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel ExplorationTravel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel. We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or 1 (917)703-2078 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.