The Jewish community has always been of great value in historical and contemporary Morocco. The presence of Jews in Morocco stretches back more than 2,000 years and estimates put their number as high as about 275,000, which was considered the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world. Today, after vast waves of departures over the years, only about 2,000 Jews remain in Casablanca and about 500 elsewhere in Morocco, but the Jewish presence is still alive in a variety of sights all over the country.
Join Mint Tea Tours crew to sum up more 2000 years of history of Jewish in Morocco in 12 days.
Upon arrival at Casablanca’s Mohammed V International Airport, meet up with our team (private driver with an option of an additional private guide or host) and start your discovery of the Moroccan Jewish legacy. Cast aside any jet lag, for while Casablanca is the business capital and the beating heart of economy in Morocco, there is a lot of sightseeing to do! Currently, the largest number of Moroccan Jews live in Casablanca. It is for this reason that we consider the start from Casablanca to be strategic.
Start your Moroccan Jewish discovery today by visiting Temple Beth-El. While Casablanca boasts more than 30 synagogues, Beth-El is the largest and is considered the main Jewish site in Casablanca, with a rich history to which is added the culture of modern-day Moroccan Jews.
An early start would be a good idea today, because there are many beautiful sites to see and discover. Visit the Museum of Moroccan Judaism in Casablanca which is the only one of its type in Africa and the Muslim world. The museum, founded in 1997 with the support of the Foundation of Jewish-Moroccan Cultural Heritage, is believed to be a lively image of more than 2,000 years of Jewish religion, history, tradition and culture in Morocco.
After, discover Casablanca’s Jewish cemetery which is located in a typical Jewish quarter, commonly known as the “mellah” by locals. Mellahs, synagogues and Jewish cemeteries are found in most of the largest and important cities all over Morocco. However, it should be noted at this point that most of the Jewish communities in Morocco now live in the modern or “European” areas but still keep properties in the mellah. The tomb of the Jewish saint Eliahou in Casablanca’s cemetery is well-known in the city, at which the Jewish community of Casablanca gather to celebrate a hiloula, or prayer festival, once a year.
Finally, one cannot leave Casablanca without catching a glimpse of the grand mosque of Hassan II. The largest mosque in Morocco, it also has the highest minaret in the world and has a capacity of more than 25,000 worshippers. Interestingly enough, the building cost nearly 1 billion U.S. dollars, raised entirely by public offerings, from all layers of Moroccans, including contributions from the Jewish and Christians communities, which makes it stand out as a symbol of harmony among the three main Abrahamic religions.
In the afternoon, join your driver in the comfortable VIP van for a short drive towards Rabat, the administrative capital. To start, visit Hassan Tower, built of beautiful reddish stone. The tower stands high above the esplanade and across from the mausoleum where members of the royal family are buried. The tower was supposed to have been the minaret to a huge mosque (the largest at its time) that was never completed. Next, visit the magnificent gardens of Udayas Kasbah. Then, visit Chellah, a site whose history dates back to the Roman Empire with its wonderfully preserved structures.
Today we dive deeper in history of Morocco and Judaism in Morocco, visiting important cities and sites which have a remarkable Jewish history and culture. The drive from Rabat to Meknes is approximately 1 hour. Again, it will be a good idea to start early today as well. Make sure to keep your eyes open if you can, for the landscape is absolutely stunning along the way.
Meknes, was the city where Jews settled before the advent of Islam. Discover the old mellah, known for its historic Jewish street names, as well as the new mellah where up to eleven synagogues exist. Right next to the old mellah lies the old Jewish cemetery where several saints’ tombs are found, including Haim Messas, David Boussidan, and Raphael Berdugo.
Meknes also offers numerous of historical sites to visit and discover during the day, among which are the Royal Stables and Agdal Reservoir, the Dar Jamaï Museum, Bou Inania Medersa (not to be confused with the medersa of the same name located in Fes), Bab El-Khemis and the 17th century kasbah.
About 30 kilometers from Meknes lies the Roman ruins of Volubilis. Volubilis is an UNESCO World Heritage site and the former capital of the Roman province. Currently it is the most extensive and impressive Roman ruins in Morocco. Apart from just its significant history, photography lovers should not miss the “golden hour” here.
Finally, reach Fes in the evening, where you spend your first night before an eventful day.
Fes is the number one destination for tourism in Morocco. Its long and rich history, the kindness of the local people, the remarkable traditions and ambiance make it the favorite destination for tourist and historically the favorite home for a large number of Jews who were among the first settlers of the town at the end of the 8th century.
Fes contains the largest number of Jewish heritage sites in addition to Islamic ones such as synagogues, universities, mosques, cemeteries and the mellah, alongside gardens and palaces. Begin the day by walking through and discovering the first Jewish quarter “mellah” in Morocco, which was built in 1438 and is like an utter maze within its walls.
After that, visit the Jewish cemetery of Fes. One of many Jewish cemeteries in Morocco, the Fes cemetery contains more tombs of Jewish saints than any of its peers. Within these tombs is found the tomb of saint Soulika (also known as Sol Hachuel) who was beheaded for refusing to convert to Islam during the cruel reign of the Almohad Dynasty.
A Moroccan Jewish heritage tour is never complete without visiting a synagogue! The Ibn Danan synagogue, which is the next stop of today’s tour, is recognized as a cultural treasure and an important piece of art of Moroccan Jewish history. Its design is believed to be one of the most magnificent in North Africa.
The next site to visit today is the house of Maimonides, the famous Jewish physician and philosopher who was born in Cordoba in 1135. This was during what some scholars consider the end of the Golden Age of Jewish culture in Spain, and he later settled in Fes, where he studied at the Karaouine University before escaping east from the unfair Almohad rule which threatened the Jewish community with the choice of conversion to Islam, death, or exile.
Finally, your tour guide will offer a wonderfully presented connective link between Muslim and Jewish Morocco while visiting the rest of old Medina and Muslim sites and local shops including the University of Al-Karaouine, the Zaouia Moulay Idriss II, Dar Batha, a Weavers Cooperative and the tanneries.
About less than one hour drive south of Fes, lies the beautiful Berber town of Sefrou. The city is contemporarily known as the Cherry Capital but was historically recognized as the perfect example of harmony between Jews and Muslims.
Sefrou was once the home for the highest percentage of Jews in Morocco and boasts the largest mellah in the country, which covers more than 50% of the medina (old town). Politically speaking, after the Morocco’s independence from France, a local rabbi was elected for the Parliament, which makes the city a unique Jewish site historically and currently.
Return to Fes in the afternoon, have a relaxed visit of the beautiful and well-kept Andalusian gardens of Jnane Sbil as well as the nearby Batha Museum with its Andalusian-style garden.
Marrakech is the intended destination for today, but on the way, make some stops and explore the charm of Ifrane and the beauty of Beni Mellal. Ifrane was built by the French in the mid 1930s mainly for its strategic location in the mid Atlas, which makes the atmosphere of the little town feels like an alpine resort. For this reason, Ifrane earned the nickname “Little Switzerland”.
Ifrane is also famous for its clean and fresh air, scrubbed streets and leafy outlook as well as its high mountains that are well adorned with snow. Next, visit Beni Mellal, the Moroccan agricultural city. Visit Ain Asserdoun, and pass through the splendid sites of Taghbalout, Aïn Aïcha and Aïn Ghazi with their exciting and exotic variety of sightseeing opportunities.
In Beni Mellal is also found the largest dam in Morocco that is called Bin el Ouidane, which greatly contributed to the development of farming in the area and provides electric power to a vital part of the very center of Morocco. Finally, arrive at your hotel in Marrakesh where you will spend the night.
Marrakech, known as the capital of the Great South, is considered to be the most popular city in Morocco and the gateway to the Moroccan golden Sahara. The city is rich with magnificent gardens, royal palaces and Jewish heritage sites which attract the largest number of tourists to Morocco every year.
Majorelle Garden in Marrakech is believed to be the most popular and attractive garden, not only in Morocco, but also in North Africa. Historically, the garden took its name from French artist, Jacques Majorelle, who toiled 40 years to fully create and open the garden in 1924. In its modern form, the garden is Marrakech’s little paradise which contains a psychedelic desert mirage of 300 plant species from five continents.
After enjoying Majorelle Garden in the morning, wander through the different souks in the medina which are full of exotic handicraft items and then discover the Jewish mellah which was founded in 1558 by Moulay Abdullah. Being in the mellah, explore the Marrakech Lazama Synagogue, which is the main synagogue of the mellah of Marrakech which was built in 1558, the same year as the mellah, by Jews who had escaped ruthless Catholic Spain at that time.
The synagogue is considered to be a tranquil haven with a priceless history. In the afternoon, visit El Bahia Palace which is a remarkable example for Eastern architecture in the 19th century. It is recognized to be a very photogenic site with amazing decoration, mixed with many varied handcrafted works, great colors and beautiful gardens.
This morning, explore the Mamounia Gardens, which is a famous historical landmark hotel with beautiful gardens in the center of Marrakech. Established in 1929, the gardens are well-kept and cared for by about 40 gardeners who plant 60,000 different plants twice a year in order to enhance the grounds as well as maintain the immaculately mowed grass.
Within the garden walls, you find a 200 year-old avenue of olive trees which leads to the garden pavilion where one can soak in a moment of peace and solitude, with a glass of Moroccan mint tea.
In the afternoon, relax and enjoy being scrubbed in a Moroccan luxurious hammam and spa in one of the spa resorts in the medina.
Today starts the final chapter of our Jewish heritage tour. The drive to Essaouira from Marrakesh is approximately 3 hours. Essaouira was established in the mid-eighteenth century and became a symbol of tolerance, with Jews and Muslims coexisting in peaceful community.
The population of Essaouira back at that time consisted of more than 40% of Jews that had the Mellah as their shelter under the protection of the Sultan personally. In fact, drawing the Star of David above the doorway of homes is a still existing tradition in the Jewish area that even non-Jews sometimes practice.
Interestingly enough, every year in September, religious Jews from around the globe come to Essaouira for their annual pilgrimage to visit the tomb of Rabbi Haim Pinto who passed away in 1845 and whose home is currently preserved as a historic and religious site.
Essaouira is a magical city that has more to offer for tourist rather than just its Jewish heritage sites. Have today as your free day and discover the charm of the inner Medina with its walls, ports, markets and museums. In fact, Essaouira is believed to be a conventional museum in itself.
However, visit the museum of Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah where fascinating sepia photos and a collection of old weapons and traditional jewelry are found. Or maybe if you prefer one last moment of shopping, then get lost in the medina and discover another type of local souk (market) where you will find some precious pieces of local art and souvenirs for good prices.
Afterwards, head to Place Moulay Hassan and enjoy a unique type of musicians performing Gnawa music which is the most famous type of music in southern Morocco. Finally, if you are a fan of the popular series “Game of Thrones”, visit the filming site (the city of Astapor) where the army of the Unsullied grouped up, trained and marched out.
After many days of early mornings and exploring, today it is possible that you start a little later, for the drive back to Casablanca is no more than 3 hours. However, it is preferable that you reach there in early afternoon, so you can enjoy one last sunset view from the Ain Diab beach after having some free time to stroll along the Atlantic coast
Today you say “goodbye” to Morocco, but bear in mind that a Jewish heritage tour in Morocco is one among many of interesting, entertaining and informative tours in Morocco. Hence, make sure you spare more time in the future and join us again for other tours to visit other marvelous places such as the golden desert of Merzouga and the blue pearl of Chefchaouen.
Have a safe flight!
Mint Tea Tours Team
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