Fes Mellah

Nouawal, Fès, Morocco

To come to Fes and skip the Jewish Quarter is to miss out on a massive chunk of the city’s history and identity. After the Sephardic expulsion from Andalusia in 1438, a walled Jewish quarter was established in Fes. It was named the Mellah, meaning “salt marsh” in Arabic. The Jewish community was protected and accepted to the point where a Jew was appointed to be a vizier, or government minister, in 1465. The appointment unfortunately stirred up a wave of anti-Jewish protests and, on May 14, 1465, a massacre of nearly all of the Mellah’s inhabitants. When the next influx of exiles from Spain arrived in 1492, they bought with them an injection of wealth and creativity that allowed the community to prosper until the 16th century. Sadly, the next few centuries saw a steady decline in population: Only 2,500 Jews are said to remain in Morocco, some 150 or less in Fes. This rather handsome neighborhood with its enclosed hanging balconies reveals fascinating history to those willing to look. Don’t miss the atmospheric cemetery, the 17th-century Ibn Danan Synagogue (which can be accessed if you ask the guard nicely and reward him with a few dirhams), and the daily markets. You’ll also find the best goldsmiths and jewelers in Fes here.

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