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 neighbourhood. Houses here are in the Jewish/Moor style with an interior courtyard, rooms located around a Spanish patio, 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. There were night Curfews placed on the inhabitants of the Mellah, gates were locked, and no-one was allowed to walk there at night. The focal part of the Jewish neighbourhood 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.
Out of all the Moroccan cities, Fez is the home of the oldest and largest Mellah; 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 Fez. For a long time, the Mellah of Fez 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 where the Jews had their own markets. In 1682, the third Mellah was established in the town of Meknes.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Sultan Souleiman ordered the Jews to move to Mellahs to the towns of the coastal regions like Rabat, Salé, Mogador, and Tetouan. The new Jewish quarters were called Mmellahs everywhere except Tetouan, where the Spanish word judería was used.
At the end of the century, the Jews started to move to the new neighbourhoods, and only the elderly and the poorest families remained in the old Mellahs. 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.