Historic Jewish Neighborhood in Marrakech to Have Original Name Restored

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A Moroccan woman walks along a narrow street in the Jewish Mellah quarter of Tinghir, at the foot of the High Atlas and the heart of Morocco's Berber community on April 21 , 2014. Credit: AFP

A historically Jewish neighborhood in Marrakech will have its original name restored on the orders of King Mohammed VI.

The Essalam neighborhood will be renamed El Mellah, and the original names of the streets and town squares also will be restored, according to reports.

The order comes from the king following a request by the president of the Jewish community, according to the Moroccan State Press Agency.

The Moroccan Interior Ministry made the announcement on Friday, saying the king made the decision in order to “safeguard the civilizational heritage of the Kingdom as well as the cultural heritage of all the components of Moroccan society.”

Variations of the word “mellah” in Arabic and Hebrew mean “salt.” The Jewish neighborhood was surrounded by a high wall.

Earlier last month, the king attended the rededication of the Ettedgui Synagogue in Casablanca, whose restoration was funded in part by a government grant.

Ruins of Mellah, the Jewish quarter in Fez, Morocco, after a 1912 pogrom. Credit: Yad Ben-Zvi

The Mellah in Marrakesh was a walled off city, like most neighborhoods Moroccan Jews lived in from the mid-1500s until the arrival of the French in 1912. An echo of the European ghetto, Mellahs were meant to protect Jews from attacks, and simultaneously allowed the government to watch and tax the communities. During the 16th century, the small cities thrived with synagogues, markets, courtyards, balconies and fountains as the Jews shaped their careers as bankers, tailors and jewelers.

Currently, the Essalam neighborhood is smaller than the original Mellah and is mostly populated by Muslims. 

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