Essaouira: The Mellah of Essaouira
The Mellah is the Jewish quarter located in the middle of the Medina of Essaouira, protected by the ramparts of the city.
The word ‘mellah’ comes from the Arabic word ‘melh’ which means salt; it is used to refer to Jewish districts all over Morocco.
The Jewish history in Morocco started a long way back in time, and their attraction towards the city of Essaouira in particular, to contribute to its development, was strengthened during the period of the sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah. The Jews built the reputation of the city of Essaouira, known for crafts dynamism and prosperity. They were storekeepers, economic and political intermediaries, or consultant representatives of foreign powers.
The city of Essaouira sheltered for a long time a Moroccan population established by 50% of Muslims and 50 % of Jews, while the Jewish district covers only 10 % of the city.
The Jews nowadays are counted to be only some 6 families in Essaouira.
The Mellah does not contain shops for tourists, but traders of fruits, vegetables, fish, etc. The jewels industry was one of the main activities in the Mellah of Essaouira, especially that it was mainly exercised by the Jews, and developed by them in the middle of the 18th century.
The jewels trade almost disappeared in Essaouira with the departure of Jews from it, to be replaced by the wooden crafts that make the prosperity of the city. The woods craft is especially based on the wood of thuya (Tris articuta), the most wide-spread tree locally
Once this district is crossed, one feels like transported to another period of time, as it perfectly preserved its aspects. However, the Mellah is ruined today, and in need for restorations in order to remain intact throughout the coming years.