Today we took a side trip to Essaouira, a coastal town a few hundred kilometers from Marrakesh. Like all the cities we've visited so far, it contained a medina surrounded by impressive looking ramparts. It also contained a section labeled Mellah. Apparently, anytime you come across a 'Mellah' quarter, you've stumbled onto the old Jewish section of town.
Whether it was in Rabat, Sale or El Jadida, the only indication that you were in a Jewish area was the notation on the map. Most of these cities contained Jewish cemeteries, but we never managed to visit one.
It was in Essaouira, however, that our luck changed. Not only did we find two different shuls we could tour, we managed to find something even more rare: a Moroccan Jew. We met Haim, who has spent the last 4 years restoring one of the shuls in Mellah. He took some time out to share some additional history of the area. You can find the website for the restoration project here.
At its high point, there were 39 shuls in the Medina, and only 3 mosques. All but one of the shul's were part of homes, with the shul Haim was renovating, being the only one that was a dedicated building. The town had a Jewish majority, going back to its creation in the 1700's, where it was established as a world wide trade port. Even in their heyday, the shuls were always modest from the outside, to the point of being almost invisible. Inside however, they could be as extravagant as they wanted.
The rest of Essaouira didn't disappoint. The port was especially picturesque, including impressive ramparts you could tour. In honor of being so close to the sea, I had sardines for lunch. Yum! I could have had any number of sea creatures on display at the market, you simply point to what's laying out and apparently they will cook it up for you.
On our way back to Marrakesh, we stopped at Marjane, a sort of Wal-Mart in Morocco. I've got to say, it's pretty dang impressive. You could buy everything from groceries to electronics, just like you would in the US. Shira and I like to visit grocery stores when traveling in other countries, and this was like hitting the jackpot. It's also quite a contrast shopping in a very Western store, and then getting on the road and dodging donkey carts and such. But that's just how Morocco is.