There is a judeo-arabic letter from 1541 in which the word
“mellah” has the meaning " place where
the Jews lived".
Another more recognized explanation is that the word "
mallâh " means "salt", in arabic.
When muslim soldiers and warriors came back from battle, they
would bring back the severed heads of their ennemies as trophies.
A task forced upon the Jews was to salt those heads so that
they would be preserved impaled.
Jewish Wedding in Morocco by
Eugène Delacroix, Louvre, Paris
Eugène Delacroix assists Tuesday, February 21, 1832 in Tangier at a traditional Moroccan Jewish wedding (called henna). The painting was begun in 1835, completed in 1839. Presented at the Salon1841, it was bought by Louis-Philippe before entering the Musée du Luxembourg. Delacroix had charged Planet Louis, his colleague and student, to make him acopy, remained in the artist's studio until his death (number 244 of the posthumous sale,awarded to Bornot). During the war, the Jewish wedding in Morocco has been kept since 1941 at
Castle Bétaille and was back in Paris June 20, 1946.
In 1809 the Sultan Moulay
Slimane settled the Jews
in the new quartier Mellah Jdid. The old Mellah (El
Qdim) was situated i the centre of the town bewtween the
Kasbah and the actual Mella Jdid.
Abandonned houses now slowly fall apart in the
mellah, caused by the weather and the sea or the theft of wooden
Mellah is a walled Jewish quarter of
a town, a ghetto. Jewish population were confined to
mellahs in Morocco beginning from the 15th century and especially
since the early 19th century.
The term mellah connotes not just the physical space where jews
lived but also the communal space of the Jews. The mellah was
usually walled with a fortified gateway. Frequently, the mellah
was located to a corner of the city, having its own gates, allowing
full segration between Jews and Muslims.
The system of isolating the Jews was both discriminatory as well
as a method of protecting them from Muslim violence. The rule
was that the gates to the mellah were closed during night.
In many places around Morocco, the Jews lived in Muslim quarters.
Still, Jews did not enjoy the freedom of Muslims.
"We could see them take off their black shoes /outside
mellah/ as a distinction with the muslims who alone were allowed
to wear yellow shoes..."
The Sultan Sidi Ben Abdallah
(1757-1790) also settled a large number of Jewish merchant
families (the tujjâr al-sultân ,
or “sultan's traders”) in Mogador in order
to take better advantage of their business connections with Jewish
merchants in European cities such as Livorno, Liverpool, and Amsterdam.
By the late 18th and early 19th centuries Mogador was the only
port (outside of Tangier) that was open to European trade. This
protected trade status attracted British merchants, who settled
in the Kasbah and a large Jewish community, 40% of the
city's population was Jewish. When the city's first mallâh
, Mellah Kedim, became too small, a new Mellah was built.
Essaouira's economy was dealt
a major blow between 1948 and 1967
when most of its remaining Jewish population emigrated
to Israel, France and Canada. Space in former Jewish neighborhoods
was then filled with rural migrants.
Socially segregated -
but in peace
Essaouira used to be an example of a small Arab town in which
Muslims and Jews lived side by side in both rich and
poor districts, working together but socially segregated
- and in peace.
It was unique because there were almost as many Jews as there
were Muslims, so the term "minority" did not really
apply, as it did in every other town and city in Morocco and
everywhere in the Arab world.
Rabbi Chaim Pinto Grave, home and synagouge is preserved as
Simon Attias synagogue Built in 1882
The Jewish cemetery
"As soon as he arrived in Mogador, he discovered that life in the mellah was even more miserable than in his hometown. He lost his wife and five of his seven children to the tuberculosis epidemic in the area, and the two survivors - two boys - decided to join their cousins in Brazil, where they successively became nut farmers, rubber producers. and mountebanks on the Amazon. They regularly sent money and parcels through couriers who were the link between Brazil and Tangier."
1438: The first mellah
is established in Fez. 1465: A majority of the Jews of Fez are massacred
by Muslim thugs. Mid 16th century: A mellah is established in
Marrakech 1682: A mellah is established in Meknes. Early 19th century: Across Morocco, Jews are
forced to settle in mellahs, many newly established. Mid 20th century: Large-scale emigrations of
Jews from Morocco to Israel; houses and property are abandoned,
usually without compensation, and left for the Muslim locals.
The mellahs become Muslim neighbourhoods.