Discover Morocco’s Jewish Heritage and the Splendour of its cities
My journey started with a fantastic flight on Royal Air Maroc, my favorite airline from this day forward. Flying with Royal Air Maroc was a real treat for me, as they provided us with all the amenities I could wish for; Royal Air Maroc has one of the best in-flight entertainments, as well as food and beverage services for all classes. I strongly recommend this leading airline and look forward to flying with them again.
I arrived in Casablanca at the beautiful Hotel Sofitel Tour Blanche. This hotel offers a peaceful stay with an amiable and fantastic staff who seemed genuine. I loved the welcoming we received with the best Moroccan mint tea and cookies next to a beautiful painting of Humphrey Bogart from “Casablanca.” The film, set in Morocco but filmed entirely in California, is celebrating its 75th anniversary; the fictional “Rick’s Cafe” is still a point of pilgrimage for tourists despite the fact that no scenes were ever filmed there. The rooms were clean, modern, quiet, and beautifully designed and with great views of the Port and Mosque of Hassan II, which is a must see and breathtaking at night. The staff is amazing, warm, friendly and accommodating, even with the most mundane task, they are eager to help just to make sure that your stay is pleasant one, and always with a smile! Breakfast at Brasserie La Tour in the hotel was very delicious and plentiful with a Moroccan mint tea and a nice, warm ambiance and good music to start your day. I would highly recommend Sofitel Casablanca Tour Blanche.
Miryem Belanzoul – Hotel Sofitel tour blanche – New York Jewish Travel Guide
“Casablanca” references aside, Morocco is home to many Jewish Heritage sites of historical prominence that are some of the most widely visited in the world. When travelling to Morocco on a Jewish Heritage tour, these fantastic Jewish places of historical prominence are essential highlights not to be missed. These Moroccan Jewish Heritage sites consist of Synagogues, Cemeteries, and Mellahs, all preserved respectively in the former Jewish neighbourhoods of the medinas. All Jewish Heritage sites in Morocco are either UNESCO World Heritage sites or protected by the Moroccan King and government. These Jewish Heritage sites in Morocco are regularly under renovation and preservation as to ensure they remain a part of Morocco’s Jewish Heritage.
Casablanca has one of the only Jewish Museums in the Muslim world. The Museum of Moroccan Judaism of Casablanca is a museum of history and ethnography, created by the Jewish Community of Casablanca in 1997 with the support of the Foundation of Jewish-Moroccan Cultural Heritage. It is quite an impressive exhibit with items commemorating Judaism and the Jewish way of life. The Museum, which covers an area of 700 square meters, is the first of its kind in the Arab world. On the grounds of a former orphanage, this museum is beautifully maintained with ceremonial pieces and museum items. It consists of a large multipurpose room, used for exhibitions of painting, photography and sculpture. Three other rooms, contained exhibits on religious and family life (oil lamps, Torahs, Chanukah lamps, clothing, marriage contracts (ketubot) Torah covers…) and the other two rooms displayed complete Moroccan synagogues; a document library, a video library and a photo library. I discovered that it is the same building as the Yeshiva where Jewish students from all over Morocco lived and studied at least through the 1970’s. In the room with the Megillah, about 160 boys used to sleep in bunk beds, the other big rooms was the dining hall. The curator, Ms Zhor Rehihil, was accessible for questions about the Jewish Community in Morocco and gave us an excellent overview of Moroccan Jewish life.
We enjoyed lunch at the most beautiful Four Seasons Hotel with great views of the Atlantic Ocean. Genuine five-star service, delicious meal at the bleu restaurant. I would like to thank both Mr Said Mounhid, General Manager of the Regional Council of Tourism, and Ms Marie Pierre Brancaleoni, Director of Marketing, for the warm welcome and hospitality provided during our visit.
Casablanca is home to the Hassan II Mosque, designed by the French architect Michel Pinseau and is the only one in the city that non-Muslims may visit. It is situated on a peninsula looking out to the Atlantic, which can be seen, through a gigantic glass floor with room for 25,000 worshippers. A further 80,000 can be accommodated, in the mosque’s courtyard. Its minaret is the world’s tallest at 210 meters. Very fantastic architecture and art. It took 6 years to build with 12500 workers working 24 hrs shifts. The facade is impressive and shows the Moroccan art of dealing with woodwork and stone. Authorities spent an estimated $800 million in the construction of the building. It is an enormous architectural masterpiece and the third largest religious building in the world. Tour its famous minaret, dome, royal doors made of marble. At night, it dominates the skyline and glows Gorgeous Mosque on the Sea. A MUST visit attraction in Casablanca.
Mosque of Hassan II. – New York Jewish Travel Guide
Casablanca’s synagogues are also an important of the city’s heritage. Synagogue Beth-El is considered the center piece of a once vibrant Jewish community and is an old style Sephardic synagogue. Its stained glass windows and other artistic elements, is what attracts tourists to this synagogue.
The beautiful city is Rabat, the capital of Morocco retains a charming, relaxed atmosphere. Many travellers consider Rabat an overlooked gem. Many people love this city because of the ease in which one can get around — wide sidewalks, red small taxis and a new tram to help commuters get back and forth. Rabat has a real European feel to it, with cafés lining the streets, an excellent selection of restaurants, and a mix of languages overheard on the streets. Rabat was recently awarded a second place in “Top Travel Destinations of 2013” by CNN. It has also recently named as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
A great monument you must see is the Hassan Tower which was built by the Almohad Sultan Yacoub el Mansour in 1199 as part of a building program which included the Koutoubia mosque in Marrakech and the Giralda in Seville. The King Mohammed V mausoleum is nearby which also contains the tomb of King Hassan II and his brother Prince Moulay Abdullah. The mausoleum is guarded by Royal guards in scarlet uniforms. A Must visit in Rabat!
The Royal Palace located at the end of the mechouar (a vast parade ground), dates from 1864 and is the principal residence of the royal family as well as an accommodation for the Moroccan Royal Guard. The palace complex also contains the College Royal, a school for senior members of the royal family, a cookery school, and a ground floor library built to contain the manuscript collection of SM Hassan II. There are extensive gardens and grounds surrounding the palace, which were designed, with French formality, traditional Arabic motifs and local horticulture in mind. The interior of the castle remains closed for visitors, but you can take pictures of the royal guards from a large square in front of the entrance. Adorned with flowerbeds, antique cannons, and a central fountain, the square hosts official parades.
To the Mellah (or Jewish Quarters), the entrance of the old Jewish quarter on avenue Hassan II. We turned left immediately after entering the gate. At the end of the small alley is the Rabbi Shalom Izzawi synagogue. There are some Jews still living in the Mellah and we went to the Rabbi’s home around the corner to get the key to open the synagogue but no one was home.
For more information, visit:
To plan a trip to Morocco, contact the Moroccan National Office of Tourism or log on to: http://www.visitmorocco.com/en
For more information on Moroccan Tourism infused with the Jewish Heritage Experience, Contact:
Fly Royal Air Morocco – https://www.royalairmaroc.com/us-en/
Story & photography by Meyer Harroch -New York Jewish travel Guide & New York Jewish Guide.com
The author took part in a press trip sponsored by the Moroccan National Office of Tourism.