Volubilis Basilica

Best of Morocco: Our Top Heritage Sites

In 1972, UNESCO adopted the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage convention. It seeks to protect and preserve the cultural and natural heritage around the world deemed to be of outstanding value to humanity.

Of all Morocco’s magnificent sites, there are nine properties inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage. These range from archaeological ruins to medieval quarters (Medinas).

Archaeological Site of Volubilis

The Roman ruins of Volubilis (Latin for “morning glory”) go back to the 3rd century B.C. First founded by Mauritanian King Juba II, husband to the daughter of Cleopatra and Marc Anthony, the province became an important outpost of the Roman Empire and was graced with many fine buildings. The structure of the city is still visible from the ruins and extensive remains survive, located in a fertile agricultural area.

Historic City of Mekes

Bab Mansour Meknes

 

Founded in the 11th century by the Almoravids as a military settlement, Meknes became a capital under Sultan Moulay Ismaïl (1672–1727), the founder of the Alawite dynasty. This Imperial City features more than 40 kilometres of walls with some 20 gates, a royal palace, the vast Agdal basin, gardens, ancient storehouses and stud stables as well as large squares.

Ksar of Ait Benhaddou

Ksar Ait Benhaddou Morocco

The ksar, a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls, is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat. The Ksar of Ait Benhaddou is one of the most exotic and best preserved such structures in southern Morocco. It has been used for scenes in many films, notably Lawrence of Arabia, Jesus of Nazareth (for which much of the village was rebuilt) and most recently Gladiator, Alexander and Prince of Persia. 

Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador)

Essaouira Ramparts

Essaouira’s Medina, with its well preserved, late 18th century walled layout,  is an exceptional example of contemporary European military architecture in North Africa.  The ramparts were famously used in the opening scene of Orson Welles’ Othello for a panoramic shot where Iago is suspended in a cage above the rocks and sea.

Medina of Fez

Fes Tanneries

Fez is the first place in Morocco to be listed as a World Heritage City in recognition of its unique architectural and cultural treasures. Founded in 789 AD, it is the world’s oldest, intact and continuously inhabited medieval city. This real time capsule offers a cultural exchange like no other, with intricately tiled palaces, rich history and centuries-old souks.

Medina of Marrakech

Koutoubia Marrakech

In spite of the influx of visitors, Marrakech Medina (old quarters) has retained much of its character. Dating back to the 10th century, the Medina has several impressive monuments dating from that period: the Koutoubia Mosque, the Kasbah, the battlements, monumental doors, gardens and more. Later architectural jewels include the El Badi Palace, the Ben Youssef Madrasa, the Saadian Tombs, several great residences and Place Jamaâ El Fna, a veritable open-air natural theatre.

Medina of Tetouan

Tetouan Medina

The whitewashed Medina of Tetouan tells the story of the long relationship between Morocco and Spain. The town is built by Andalucian refugees after the Reconquista (the reconquest of Spain, completed in 1492). Although smaller than the medinas further south, Tetouan is unquestionably the most complete and best preserved.

Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida)

Portuguese Fortress El Jadida

The 16th century Portuguese settlement of Mazagan, now part of the city of El Jadida, is a sleepy but gorgeous Medina. It is an outstanding example of the interchange of influences between European and Moroccan cultures. Of special note are the ramparts and bastions of Renaissance military design and the cistern and Church of the Assumption built in Portuguese late Gothic style.

Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City

Andalusian Gardens Rabat

Rabat, the capital of the Kingdom of Morocco, reflects the diversity of cultures that characterises Morocco. The inscribed city encompasses both the modern capital, established by the French protectorate in 1912, and the old Imperial City. It is a town where a visitor can enjoy the numerous sites of all periods of Moroccan history.

 

 

Moshe Nahon Synagogue Tangier

Top 5 Beautiful Synagogues in Morocco

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Athmane Kessir is your travel guide to Morocco. Learn everything you need and want to know about Morocco during your travels!
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Moroccan Synagogue

 

From its peak of over 250,000 during the late 1940s, the Jewish community of Morocco has shrunk to less than 3,000 today. However, in every turn and alley of the mellahs, or old Jewish quarters in Moroccan cities, are traces of a long and rich history. These walled neighborhoods have Jewish cemeteries and preserved synagogues, a testament to a once thriving community that dates back 2,000 years.

We embark on a pictorial journey of the most beautiful synagogues in Morocco. Next time you are in Marrakech, Fes, Tangier, stop by to see them up close!

1 – Slat Alfassiyine, Fes

Fes is the spiritual capital not only of Moroccan Islam, but also Judaism. In 1900, Fez, then the imperial capital, had 10,000 Jews out of a population of 100,000 and 20 synagogues.

Slat Alfassiyine (Prayer of those from Fes) is the oldest, first established in the 17th century in the old Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The synagogue had fallen into disrepair and had been closed since the 1960s. With funding from Morocco’s Jewish community and the Federal Republic of Germany, Slat al Fassiyine has now been restored to its former glory.

An anecdote: According to local tradition, Slat Alfassiyine was built by Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 who arrived in Fez and decided to build a synagogue for themselves after the local Jews refused to let them pray in theirs.

 

Slat Al Fassiyine Synagogue Fes

 

2- Beth El, Casablanca

Today, Casablanca is home to the largest Jewish community in North Africa and boasts close to 30 synagogues. The main religious focal point of the community is Beth El, or Beit El,  the largest synagogue and an important community center, seating 500 persons.

Beth-El is noted for its stained-glass windows and ark housing Hebrew scrolls dressed in exquisitely embroidered velvet mantles. The walls are inscribed with gilded quotes from the Bible and the ceiling is equally decorative.

 

Beth El Synagogue Casablanca

Beth El Synagogue Casablanca

 

3- Moshe Nahon, Tangier

All Tangier’s synagogues are located in one street, aptly named “Synagogue Streets” – later renamed “Synagogue Street” because only one remains open. This is the Moshe Nahon (or Moise Nahon) Synagogue, named for its founder, built in 1870. After falling into disrepair, the synagogue was renovated in 1994 by a Jewish architect who traces his roots to Tangier.

Tucked away behind a nondescript door, the Moshe Nahon reveals a lavish and monumental synagogue in the characteristics of synagogues in northern Morocco.  There is a wall painting of the tablets of the law, a large sculpted wooden lectern for Torah reading and a women’s gallery opening out on to a terrace. Daylight enters through a square skylight and the windows in the upper gallery.

Moshe Nahon Synagogue Tangier

Moshe Nahon Synagogue Tangier

 

4- Slat Al Azama, Marrakech

Also known as the “Synagogue of the Dissidents”, Slat Al Azama is the oldest and most picturesque synagogue in Marrakech. It was built in 1492 by Sephardi Jews, fleeing Spain in the late 15th century after the Decree of Alhambra.It is the only operational synagogue in Marrakech, open daily to the public and popular for weddings and b’nai mitzvah among foreign visitors.

The Slat Al Azama Synagogue is one of a series of buildings constructed around a large, well-tended central courtyard. Four pillars divide the interior into two naves, with the walls painted in blue and white so prevalent in the Mellah. The original wooden movable lectern has been replaced by one of marble along the eastern wall. Here, strikingly, an embellished gallery (ezrat nashim) is reserved for women, an innovation in Morocco, where women traditionally remained at the entrance to the synagogue or in a separate room. On the floor above is a Talmud Torah School, a soup kitchen and the community centre.

 

Al Azama Synagogue Marrakech

Slat Al Azama Synagogue Marrakech

 

5- Bet Em Habanim, Sefrou

Sefrou, south of Fez, was known as Little Jerusalem due to its high percentage of Jews and its well-developed religious life. The Mellah in this quaint little town, just 30 km southeast of Fez, makes up about half of the Medina – the old quarters. Though nearly all current residents of Sefrou’s mellah are Muslim, Jewish influences can be seen in the ancient buildings, many with Hebrew characters inscribed upon them.

The only functioning synagogue in the Mellah is the Bet Em Habanim synagogue, beautifully decorated in mosaics and surprisingly intact. The influence of Muslim art is apparent in the colourful zellij (Moroccan tile work) on the walls and brightly painted stucco work above the Ark.

 

Em Habanim Synagogue Sefrou

Em Habanim Synagogue Sefrou