Jewish heritage Morocco - Turkey 13 days
Morocco has had a long Jewish history, dating back thousands of years. The complex, intertwining relationship between the Jewish and Arabic populations is fascinating and unique in the world. With the opening of Israel, many Moroccan Jews moved East, but the country is now experiencing a resurgence of interest in the country's Jewish heritage.
The Moroccan Jewish Community has always been, and still is, one of the largest in the Arab World. Its heritage and history are little known abroad although every part of the Kingdom records an important Jewish legend. We are rediscovering this Jewish heritage, thereby learning more about the many sided history of Morocco. Jews have been here for hundreds of years, they have lost nothing of their ancient traditions, special customs and culture.
Morocco is the only country in the Arab World both rich in Jewish history and with a living Jewish community. Both Jewish and non-Jewish tourists have delighted in its ancient walled cities, thriving markets, and sumptuous feasts. With a little effort, the tourist interested in the Jewish heritage of Morocco can discover hundreds of fascinating historical and spiritual sites. A visit to "Jewish" Morocco is a lesson in the potential for Jewish-Muslim coexistence. Only through seeing Morocco through Jewish eyes can one understand the deep attachment of the Moroccan Jewish diaspora to their homeland.
Day 01 Casablanca – Rabat (100 km)
Upon arrival at Casablanca Airport, proceed through customs and immigration. You will be met outside the baggage claim area’s sliding glass doors and transferred to Rabat. Overnight in Rabat.
Day 02 Rabat
Breakfast at the hotel. This morning you will meet your English speaking driver at the hotel entrance.
Rabat is the political capital of the Kingdom since 1912. The well-planned city consists of broad tree-lined avenues, a landscaped central park, and impressive quarters for the foreign embassies and ministries.
Drive around the Mechaour to see the palace and the administrative buildings of the government, then via the old Chellah walls. Visit the unfinished Hassan Tower and Mosque, and the distinctive and elegant Mausoleum of Mohammed V, revered former King and grandfather of the present King Mohammed VI. (The Mausoleum also holds the tomb of King Hassan II, son of Mohammed V).
Revered by his subjects, Mohammed V defied the orders of the Vichy government during WWII when they required Moroccan Jews to wear the Star of David on clothing, and he subsequently saved his Jewish subjects the fate of their European brethren. Jews of Morocco, even those who have emigrated to other countries, hold a special reverence for Mohammed V, who refused to distinguish between his subjects, and even insisted that Moroccan Jews be present at the festivities during the celebration of Coronation Day.
When this provoked the anger of the civil servants at the French Residency, Mohammed V replied: “I in no way approve of the anti-semitic laws and I refuse to be associated with an action I disapprove of. I insist on informing you that, as in the past, the Jews are under my protection and I refuse that any distinction be made among my subjects...”.
You might be interested to visit the private Belghazi Museum (we will have to verify that it will be open). Entrance fee to be paid direct. Housed in a country mansion 17 miles from Sale enroute to Kenitra, the Belghazi Museum is the first private museum on the African continent.
Three generations of the Belghazi family have amassed a vast collection of traditional Moroccan pieces, consisting of Andalusian, Jewish, and Islamic arts and crafts. The display changes periodically but basically consists of 17th century carpets, Jewish temple furnishings, wedding clothes, doors & ceilings dating from the 10th century, intricate jewelry, musical instruments, unusual pottery and embroidery, and weapons. The Islamic exhibition features pieces of measurement tools, planispheric astrolabes dating back to the 15th century, copper compasses (19th century), solar compasses (16th century), ancient weapons, ancient Berber jewels in addition to precious manuscripts, including the smallest-size Koran (27 millimeters) written in black and red and dating back to the 17th century. The premises contain a larger collection than any state museum; many visitors feel that this is the best museum in the Kingdom. even though it is not typically visited on the “tourist” itinerary.
Day 03 Rabat - Meknes – Fez (220 km)
Depart to the Imperial City of Meknes. Located in the center of a rich agricultural region where olives, grain, vegetables, and grapes are grown, the history goes back to the 8th century, when it was developed as a hilltop kasbah. But perhaps the most interesting part of its history started in 1666 when Sultan Moulay Rachid appointed his brother Moulay Ismail as the Pasha of Meknes. When Rachid died in 1672 Ismail succeeded to the throne and was determined to make Meknes the new capital. With slave labor of 50,000 workers, the city was rebuilt to contain dozens of palaces (for his 4 wives, 500 concubines, and some 800 of his most favored children) and gardens, parks, ponds, and pavilions. Often portrayed as a megalomaniac tyrant, during his rule he did achieve order between warring factions, rebuilt mosques, and encouraged trade. Unfortunately the grandeur of Meknes he created did not last long after his death. Slave regiments deposed a succession of his sons. Then the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 shattered the palace compounds, and much government activity was shifted back to Fez. There is a school here with the front sign in Arabic, French, and Hebrew. Overnight in Fez
Day 04 Fez
Fez is arguably Morocco’s most fascinating city. This metropolis, sited in a valley, was Morocco’s first capital, and is today the kingdom’s intellectual, religious and cultural center. The university here is one of the oldest in the world, and the city’s handicrafts are admirable (look for handmade items like rugs, fabrics, ceramics, leather goods, as well as copper, brass, and silver pieces). Fez street life in the medina may be the most memorable you’ll ever experience. The souks in the medina are an open-air department store, with the spice shops next to the carpet sellers, across from the fishmonger.
This is the hub of Moroccan life, filled with vitality. Natives of Fez are known as “Fassi”, and have a reputation within Morocco as being excellent businessmen.
Full day sightseeing visit of the city and medina (ancient quarter). This tour includes the monuments and historical sites in the morning such as the Mosque, University, and Nejjarine Fountain. We suggest lunch at a Moroccan Palace-style restaurant within the medina (your driver and/or guide will know of a few good ones). In the afternoon visit the various markets of the souks and the tanneries. I’m sure you will want to spend some time shopping...remember to bargain for everything! Return to the hotel.
There are hundreds of families in the old city whose ancestors were Jews, and who still retain names of Jewish origin. Once home to 40 synagogues in the mellah, we suggest that you stop for a visit to the vast whitewashed Jewish cemetery adjacent to the Royal Palace. (It was typical to place the mellahs near the palaces, because the royals often relied upon the counsel of Jewish advisers regarding finance and commerce.) and Aben Denan Synagogue. It is customary to leave a small donation for the caretakers. Overnights in Fez
Day 05 Fez – Benimellal– Marrakech (570 km)
Breakfast at the hotel. Today is going to be a long drive (about 6 hours), so dress comfortably and warmly.
Depart to Marrakesh. Check in to your hotel.
Or remain in the city in which case you might enjoy a visit to the Majorelle Gardens. A botanical garden created by the French artist Jacque Majorelle in the 1920s, the plants are imported from around the world and are highlighted by structures painted a brilliant cobalt now known as “Majorelle Blue”. More recently owned by the late couturier Yves Saint-Laurent, a small building houses Saint Laurent's collection of Islamic art, and there is a monument to him (he died in 2008, and his ashes are scattered in the gardens). Open daily 8 am to 5 pm in winter, 8 am to 6:30 pm in summer visit a synagogue.
Day 06 Marrakesh
Morning sightseeing tour of Marrakesh highlights with your driver and guide: Visit the 16th century Saadian Tombs, Bahia Palace, and the famous and exciting Djma el Fna Square. Time for walking through - and shopping in the souks, located just behind Djma el Fna
Square. visit the mellah Jewish area.
The Djma el Fna Square is best re-visited at around sunset where you can perhaps enjoy a coffee at one of the cafes overlooking the action as the square becomes more alive when the sun goes down. You can walk among snake charmers, fortune tellers, dentists (!) , acrobats, and dancers, and much more!! Overnight in MARRAKECH
Day 07 Marrakech & Surroundings
Day free with the driver at your disposal. Some suggestions:
Ourika Valley – Drive through scenic roads and authentic berber villages of the Atlas Mountin countryside where people still go to market by donkey. Light a candle at the tomb of Rabbi Shlomo bel Hans in the High Atlas. This tomb is the site of one of the largest pilgrimages in Morocco. Pilgrimages to the tombs of Jewish “saints” are unique to Judiasm in Morocco (there are over 600 such sites). Once a year in the spring Jews of Moroccan descent come from all over the world for a weekend of festivities and celebration. The Muslims do the same thing; a tradition inherited - it is believed - from the pre-Islamic Berbers. Stop at Raymuntcho for a surprisingly sophisticated optional late lunch. You may also have the opportunity to have tea in a typical berber home if you wish (gratuity is expected).
Alternatively if you wish to make a half day excursion to another part the region you can stop instead in Asni at the Kasbah Tamadot (Richard Branson’s elegant small hotel) and then continue to the tiny village of Imlil, headquarters for those who wish to hike in and around Mt. Toubkal (Morocco’s highest peak). You can walk up (or ride a mule) to the Kasbah du Toubkal for lunch and a breathtaking view of the mountains. Guided hikes (short or long) can also be arranged through the Kasbah du Toubkal. Overnight in Marrakesh
Day 08 Marrakesh – Essaouira (175 km)
Depart to Essaouira. Formerly known as Mogador, the quaint fishing village has a Portuguese influence. Visit the bustling fish market, and the ramparts and bastions which served as the location for the Orson Welles film version of Othello. The town has a somewhat laid back bohemian atmosphere which had appealed to some world known rock stars, and is a great place to relax and kick back. It has a nice medina and is small enough so that you won’t get lost, so a guide is not necessary. Visit the fortifications and the excellent factories which sell locally carved and polished thula wood products.
Part of the joy of visiting is watching the fishermen bring in the catch of the day, and the fish market itself is worth a visit. The ramparts that protect the town are quite lovely and make for a perfect sunset stroll.
Today the town is considered a resort area and is known for windsurfing., but a generation ago there were thousands of Jewish inhabitants in the town. Even though today there are only a few families left you can visit the mellah where you can see the blue and white painted houses with the Stars of David above the doorways of former Jewish homes.
There is also a synagogue, on the upper floor of Rabbi Chaim Pinto’s former residence. Overnight in Essaouira at Sofitel Mogador. (BB)
Day 09 Essaouira - Casablanca (351 Km)
Driver to take you to Casablanca.
Casablanca is the chief port, the financial, commercial and manufacturing center of the country. A modern city with office buildings and big-city traffic, it will not remind you of the eponymous film starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman! The population has grown from approximately 20,000 in the early 1900s to more than four million today (including the suburbs), and is the largest city in Africa.
It also has the largest Jewish population of any Arab city in the world. This afternoon drive through the Jewish community and see the Beth El Synagogue. Then visit the Museum of Moroccan Judaism, founded in 1996, which features a wide range of artifacts including synagogue furniture from various Moroccan cities, and an assortment of scrolls, menorahs, and a photographic exhibit on Jewish communities in the 1960’s. Museum hours are Monday through Friday from 10AM-6PM. Exhibits may change periodically.
The Musee du Judaisme Marocain is about 3 miles from the city center, and is unique in that it is Casablanca’s only museum, and the only Jewish museum to be found in any Muslim country anywhere in the world. It displays collections of religious books, costumes, artifacts reflecting the role that the Jewish community has had in Morocco. When fundamentalist bombers attacked properties and businesses in 2003 it sparked the country’s largest protest demonstration in history, marching under the banner “Jews and Muslims, we are all citizens, we are all Moroccans”. Website:
Drive along the wide boulevards, United Nations Square, the residential area of Anfa and Ain Diab, and then to the Mosque of Hassan II. Situated on the edge of the Atlantic in the easternmost point of Morocco the mosque is truly an architectural masterpiece.
Designed by the French architect Michel Pinseau, begun in 1980 and completed in 1993, the mosque is the second largest religious edifice in the world (after Mecca) and has the tallest minaret at 689 feet. It can accommodate 25,000 worshippers inside, and an additional 80,000 in the courtyard perimeter. Built on reclaimed land, almost half the surface lies over the Atlantic. King Hassan II was inspired by a verse of the Koran which states “the throne of God was built upon the water”. Although traditional in design and decoration, the mosque also has some very modern features such as an area of glass floor so that when the worshippers kneel above it, they can view the sea below. Also built to withstand earthquakes, the mosque has heated floors, electric doors, and a retractable roof.
this is the only mosque in Morocco where non-Muslims may visit the interior on hour long guided tours (entrance fee to be paid direct).
Overnight in Casablanca.
Day 10 Casablanca / Istanbul
Arrive in Istanbul, assistance and transfer to visit the neighborhood of galata where many of the jews fleeing from spanish inquisition in 1492 settled. Visit the Galata tower, built by the genoese in 1303. Continue to Neve shalom synagogue, the biggest one in Istanbul, bulit in 1951 for the sepharadic jews. In the afternoon, visit the Hippodrome, Blue mosque and Topkapi palace. Overnight in istanbul.
Day 11 Istanbul
Visit of Balat district which has been the earliest neighborhood of the Jews from 1492 and on. Star of David can still be noticed on the facades of some of the buildings. Then visit Ahayim Jewish Hospital (also called the Balat Jewish Hospital), built in 1897; continue the tour with Ahrida Synagogue built over 500 years ago. In the afternoon, visit of Covered Bazaar
Day 12 Istanbul / Edirne
Departure early in the morning for Edirne, the second capital of Ottoman Empire situated in the northwest of Turkey with borders with Greece and Bulgaria. Visit The Great Synagogue of Edirne restored by the Prime Ministry General Directorate of Foundations (opened on Thursday, 26 March 2015) The Great Synagogue is one of the most important faith centres of Edirne, hosting the houses of worship of three sacred religions. It was built with the permission of the Ottoman Government and the edict of Abdulhamid II in January 1906. It is the largest synagogue in Balkans, and the third largest in Europe. The restoration of the synagogue was initiated in 2010 in the scope of the reforms addressing the religious freedom and social life requirements of various religious groups in Turkey. The synagogue has opened for service after five years of effort. Possibility to visit Selimiye Mosque, the symbol of Edirne. Carrying the name of the then reigning Ottoman Sultan Selim II, the Mosque was built by famous architect Sinan. Architect Sinan finished the construction in 1575, when he was 85 and considered Selimiye Mosque to be his “master piece”. Its huge dome is even higher than that of Hagia Sophia. Selimiye Mosque is the crown of Edirne with its simple but glorious existence. UNESCO added Selimiye Mosque and its social complex to its World Heritage List on June 27, 2011. Back to Istanbul.
Day 13 Istanbul / Airport
Breakfast at the hotel and check-out (latest check-out time is 12:00 hours). Departure transfer to the airport to catch the flight to the next destination.