The history of Morocco plays a vital role in the lives of the country’s citizens today, reminding them of the importance of acceptance and of helping diverse people groups find a home. In 1492 when the Moors and Jews were exiled from Spain by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, many went to Morocco. The Jews lived in their own sections of town called Mellahs (meaning “salt” – the name stems from their job of salting the decapitated heads of rebels). These may be seen today as equivalent to the European Ghettos. The Jewish population was confined to Mellahs in Morocco beginning from the 15th century and especially since the early 19th century. It first was seen as a privilege and a protection against attacks, but with the growth of the population, the Mellahs later became poor, miserable places. Since their inhabitants were vital in Morocco’s economy, the Mellahs were usually situated by the palace or the governor’s residence to protect them from riots. In cities, a Mellah was surrounded by a wall with a fortified gateway. In contrast, rural Mellahs were separate villages inhabited solely by the Jews.
Chefchaouen was founded in 1471 by Moulay Ali Ben Moussa Ben Rached El Alami as a small fortress which still exists to this day. I visited Chefchaouen with my friends one weekend to see the famous “Blue City.” When the large Jewish population fled Spain during the Inquisition, they settled in Chaouen and painted their section of the city (Mellah) blue. When much of the population left Morocco for Israel in 1948, the non-Jewish inhabitants decided that they wanted to leave the Mellah blue and paint the rest of the town the same color. The painted walls repel mosquitoes surprisingly well. It also makes the entire town extremely beautiful!
People of many ethnic backgrounds live in Morocco. Originally inhabited by the Berbers, the country has served as a home for Arabs, Jews, Saharwis, Southern Europeans, and Sub-Saharan Africans. The mixture of all these peoples has give Morocco an unique atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance. When I lived in Morocco, I lived above the only church in Meknes. It was the most peaceful place, and there were always people of different religions coming in and out of the gates.
As this is my last blog for ISA, I would like to send a BIG shout out to the site directors, Danny, Iman, and Moushin. Without them, the program would not have gone so smoothly and I would not have had as much fun. They become family, and you can go to them with anything. The whole country of Morocco is very warm and welcoming, and it was an amazing place to decide to study abroad. For years to come I will share how wonderful my time in Morocco was and how awesome the whole country was in aiding my cultural development.
Alhamdullilah (Thank God)! This was an opportunity of a life time.
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