Tombstone of Lalla Solica, the Jewish
martyr, located in the Jewish cemetery of Fez


In contrast with the young mellah of Casablanca, the mellah of Fez is over 650 years old. This picturesque neighborhood adjoins the royal palace, noted for its bright brass doors. Jews took shelter in this palace during the 1912 pogrom. The nearby cemetery contains the tombs of more Jewish saints than any other cemetery in Morocco.

One of the more important saints is Lalla Solica, who was killed for refusing to convert to Islam.  This woman was born in Tangier in 1817. At the age of 16, she was courted by a Muslim man, but refused to marry him.  To force her hand, the man went to the caid, the local government official.  The man told the caid that Solica could not refuse his offer of marriage because she was no longer Jewish, having converted to Islam of her own free will. When called before the caid, she refused to acknowledge having converted. The Sultan called her to Fez, where she again denied her conversion.  As a result, she was condemned to death for apostasy and killed in 1834. 

Throughout the old city of Fez, there are traces of ancient Jewish life, including then clock tower at the home of the great Jewish scholar and leader Maimonides, who lived in the city from 1159-1165.  Suffering from the persecutions of the Almohad dynasty, Maimonides emigrated to Egypt to escape forced conversion.  Also in the old city is the mausoleum of Moulay Idriss II, the founder of Fez in the ninth century.  His father, Idriss I, fought the Jews to establish the first Muslim State in Morocco.  Idriss II, however, encouraged the Jews to move to Fez, so the city could benefit from their skills and finances. 

In the face of a declining population, the Jewish community of Fez is working hard to maintain its community spirit and  preserve its heritage and traditions. The community center, Centre Communautaire “Maimonide,” is one of the most  well organized in Morocco, with a kosher restaurant and modern synagogue on the premises.  The restaurant sometimes has available mahia, or home-made l’eau de vie, the anise-flavored alcoholic drink for which Moroccan Jews are well-known.  The Center was created in the early 1980’s in a building housing a Talmud Torah synagogue and school.

Nearby the community center is Roben Ben Sadoun Synagogue. Built in the 1920’s, it is decorated with exquisite plaster carving reminiscent of the decoration of traditional mosques and medersas.  It is large by the standards of Morocco, where every rich Jewish family desired its own synagogue.