Lazama Synagogue, Marrakech

Wandering down a small street, a self imposed guide attaches himself to us.  Listening to our debates about where to go next he invites us to go with him while he shows the way.  This is not what we want (yet again!!).  

Glancing to the right, blue catches my eye but we continue until something clicks in my mind.  This wasn't just the doorway to a home, it was somewhere more.  The older gent slumped at the table in the entrance hall, a stub of tickets in his hand suggest an entry fee and a few minutes respite from the guides and mayhem of Marrakech.

Heading back to the entrance we step inside.  The blue becoming dominant.  Signs, doors, even the internal shades and tiles have blue running through them.  By chance we have found the Lazama Synagogue.  The name is taken from Al Azama meaning "those who ran away from Spain".

The calm interior is cool from the midday sun, shaded by a large orange tree.  Sounds from the city outside the walls muted and distant.  The tables and chairs in the courtyard allow time to absorb the information about this small community. A history traced from stories, music and more recent photographs all brought together in a sensory cornucopia.

This is one of just two synagogues that remain in the mellah district of Marrakech.  This is the old Jewish Quarter of the city, an area rich in history.  Dating from the 16th Century this unusual synagogue is built in the traditional Moroccan riad style with a central courtyard.

Whereas the European Jewish areas were seen as punitive areas known ghettos with the Jewish community living in slum conditions, Morocco was different.  The mellah areas of Morocco allowed the Jews to live safely within the Kasbah walls but also enabled them to be observed and of course taxed by the government.  This practice started in Fez in the 1400's after one particularly violent assault on the Jewish community and spread across Morocco.  

Today, very few Jews still live in the mellah in Marrakech.  Most have moved to Casablanca, Fez and beyond to Israel.  However, the area with its own markets and community is thriving and is part of the Marrakech tourist trail.  

Visiting this small synagogue was not planned and while we were there we were the only visitors, a special moment in a bustling city.

More about photography in Marrakech can be seen in my photography guide