The Ibn Danan Synagogue, Fez, Morocco
One of the oldest and most important synagogues in North Africa. Originally built and owned by a prominent Moroccan Jewish family in the mid-seventeenth century and renovated in its present form at the end of the nineteenth century. The structure, located in the hearth of the mellah (Jewish quarter) is a rare survivor of a pivotal time in Moroccan Jewish history.
The synagogue, still privately owned, contains perhaps the only complete set of Moroccan synagogue fittings in existence, including the reader’s wooden and wrought iron canopy platform – the tevah, on the west side, the twin wooden-carved Arks for the Torah – the hechal, built-in on the east side ornamented tiled wall. The wooden benches and chairs including Elija’s Chair (for the circumcision ceremony), the oil lamps and embroidered hangings.
Entrance to the synagogue is through an unobtrusive door to a small vestibule leading to a two-nave prayer hall divided by three octagonal piers. The floor is tiled in green and white glazed brick in a herringbone pattern. There were once numerous electric and oil-burning lamps, including memorial lamps, but these have somehow disappeared.
For many years, the building was increasingly falling into decline and required immediate conservation. The Jewish communities of Fez and Casablanca struggled to preserve the building as an essential part of the Jewish and Moroccan heritage and as an important cultural and historical legacy.
The synagogue was also included in the list of 100 endangered monuments of the program of preservation funding initiated by World Monuments Watch (WMW).
Finally, the renovation was carried out with the kind assistance of private and public bodies including the Moroccan government and descendants of the Ibn Danan family.
Its inauguration was celebrated during the month of May 1999. It has been listed as an historical monument in Fez, due to the lack of Jews in the area.
A model of the Ibn Danan synagogue is exhibited in the “Faith” section of the core exhibition Beit Hatfutsot.
The Jewish Community of Fez