The great city of Fez is made up of a series of smaller urban cores, each having its own distinct character. Among them is the mellah, or Jewish quarter, which was the home of the Jews of Fez for more than 500 years. Gradually abandoned by the Jews during the first half of the twentieth century, the quarter is occupied today by working-class Moroccans from the countryside. As a result, the particular features marking the mellah as Jewish space are disappearing. The aim of the study was to document the domestic architecture of the mellah in relation to its surroundings and to the historical and social processes that influenced its development. Engaging both historians and architects, this collaborative research began with a reading of the existing urban fabric, and then worked backward in time to create a narrative of how the quarter evolved. Beginning with the house, then moving to the street, and finally examining the quarter as a whole and its placement in the larger city, we looked for continuities and ruptures that could be explained by historical circumstances and cultural practices. The study found a marked conservatism and continuity in building styles despite the periodic devastation of the quarter over the centuries. Although buildings were destroyed, specific sites continued to have meaning and to function as ritual, commercial, or domestic space. In domestic architecture, many features associated with the Islamic house were replicated, and there was little deviation from the standard courtyard type found in the medina. Jewish elements were confined to the surface, appearing in the decorative motifs and in the embellishment of spaces for ritual use. The study concludes that the mellah was not an isolated quarter but rather an integral part of the larger city, playing a vital role in establishing the registers of similarity and difference that contributed to the articulation of a specific urban identity.
Inscribing Minority Space in the Islamic City: The Jewish Quarter of Fez (1438-1912)
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Susan Gilson Miller, Attilio Petruccioli, Mauro Bertagnin; Inscribing Minority Space in the Islamic City: The Jewish Quarter of Fez (1438-1912). Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 1 September 2001; 60 (3): 310–327. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/991758
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