The Medina of Marrakech is a labyrinth. Among its narrow streets, you have to avoid the motorcycles that run and dodge tourists, souk stalls and even animals at high speed. A risky sport.
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Jemaa el Fna Square, where some damage was reported after the earthquake on September 8, is the heart of the city. There, few remains of the tragedy remain. On the other hand, in other parts of the historic center, time seems to stand still.
In Mellah, also known as the Jewish quarter, several mountains of rubble pile up on the corners of the tiny alleys. A group of women camp in Tinsmiths Square. They cannot return home and have not been relocated to some of the displaced persons camps on the outskirts of the city.
The forgotten neighborhood among tourist attractions
A pair of blankets tied together covers them from the sun during the day and the cold in the early morning. Mohamed looks at the facade of his house. On one side stands one of the two remaining synagogues in all of Marrakech, on the other, his wife remembers with terror the night of the earthquake.
On the screen of his mobile phone, he shows a video broadcast by Sky News Arabia television, which was recorded by the security camera that remains intact on the corner between the synagogue and his house. In the video you can see how the young woman runs out of her house in the first seconds of the earthquake. Right after, she falls part of the facade of the house and another part of the highest floor. “I have been saved, thank God,” she tells elDiario.es.
Mohamed and his wife continue to live in that house, where cracks horizontally cross some rooms, including the one where they still sleep. “We have nowhere to go, this is our home. Nor does anyone come to help us or give us another alternative,” adds Mohamed, disgusted.
An ambulance is parked in the Mellah driveway. Your driver rests his feet on the dashboard while arguing with someone on the other end of the phone. Nearby, a group of people gather at the doors of a police station. The hubbub suggests a malaise that has been going on for more than a week.
Sitting on a stool, an older man shows his cracked, bloody hands with some poorly healed wounds, covered in pus. They are the image of oblivion. “We have spent six days lifting rubble with our own hands. The collection teams did not arrive until Wednesday and even today there is a lot of work to do,” the octogenarian tells elDiario.es.
Behind them you can see one of the buildings in the neighborhood whose third floor completely collapsed. The man seems to ignore the danger and comments that in that place “a mother and her son died in their sleep.” So far, authorities have estimated the total death toll from the strongest earthquake in the country and North Africa at almost 3,000.
Although the majority have died in the Al-Hauz region, southwest of Marrakech and in the Atlas Mountains, the latest records in this city record 16 deaths, a portion of them in this forgotten neighborhood.
Several buildings are supported by metal scaffolding and wooden poles, such as the facade of Mohamed’s house. The mediocrity of the solutions has aroused the indignation of the locals, who do not think twice when it comes to criticizing the Moroccan Government.
On September 10, two days after the earthquake, a dozen people demonstrated in Tinsmiths Square, the busiest in the neighborhood, asking for institutional and rescue team responses. It has been of little use.
Those most affected by the earthquake
In Marrakech, the social geography of the Medina has become polarized over the years. With the increase in tourists and the opening of riads (traditional houses transformed into hotels), restaurants and cafes with Western touches – run mostly by French people – other areas of the city have become marginalized and overpopulated.
This is the case of Mellah. Since the 1970s, the old Jewish quarter has received the most vulnerable Moroccans who move from the countryside to the city. Compared to the rest of the Medina of Marrakech, the population density is three times higher and around three quarters of families live on less than 1,000 dirhams a month (around 100 euros).
Something similar occurs at the top of the country’s mountains, where the tremor was also felt strongly. Today are the consequences of the earthquake, but traditionally the Amazigh (Berber) communities have lived isolated from public services and marginalized by the management of the national authorities.
In the poorest areas of the Atlas there is a lack of infrastructure, health centers, schools and, in many cases, electricity supply or sewage. During the winter months, many towns are completely isolated by heavy snowfall, frozen by the cold.
The Jewish quarter of Marrakech was born as a ghetto in the 16th century, when the sultan wanted to separate the Jews from the rest of the Muslim population. With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, many decided to emigrate. In the 60s of the last century, around 35,000 faithful of this community still lived there, making it the most populated Jewish quarter in the entire country.
Since then, and according to the most recent data from 2020, the exodus has meant that only 250 Jews live with the other residents on these streets. Two synagogues, the cemetery or Miâara and the spice souk are some of the historical, cultural and religious remains that are still found in Mellah.