During a one year period from September 2012 - September 2013, the High Atlas Foundation and its partners conducted a preservation and maintenance program for the Moslem, Christian, and Jewish cemeteries in Essaouira, which stand as present-day reminders of the multicultural past of this small city and Morocco at-large, where people of different faiths shared a town, a life, work, a culture, and language.
In order to perpetuate the memory and to re-kindle the spirit of this rich past, the High Atlas Foundation involved local associations, community leaders, students and teachers in the project over the course of one year. HAF uses a participatory development approach that includes beneficiaries as active partners in every step of the development process – from prioritizing goals to project implementation and management to monitoring and evaluation. Key to this approach is the facilitation of community planning meetings where beneficiaries together determine the types of projects they want to undertake and create action plans. During the project, we held weekly community meetings with representatives of local civil society and engaged more than 120 individuals in the planning and implementation of the project.
The preservation of these sacred sites included:
- The deciphering and cataloguing of epitaphs in the three cemeteries;
- The rehabilitation of three cemeteries; the Christian, new Jewish and Muslim Chouhadda cemeteries including clearing, planting and restoration activities;
- The integration of over 400 local young people in a programme of educational presentations and visits to the cemeteries;
- The creation of a self-guided brochure for visitors to Essaouira and to the cemeteries and the conception of a brochure by school students for their peers about Essaouira's history and cemeteries;
- Community activities in the cemeteries to raise awareness of the cultural heritage they represent and to integrate the local community into their care and maintenance;
- The integration of cemetery guardians in the cleaning, clearing, restoration and planting in the three cemeteries;
- The organisation of community meetings, awareness-raising activities, media outreach, youth activities and a conference on the issues around Morocco and Essaouira’s multi-cultural unity and diversity;
- Contact with and capacity building of over 120 members of civil society organizations in Essaouira; and
- The creation of sustainable partnerships for the development of further activities in the fields of cultural preservation and human development in the Province of Essaouira and elsewhere in Morocco.
By making the cemeteries more inviting, encouraging more first-time visitors, and helping the younger generation remember their roots of peaceful co-existence, the goal has been to capture for future generations the spirit of Moslems and Jews, Europeans and Africans sharing a pleasant, flourishing, diverse, and united life together.
A full set of photos related to the cemetery preservation project is available on the HAF Flickr feed
The High Atlas Foundation is currently proposing a further project for Essaouira to continue the intercultural heritage work begun under this project. The goal of this new project is to initiate a knowledge preservation and awareness program for the buildings of the Essaouira medina which pertain to the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish faiths (ie mosques, zawiyas, churches, synagogues and religious schools) and develop the historical narrative of these communities. This built heritage – which has variously disappeared, fallen into disuse, is used for alternative purposes or some is undergoing preservation programs – stands, like the cemeteries (to those who are aware of its existence) as a reminder of the rich multicultural past of this port city. The High Atlas Foundation seeks to identify a building of each religious faith for restoration, rehabilitation and use by the local community today.
Ambassador's Visit in Essaouira
On 12 June 2014, the day of the opening concert of the 17th edition of Essaouira’s Gnaoua World Music Festival, the High Atlas Foundation was proud to be alongside André Azoulay, Economic Adviser to HE King Mohammed VI, in welcoming US Ambassador Mr. Dwight L. Bush Senior to the sites of our cultural preservation project in the town.
The cemeteries of the three religions in Essaouira – like the world-famous Gnaoua Festival – are testament to the town’s long history of openness and inter-cultural co-existence, as they are examples of the long and diverse cultural heritage of the town.
Essaouira accueillera l'Ambassadeur des Etats-Unis d'Amerique, Dwight L. Bush Sr
Visite des cimetières des Trois Religions réhabilitées par le fond des ambassadeurs pour la préservation culturelle à Essaouira, le jeudi 12 juin 2014
Terre de tolérance et de brassage des cultures, Essaouira accueillera l’Ambassadeur des Etats-Unis d’Amérique, Dwight L. Bush Sr, pour sa première visite dans la ville le 12 et 13 juin 2014. Lors de cette visite, son Excellence Monsieur l’Ambassadeur se rendra au site des cimentières des Trois religions pour s’enquérir des travaux de réhabilitation financés dans le cadre du programme « Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation », le Fonds des Ambassadeurs pour la préservation culturelle. En effet, l’Ambassade des Etats-Unis d’Amérique à Rabat a octroyé, en 2012, une subvention à la Fondation du Haut Atlas pour un projet d'entretien et de préservation des cimetières musulmans, chrétiens et juifs d'Essaouira. Pour ce faire, la Fondation du Haut Atlas a impliqué dans ce projet d'une année les associations locales, les leaders communautaires, les étudiants et les enseignants de la région.
Mimouna Club award for HAF and the Jewish community of Marrakech-Essaouira
The High Atlas Foundation was greatly honored on February 26th when we received a joint award, together with the Jewish community of Marrakech-Essaouira, from the Mimouna Club, at a reception held in Casablanca.
This recognition is for the special partnership that exists between HAF and the Jewish community of Marrakech-Essaouira, created to advance human development by planting millions of trees in order to help end rural poverty. It is hoped to extend both the link and the project to other Jewish communities throughout Morocco in the future.
The President of the Jewish community of Marrakech-Essaouira, Mr Jacky Kadoch, and HAF President Dr Yossef Ben-Meir both addressed the 200 or so guests including national leaders, speaking of the opportunities - for rural families and for positive cross-cultural interaction - that have been brought about as a result of this collaboration.
The Mimouna Club builds knowledge and celebrates Moroccan Jewish culture in the context of the country’s diverse heritage. Now a national association, it was founded in 2007 as a student club at Al Akhawayn University by Elmehdi Boudra who is, additionally, a HAF Board member.
Photos courtesy of the Mimouna Club.
Videos of HAF's cemetery rehabilitation project in Essaouira
Now you can watch videos and listen to content about HAF's cemetery rehabilitation project on the High Atlas Foundation YouTube channel! We hope you enjoy reliving this one-year project in Essaouira.
Project summary video: