Sefrou, Morocco – Overshadowed, Not Outdone
Morocco has always been a place of acceptance. And, even though the majority of inhabitants are Muslim, Morocco’s rich religious history and modern heritage have close ties with the Christian and Jewish faiths. If you want to truly experience the vast history and culture of Morocco, then plan some routes on your voyage that will take you off of the beaten path. Venture to see different, multi-cultural Morocco often overshadowed by the main tourist venues.
One such locale is Sefrou, located about 35 km (22 mi) southeast of Fez. The town, much smaller than its tourist-filled counterparts, is much cooler, smaller, and perhaps more charming than towns visited by a majority of travelers. Sefrou, which stands at an altitude of nearly 1000 meters (3000 ft), has streets lined with trees and a cool breeze that tends to blow even in the summer. The town is historical because it was a major stopping point for traders making their way from the Mediterranean to the Sahara Desert. And, the town was a melting pot of culture as Jewish Berber Moroccans and Algerians had been settling there since the 13th century. And, because so many people passed through this town that sits at the base of the Middle Atlas Mountains, business flourished.
Before most Jewish Moroccans left the country when the French departed in 1956, Sefrou had one of the most elegant medinas in the world. The medina still has a charm much like that of Fez, although it is much smaller. And, it can be argued that Sefrou’s medina was just as significant in history. The Jewish quarter, called the Mellah, is worth investigation. The area is separated from the River Aggai and is now mostly inhabited by Muslims; however, some Jewish families remain as well.
If you are looking for Moroccan handcrafts, then you might search the area just outside Bab Makame, where travelers are often given great prices for wares from the Cooperative Artisanale. You can also explore the place where Sidi Lahcen Ben Ahmed rests, who was a 17th century saint.
Sefrou is mostly famous for its cherry festival each year. Dependent upon the blossoming cherry trees, usually around May or June, the cities streets become packed with Moroccan and foreign tourists alike who want to have a taste of the area’s rich harvest. During the festival, you might follow the people who venture just over the River Aggai to visit the Kef El-Mumen cave, which according to legend is the resting place of the prophet Daniel. If you have a car or want to hire one during your travels in Morocco, you might check out the fountain of Lalla Rekia, which is supposed to contain holy water to cure mental illnesses. Don’t be surprised if you run into a few characters that claim to need extra doses from the spring-fed reservoir to cure their ailments. During the annual festival, this is the site of animal sacrifices.
Although Sefrou is small and often missed by passersby, it is worth a day’s visit. Walking around the small town in early fall or late spring will offer pleasant, sunny days. Discovering the equally small, yet impressive medina is worthwhile as is discovering and learning about the religious history of this once important trading town.