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The Jewish or Berber traders coming from Sous – or the famous « toujar sultan »: the King’s merchants- who settled in the Kasbah and in « derb Ahl Agadir » used to build two storey houses with a roof terrace, the menzeh, with a panoramic view overlooking the sea.
The ground floor was intended for the storing of goods. In the Kasbah, this type of building is even more noticeable as they now have been turned into restaurants or galleries; some are striking examples of this type like the restaurant “El Menzeh”. They are huge spaces with high ceilings, multiple freestone arches, architecturally simple and beautiful with arcades, whitewashed walls and a very high ceiling made in tassiout.
The menzeh is built like an urban house with front walls fitted with openings.
This house had two entrances as trade and private life did not mix. The first door gave access to the workplace that was the storage place for goods intended for exportation via the harbour: sacks piled on top of one another as high as the ceiling containing shelled almonds, wheat, skins, carob and especially gum (lagracha) hence the name lahraya dyal lagracha (gum warehouse) .
In this warehouse, women used to filter and clean the gum during the Great Famine at the end of 1920 and at the beginning of 1930: the gum was brought back from the huge Berber thuja forests in the south of Essaouira.
The second door opened onto the floors: the first floor for the family and the second one for the guests. The latter was often the most beautiful with its view onto the bay. It was called “menzeh” or “panoramic view” in French. At the time there were no hotels and all passing trade was welcomed either at the merchants’ menzeh or in the douiriya, a small house adjoining the house proper or dar. In fact, everywhere else in the old medina, each home had two adjoining houses: the dar (or house) for the family and the douiriya for guests and single people.
The ground floor of the house -the warehouse- was distinguished by huge freestone arches (manjour), a material used for the foundations of the old Kasbah and for the harbour fortifications.
In the Essaouira hinterland, one can still find excellent stonecutters of this sandy rock, in Had Dra, Akermoud and Tamanar in particular. These ground floors were six to eight meter high so as to store enough goods. They had to be big but they had to be strong also: their ceilings were made of thuja wood or tassiout, a Berber ceiling per se, with sixty centimetre long thuja planks supported crosswise by beams in thuja wood also.
When passing through the medina, one can see that very often the houses have no opening out: the light comes down from above. But in Essaouira Jewish houses, the windows are wide open above the level of the ramparts and give out to the sea: people did not have to hide their women. In some main streets like Alouj Street (alouj referring to old converts caught at sea by Barbarian pirates and who used to work as gunners at the Scala of the Harbour) the street leading to the sea, one can even see balconies. It is the typical house of the Jewish traders and of the Christian Consuls settled in Essaouira as early as its foundation in 1794.
While Muslim houses are distinguished by blind front walls, with a small entrance door opening onto a small paradise, with a light shaft coming from above: an architecture that expresses the sense of modesty according to which the woman should not tale off her veil.
Information : Abdelkader and Abdelmajid Mana