Cultural Preservation & Coexistence in Essaouira

by High Atlas Foundation

Dear Friends, 

In an effort to streamline our use of the GlobalGiving platform, we are closing the Cultural Preservation & Coexistence in Essaouira project. Efforts in the field will continue, however the project will no longer be an individual project on the GlobalGiving site. 

If you wish to continue support such efforts, you may do so via the Organic Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries project. Please note that if you are providing a reoccuring contribution, you can transfer your donation and continue to support the High Atlas Foundation and the Moroccan communities. 

We would like to extend our most sincere appreciation for your continued support and we look forward to furthering our collaborations. 

May you have a wonderful day, 


Ambassador Bush
Ambassador Bush

On June 12, 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 – showcase the long history of openness and intercultural coexistence in Essaouira and Morocco in general.

Thanks to the US Ambassadors’ Cultural Preservation Fund, over the course of one year, HAF and local partners worked with civil society members to restore the cemeteries of the three faiths.

Mr Azoulay first welcomed US Ambassador Bush to the new Jewish cemetery, where HAF Program Manager for Essaouira Province, Lynn Sheppard, outlined the achievements of the project. Over the course of one year, HAF and local partners worked with over 120 members of local civil society to train caretakers in good practices; to clean and plant in the cemeteries with local community members; to organize awareness-raising events with local people and to integrate over 400 individual students and schoolchildren into educational and practical activities around the cultural knowledge preserved by the cemeteries.

Following a visit to the mausoleum of Rabbi Haim Pinto in the older Jewish cemetery, the visit progressed to the adjacent Christian cemetery, where Christians of different denominations have been buried side-by-side for centuries. They include former consuls, priests, soldiers, surgeons and children. The Ambassador was also presented with a brochure compiled during the project by local members of civil society, explaining some of the key aspects and personalities of the cemeteries.

During the visit, the Ambassador and his delegation learned about the heritage and historical value of Essaouira’s cemeteries and the uniquely Moroccan blend of unity and diversity which they represent.

This visit also highlighted one of the objectives of this project: making cemeteries accessible and welcoming to visitors.

Click here to view the interview by Maghreb Arab Press, featuring an interview with HAF’s president, Yossef Ben-Meir, and the Ambassador. You can view the project’s blog here.

Lynn Sheppard with the Ambassador
Lynn Sheppard with the Ambassador
HAF and Azoulay
HAF and Azoulay
Essaouira Cemetery Restoration
Essaouira Cemetery Restoration

The cemetary project, HAF's first in Essaouira and its first in this urban intercultural sphere, achieved great visibility and penetration for HAF. In order to maintain momentum of HAF's intercultural agenda and our work with young people and civil society in Essaouira we submitted a proposal to the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the BMW Group. This will expand our field of activity to include built heritage (often disappeared or fallen into disuse) which stands as a reminder of the rich multicultural past of this port city, where Arab, Amazigh and African Muslims, Jews and Christians shared a town, a life, work, a culture, and a language.

Although the medina of Essaouira has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2001, the restoration of historical sites and buildings has been slow to proceed. Our aim now is to support the creation of an interactive multi-player committee to intervene in the dialogue and eventually the protection of built heritage of Essaouira. The main activites of this project include the following:

  • Reflection and dialogue day - This will promote discussion among civil society of the value of built heritage.
  • Creation of a self-guided brochure - Expanding upon the inital brochure of historical cemetaries, this additional one will include a map of cultural heritage sites in the medina to be placed in the buildings and in community and tourist centers.
  • Weekly community meetings - These meetings will include training of local civic actors in participatory community planning with the intention of creating a multi- player heritage forum. 
  • Educational Program - Will support continued integration of local youth associations and schools.

Thanks to your support the cemetary project was a success and allows HAF to expand its activites and build on this success to train local actors to truly adopt this agenda as their own. Thank you for helping to support the cultural heritage of Morocco. 

Flowing naturally from its recently completed three cemeteries restoration project in Essaouira, the High Atlas Foundation plans to incorporate a Jewish strand into the One Million Tree Campaign celebrations scheduled for 16th January. On this day, HAF will plant its millionth tree simultaneously in eight provinces where currently participatory development projects are being implemented.

This decision reflects the longstanding Jewish heritage of Morocco and the recent involvement of the Jewish community of Marrakesh-Essaouira in the project by loaning land on which to build organic fruit tree nurseries. Accordingly, one of the many ceremonies planned across Morocco is set to take place at Akraich, a village just south of Marrakesh, where a High Atlas Foundation site adjoins a Jewish cemetery. While the event as a whole is planned as an inter-communal, international, inter-generational and yet essentially Moroccan occasion, the date coincides with Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year for Trees.

Two things are said to happen, one external and the other hidden. Outdoors, most of the winter rain should have fallen - the festival always occurs in this season in the northern hemisphere - and the ground should be in an ideal state for newly-planted saplings to take root. Deep within the tree, the sap – the lifeblood – starts to rise, bringing nutrition to the whole tree and initiating a new cycle of growth in the coming year.

On this day of transition, it is common to hold celebratory meals, plant saplings - involving children and youth in particular in this activity - and raise environmental awareness, while in former times a detailed inventory of fruit-bearing trees was carried out. The Jewish festival thus resonates exceptionally well with the objectives of the One Million Tree Campaign.

There is further significance in linking the two that reaches far beyond a particular faith tradition (which addresses itself mainly to the Jewish community while engaging with universal concerns). The broad theme of the day is one of positive connection leading to growth. It infuses the work of the High Atlas Foundation. It informs our success to date and my hope and belief as a new volunteer is that we shall continue along this path as we move forward to new goals after 16th January.

Places of Growth

HAF planting with school childrenThere are several reasons why it seems appropriate to hold an inter-communal ceremony at Akraich. The parcel of land has significance in being the first to be loaned to the High Atlas Foundation by the Jewish community of Marrakesh-Essaouira for the benefit of local Muslim farmers, with a total of 80,000 saplings set to be grown here. (Recently four further contracts were finalised and finances are currently being raised for their implementation).

Secondly, here, as in the Essaouira project, the aim of the High Atlas Foundation to promote inter-cultural understanding is shown in practice. The backdrop to all of this is the unique, multi-faceted culture of coexistence that flourishes until today within modern Morocco and further afield and that is often seen as an exemplary model. Adjoining the fruit tree nursery is a sacred site that includes the grave of Rabbi Raphael Hacohen, dating from around 700 years ago. It is the subject of veneration by both the Amazigh and Moroccan Jewish communities owing to a shared custom of visiting graves of scholars and others in order to obtain help and relief.

The moving story goes that the land was originally given to the Jewish community then living nearby, after another rabbi saved the life of the local pasha. Here then, next to an old-established symbol of belief in another world, life and hope is envisaged for modern-day Moroccans. Crucially, on land offered in friendship by one faith community to another, a project is taking place that illustrates how successfully diverse groups can work together. More generally, an important aspect of traditional Moroccan culture – a sense of connection to particular places – is being highlighted and respected by a modern, international organisation - the High Atlas Foundation. Overall, the choice reflects very well our role, demonstrated in innumerable activities, to connect the as-yet-unconnected to opportunities for growth and development: to economic and communal participation, to clean drinking water, to education – and to each other.

Author Katherine Pérès recently began to volunteer for the High Atlas Foundation. She moved from Britain to Morocco six years ago and is a member of the Marrakesh Jewish community.

US Consul General Attends the Conference
US Consul General Attends the Conference

Thank you to all of our supporters who enabled us to make such great progress with our Cemetery Preservation initiative! As this project comes to a close, we are happy to report that we achieved our goals for 2013 and are excited to start work on new cultural preservation projects in Essaouira.

On Tuesday 1 October, 2013 the High Atlas Foundation held a closing conference to present the results of its one-year long cemetery preservation and education program in this small port town on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast.

HAF was honored that the US Consul General, Mr. Brian Shukan, visited Essaouira to deliver the keynote speech at the conference. He described the project as "a testament to the cooperation between the United States and Morocco." 

Thanks to our generous donors, this project resulted in:

  • The rehabilitation of three cemeteries; the Christian, new Jewish and Muslim Chouhadda cemeteries including clearing, planting, guardian training and restoration activities;
  • The integration of over 400 local young people in a program of educational presentations, visits to the cemeteries and participatory educational activities;
  • Capacity building of over 120 members of civil society organizations;
  • The cataloguing of the epitaphs, gathering of historical knowledge from the cemeteries and the creation of a self-guided brochure for visitors to the cemeteries;
  • The creation of sustainable partnerships for the development of further activities in the field of cultural preservation.

As this cemetery preservation project comes to an end, we now turn to new cultural preservation projects in Essaouira. Maintaining our focus on the long history of interreligious and multicultural peace and prosperity in the region, we are working with local partners to identify 3 religious sites, 1 Muslim, 1 Christian, and 1 Jewish for renovation and rehabilitation, as we usher in the next phase of our cultural preservation initiative. 

Students help clean the cemetery
Students help clean the cemetery



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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Alex Stein
New York, New York United States

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