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Asilah, Morocco

Abandoned Jewish Cemetery of Asilah

The legacy of a Moroccan Jewish community is remembered at this little mouldering cemetery. 

An abandoned Jewish cemetery in Asilah, Morocco, looks like a solemn and beatific spot by the ocean, but it holds a tragic history as well as some surprisingly mysterious headstones. 

Asilah (or Arcila) is one of the most beautiful cities in northern Morocco. It has one of the best preserved medinas in Morocco. The country hosted a Jewish community of over 250,000 at its height in the 1940s, but that number has since dwindled to a few thousand, most of whom are located in Casablanca.

According to the descendent of one Asilah Jew, the community there had mostly emigrated from Spain following the Alhambra Decree, which expelled Jews from the Iberian peninsula. The population swelled until, in the early 20th century, many Jewish families relocated to South America en masse to take part in the rubber boom. Though there may be some Jews left in Asilah, the seaside cemetery on the outskirts of town has been left to the elements.

The graves lie there still, abandoned and surrounded by weeds. The gravestones are mainly simple and have epigrams, written in Hebrew and in Spanish as was common in the Sephardic communities. 

The graveyard also holds one mysterious and ominous gravestone for an unknown young girl named Simi located at the very edge of the cliff overlooking the Atlantic. The text on the stone reads, “Simi Roiff, died in 15 Tamus 5704 (6 July 1944). Amargada y desesperada se dejo abandonar por sus infortunio y jovem aun se dejo arrebatar su alma. (“Bitter and desperate, she felt abandoned in her young unfortunate state; she allowed her soul to be taken.”)

Any explorer visiting the cemetery would do well to say a prayer for not only the dead left behind by the diaspora, but also for poor, unfortunate Simi.