TEOUAN -English version



Between Spain and Morocco

Didier BERTIN – 22 August 2020



Tetouan (Tetwan in Arabic and Ti??awin in Berber) is located at 60 km from Tangier and near the Strait of Gibraltar. Ti??awin means "eyes" in Berber and by extension "springs" and indeed the city is surrounded by springs. The Phoenicians had already established a trading post and then a town at the site of Tetouan since the 3rd century B.C. as evidenced by Carthaginian vestiges.

The mark of Spanish history in Tetouan:

In Spain the Spanish Inquisition or tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition (in Spanish: Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición) had been an ecclesiastical jurisdiction established in 1478 by an apostolic decree of Pope Sixtus IV at the request of the Catholic Kings, before the end of the Reconquista of January 2, 1492 consecrated by the fall of Granada. The inquisition had become violent under the influence of Tomas de Torquemada, a Dominican monk and confessor to Queen Isabella; he was obsessed with the eradication of Jews. He was appointed “Inquisitor of Aragon, Valencia and Catalonia” and this led to the Alhambra decree of March 31, 1492 by which the 200,000 or so Jews in Spain had to convert to Christianity or go into exile or be burnt at the stake.

Those who did not convert went into exile in the Mediterranean basin and to a lesser extent in northern Europe.

Tetouan had become a haunt of pirates and as such was annihilated in 1399 by King Henry III of Castile and then rebuilt at the end of the 15th century allowing Muslims and Jews expelled from Spain to come and settle there.

Acts of hacking and kidnapping of Spanish and French subjects in order to enslave them in Morocco had reached a climax under Sultan Moulay Ismail. It should be noted that the number of Spanish slaves held by Moroccans was greater than that of French slaves.

The Spanish-Moroccan war and even the conquest of Algeria were aimed among others at putting an end to the raids by the pirates of Morocco and Algeria (ancestors of today's terrorists) on the Spanish and French coasts and against the Spanish Presidios (Small Spanish territories in Morocco).

Originally the Spanish Presidios were assumed to allow the continuation of the Reconquista in North Africa while reducing piracy from Morocco. Eventually Spain chooses minimal colonization in North Africa to focus on conquering America.

The development of Tangier:

In the 18th century Tangier (Tanja in Arabic and Tingi in Berber) became the “diplomatic capital” of the Cherifian Empire of Morocco and the seat of foreign representations accredited to the Sultan. Tangier then took on an importance which attracted part of the Jewish community of Tetouan. The word Cherifian, which is generally equivalent to Moroccan, comes from the fact that the rulers of Morocco are Cherifs, that is to say, they descend from the prophet Muhammad.

Spain and France fought over the domination of Tangier, which in 1925 became an international area administered by seventeen international officials and nine Moroccans, three of whom were Jews. From 1940 to 1945 Tangier was occupied by Spanish troops and then again became international until it became part of the fully independent in Morocco in 1956.

Evolution of Tetouan in the 19th century and the Spanish protectorate:

During the 19th century the Jewish elite of Tetouan had preferred to abandon Judeo-Spanish (Haketia) for Castilian more suitable for trade with Spain and the Spanish territories of Morocco.

In 1862 the “Alliance Israelite Universelle” established the first Jewish general education school in Tetouan, which already had many rabbinical schools with limited field of education.

Despite various agreements with the Moroccan rulers, the Presidios (Melilla and Ceuta) continued to undergo the offensive of their troops and an attack against Melilla in 1859 triggered the Tetouan War, also known as the Second Spanish-Moroccan War.

From 1859 to 1860 the Spanish troops commanded by General Leopoldo ‘O’donnell invaded the region and General Juan Prim captured the city of Tetouan and was considered in Spain as the hero of the battle of Tetouan.

The Moroccan troops, who were defeated, had planned out of spite and tradition to sack the “Juderia” (Jewish quarter or Mellah). My great-grandfather Judas Obadia (cf. Memoirs of Léon Obadia) had organized a resistance group there which forced those of the Moroccan troops who wanted to invade “Juderia” to give up their project; they would have attacked in compensation the old Muslim city.

Sultan Mohammed IV was thus forced to request the end of hostilities and sign the treaty of Wad-Ras in Tetouan on April 26, 1860. This treaty provided among others: the payment by Morocco of a war indemnity of 400 million Spanish Reales with the occupation of Tetouan until full payment of the latter, the extension of the limits of Melilla, the expansion of the territory of Ceuta and a series of agreements promoting trade between Spain and Morocco.

After the payment of the war indemnity the Spaniards left Tetouan in 1862. The Jews of Tetouan represented roughly a quarter of the city's 25,000 inhabitants, but many of them who feared retaliatory steps  for having been favorable to the Spain, preferred to flee to Melilla or Algeria under French control or settle in Latin America.

In June 1883 the city was visited by the French explorer Charles de Foucauld who stayed in the Juderia. He mentioned the economic health of the "cleanest and best built Jewish quarter that I have seen in Morocco" while the outlying districts fell into disrepair.

Under the Spanish protectorate from 1913 to 1956 Tetouan became the capital of Spanish Morocco...

The end of the Inquisition in Spain, the abolition of the decree of the Alhambra and the proposal to Spanish Jews (Sephardim) to come back to Spain:

The Spanish Inquisition of 1478 was finally abolished in 1834. However, the Alhambra decree of 1492 forbidding the presence of Jews on Spanish territory was finally abolished in 1967 by General Franco.

On June 24, 2015, a law was passed in Spain to allow Jews from Spain to return to Spain as subjects of the King after a 5-century parenthesis that did not affect the ties between the Jews of Spain (Sephardi, plural Sephardim) and Spain.