North Africa at the time of the Expulsion was less than an ideal region for Jewish settlement. Political and military struggles between the Berbers, Turks, Portuguese and Spanish made it an area of great unrest and disorder. Nevertheless, North Africa figures prominently in contemporary accounts that discuss the destinations of Jewish exiles from Spain. A number of exiles found temporary refuge in port cities on the Moroccan Atlantic coast that were held by the Portuguese. Jewish craftsmen who knew a language close to Portuguese – especially those who produced weapons – were welcomed in these towns, at a time when Portuguese policy was still favorable to Jews.

But the Spanish also had interests in North Africa. While the Portuguese dominated the Atlantic coast of Africa, the Spanish sought conquests on the Mediterranean coast. In 1509, they launched a campaign during which they seized several port cities, including Oran. The fate of the small number of exiles who had fled to these places was bitter. A few of the exiles settled in the sparsely-populated Atlas Mountains. They also settled elsewhere in inland trade centers – Tlemcen, Marrakesh and, above all, Fez. The great attraction of Fez for the exiles was the warm reception they received from the ruler, who welcomed their mercantile skills. Fez was also a place of relative stability in the region. A non-Jewish chronicle gives us an impression of the impact of the exiles on the Jewish settlement of Fez-

“[The Jews] used to dwell in the old city [of Fez]. But each time a king died, the Moors would attack and loot the Jews. The king Abu Sahid was forced to move them [the Jews] from the old city to the new city, doubling their taxes; and there they live today. They live on a long, wide street where their shops and synagogues are located. The Jewish population has grown so much that one cannot know their number, especially since the Jews were expelled by the monarchs of Spain.”