Visiting the blue city of Morocco Chefchaouen
Marhababikom (welcome) to Chefchaouen, the blue city of Morocco. This little town nested at the feet of Mount Tissouka and Mount Kellaa is an inviting town. Chefchaouen or Chaouen as we call it was known for its appealing lavish Talassemtane park and for its various shades of blue houses and allies. A magical place to get lost in. Wandering its narrow streets, feels like you are walking in a mythical place. It was mystical city since five hundred years
The blue pearl is located in Northen Morocco, 100km from Tangier international airport between mountains. It was first established for defense reasons against the Portuguese who were taking over many areas in the North of Morocco. The Berbers living arround decided to stop the Portuguese expansion. The first initiative was to a Berber man called Sidi Boujemaa. He was Moulay Ali Ben Rachid uncle. Unfortunately Sidi Boujemaa was killed before the town establishment.
At that time Moulay Ali Ben Rachid was living in Spain, married a Christian woman who converted to Islam. He went there for studies. When he heard about his uncle dearth, he came back. A group of Jewish and Muslim families accompanied him to the town that will be named Chefchaouen. He then established the city in 1471.
Later on, during the Spanish inquisition 1792 many Jewish and Muslim people were forced to convert to Christianity. the results was a large groups of Jews and Mulim fleed and settled in Nothen Morocco. Some of them came to Chefchaouen. They were welcomed by the Moulay Ali Ben Rached the founder of Chefchaouen, Known now as Morocco’s “blue pearl” or “blue city.
Why the blue,
I was born and raised in Chefchaouen. In my childhood I have seen, people painting their houses in different ways. Some use white paint from the lime rock. While other are combining the white also from the lime rock mixing it the indigo pigment to have the sky-blue color which is the original color of the city.
There are two versions of why the blue color of Chefchaouen. There is spiritual meaning for colors as one may know. The blue holds the symbolic meaning of peace truth and tranquility. The blue is the color of cool water, it is soothing and symbolically represents trust and harmony. It also holds the energy and meaning of calm.
The people who fled from Andalucía were escaping religious persecution. Chefchaouen was known as a holly town. This support the idea that the blue represented spirituality for both the Jews and the Muslim.
The second interpretation is that the Jews and Muslim used to leave together in the same space, in the same city. Hence, the Jews used to paint their houses using light blue to distinguish themselves from the Muslims who used to paint their houses just white.
I remember using the blue pigment to break the white color of the sheets. My mother also says they used to color their clothes using the blue pigment. The blue then, existed even before the coming of the Jews and the Muslim.
What about the blue that exist now that attract this number of visitors from all over the world?
I have worked on many programs to boost tourism in Chefchaouen with local associations and Spanish NGOs. Chefchaouen was a destination for hippies. We worked on altering this image and create the image that really matches the town’s cultural and natural rich potentials.
We organized Fam Trips for various travel agencies in Spain and France. We attended many tourism fair both in Spain and France to promote the town among the Spanish and French tourists. Tourism and handcrafts are the major income for this small city. It has no factories where the locals can find work.
The little number of tourists who came, the role that internet played promoted the town in an incredible way. Most f the tourist started posting photos of the city with its small allies and sky-blue houses which contributed to the promotion of Chefchaouen. The locals noticed the tourists show much admiration and thought Ahha, the blue is a good marketing tool. Since then every person started adding different shades of the blue. And this is how the blue city become famous. Now the blue is a very successful marking tool.
What to do in Chefchaouen
Visit the old medina
One of the highlights of this blue city is exploring a mesmerized labyrinth of narrow blue alleyways of the old medina. Wander arround its 16th century areas and please your eyes with the colorful handicrafts of the town. Definitely you will feel yourself in another world. Every corner makes you feel and artist. It’s a photographer’s dream too.
Ras el Mae Spring and the laundry area
Ras El Mae is the Spring from where all the city gets water. The town is located on a very big underground water lake. From this spring Oued (River ) Sebbannin is flowing giving opportunities to the locals to do their laundry. The Sebbannin River meaning doing laundry river. It got the name because the locals go the the river to wash their clothes. I the old days, we used to go for a picnic arround the many springs that surround the city. It was an occasion for us as kids to spend the whole day playing and swimming in the river while the parents do the laundry. We used to light fire and cook our delicious Tagine. It tasted so good.
Mills along Sebbanin River,
Sebanini river used to flow every wintertime. Along the river the Berbers built hydraulic mills that used to function by the river. As a child I used to accompany my mom to one of these mills. There is one remain mill that used to be called ‘Rhiwa de Nsa) meaning women mill. It was an exclusively women mill run by an old lady.
The Kasbah or the fortress in the blue city is a 15th century building. When moulay Ali Ben Rached came from Spain after his uncles’ death, he established this fortress as a defensive place against the Portuguese. The soldiers used to gather in the big square called Outa Hammam to discuss their strategies to stop the invaders. Inside the Kasbah there is a nice garden inspired from Andalusian style. The governor mouly Ali ben Rached was in Spain and he brought with him all the culture. There is also a nice Riad where the governor and family used to live. In front of the Riad there a big tower under which a jail was built. This tower is called the Portuguese tower because it was built by the Portuguese prisoners
On the right side of the Riad, few years ago, the floor of the Kasbah went down and there, it was discovering some Roman Ruins not excavated up to now due to the budget. There are some arches that go back to the Roman area. Afterall, some historian say that Chefchaouen was built on a roman town called Appium.
Now the Kasbah is a museum that you can visit. the fees is 60Mad
Outa Hamman Plaza
Outa means open big space. Hamman means bath. A bath was built nearby the square and hence it got the name from it. This Plaza is in front of the Kasbah. It is were the Mojahadine ( solder) used to meet with the governor Mouly Ali Ben Rached to discuss the plans against the Portuguese.
Now Outa Hamman is the heart of the medina lined coffee shops and small restaurants. It has become a lively space crowded with tourists. Whereas in the past it was a meeting place for also old man resting and discussing religious matters.
The Grand Mosque
When Mouly Ali Ben Rachid came, he also built a mosque where the Muslim can pray. The Grand Mosque is located few meters from the Jewish neighborhood and the kasbah. What is unique about this mosque is the fact that it has a rectangular minaret unlike other mosque of the medina who has a square minaret.
The Jewish area
In 1471, when Mouly Ali Ben Rached came from Spain, a group of Jewish and Muslim families accompanied him. The Jews were welcomed within the walls of the medina. They lived side by side with the Muslim in the first area built in Chefchaouen called Swika. Swika is the definitive of the work Souk. In this place people have various shops where the locals come for shopping. There many gold shops, handcraft shops and many bridal shops too. When a Berber bride get her dowry, she comes with family to buy all the necessary things for her wedding.
Other groups of Jews came during the Spanish inquisition, fleeing regions persecution and settled in the same area contributing to the expansion of the neighborhood. There houses were the same as the Muslim ones since they immigrated from the same area Andalucía. Now there is no more Jews left. The last Jewish person left in the 1960s.
The people who immigrated to Chefchaouen was modest people. This was reflected in their homes. The houses were very simple unlike those who settled in tetouan, Fes or other cities of Morocco.
Kharrazine neighborhood and Plaza Haouta
The Jews a the Muslim brought with them many handcrafts such as gold, blacksmithing, leather works, carpentry, weaving. This area was a place were artisans lived. And plaza Houta was a place were these artisans have their workshops. The town is also known for a special wool used to make Jellabas for man and mandils for women. Jellaba is a Berber coat used to protect from cold. The Mandil is a cloth that women use arround their waist to protest from the cold of winter.
Go to Hammam, Moroccan Traditional Bath
The first Hamman in the blue city was built near the big Square Outa Hammam in 1456. It is a public bath for both man and women. But it is not mixed. There a schedule for using it. Women start at 12:00 and end at 19:00. Men used the other time. Now there several Hammams in the blue city.
Generally, Morocco is known for its hammams. A traditional Moroccan hammam is a habitual part of the Moroccan beauty and cleaning rituals. Once a week, men, women, and children go to hammam to deeply exfoliate their bodies with black soap, Henna and Ghasoul. In fact it is considered a social activity where women meet and enjoy talking.
If you want to have a private Hammam, then you can try Dar Sherifa or Riad Lina. But nothing to compare with the traditional ones consisting of a large steam room, where you have both hot and cold water. Th hot water and the steam is produced by a wood burning heater.
Food specialty in Chefchaouen,
Fresh artisanal goat cheese salad or Yogurt is a yummy dish, a local specialty. Bessara, or fava bean soup with olive oil and cumin and hot red pepper and goat meat tagine are best specialty of the Rif Mountains. Bab Sour, Restaurant Hicham and casa Hassan offer the best specialties. If you want outdoor local restaurant; auberge Dardara is also perfect for foodies.
Getting arround Chefchaouen, outdoor activities
Many people only pop into Chefchaouen for a day trip, however I’d recommend spending at least 3-4 days here. It was one the favorite stops in Morocco.
This is a city designed to stop you in your tracks for all the right reasons. Whatever is going on in your life, especially if you’re feeling weary of travel, Chefchaouen wants you to put your feet up. Visit the blue peal and explore the surround areas and the national parc of Talassemtane. There are many hiking itineraries and wonderful nature and unique local culture. If you are interested in hiking, we invite you to explore the parc with our experienced team.
Geographical situation of Chefchaouen province
Chefchaouen province, located in the northwest of Morocco in the Rif chain, shares land borders with the Mediterranean to the north, Taounate and Sidi Kacem provinces to the south, Al Hoceima province to the east and Tetouan and Larache provinces to the west.
How to get to Chefchaouen
Morocco is Europe neighbor. It is separated from Spain by only 14km through the Strait of Gibraltar. All means of transport are thus possible to go to Morocco… even by bike!
To get to Chefchaouen, it is possible to arrive to Tangier or Ceuta by boat or plane. Tangier is 118km from Chefchaouen; whereas it is only 90km from Ceuta. Then, reach Chefchaouen by taxi or bus or private transport that our team will arrange for you
Resources and attractions of Chefchaouen, the blue city
The province of Chefchaouen has many attractions and resources of tourist interest. The province is characterized by its virgin Mediterranean coast (120km) with its various archaeological vestiges, (Targha, Tiguisas, Taghssa , Jebha) . It also has several natural spaces: 170’000 ha of forest, be it 42% of the total forest area.
Talassemtane National Natural Park extends over 75’000 hectares and includes several mountainous massifs where is located the unique fir forest of Morocco. The Park is also a haven of a variety of more than 35 species of mammals including the best known: the Barbary Macaque monkey, who frequents many caves in the mountains. The fauna is rich with more than 100 species, including some such as the Golden Eagle.
The main peaks exceed 2000 meters, with splendid views. The limestone Ridge represents an important attractiveness. Its extension within the province makes a grandiose landscape. The highest peak is that of Mountain Lakraa 2159 m where you can see gorgeous views of the Rif mountains and the Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean coast
The province of Chefchaouen enjoys 120 km coastline on the Mediterranean Sea from the mouth of Oued Laou to the Cape of fishermen, bordering El Jabha. It is the wild aspect which confers a beauty peculiar to this very varied coastline that alternates cliffs, beaches and mouths of rivers. Chefchaouen has en enormous resources to explore. This why one should stay more than 2 days.