Chefchaouen: where people made their city a mirror to the sky

Chefchaouen: where people made their city a mirror to the sky

2.300 km of a journey through Morocco ended in Chefchaouen. In stark contrast to both the dryness of the south and the chaotic medinas of other cities, Chefchaouen is a blue oasis of cool calmness. The Rif Mountains contribute in full.

After having stepped in the footpaths of Jim Jarmusch’s hip vampires of Only Lovers Left Alive in Tangier, traded in leather in the impressive medina of hot Fes, experienced rain in the Sahara Desert mid-August, strolled on the alleys of Aït Benhaddou, then caught the midnight express from Marrakesh back up north, we left Tangier early in the morning catching the first bus to Chefchaouen. Blankets of clouds were promising a resolve and end for the heat elsewhere until then.

Chefchaouen (Chaouen) is known for many things. Some are seen, some are not. The most striking feature of its medina is the blue-rinsed houses, buildings and even street pavement and stairs.

What is unseen is the history of this outcome. Initially built in the 15th century as a fortress part of a system of defense against Portuguese invaders. With the Reconquista in full swing, and later on at the height of the Portuguese and Spanish Inquisition, the original Berber city welcomed many Jews and Moors expelled from the Iberian Peninsula. In 1920, Spain went like – Hold on, it is I that needs this! (colonies junkie!), so it simply occupied the city until Morocco gained independence from both France and Spain in 1956. The city was again a haven for people escaping for their lives from Europe, this time in the 30’s as many Jews took refuge from Hitler. As one theory goes, it was these refugees that introduced the blue paint on just about everything. And it stuck and soon enough everyone was going like Let’s paint it blue!. Another explanation is that, supposedly, the bright color keeps mosquitos away. Weird, I know. :)

In any case, nobody really knows why and when people here fell for blue, but the general association of the color with the sky (heaven) serves for some as an invitation to lead a spiritual life or at least to wonder. And if that is not enough to get one thinking about the bigger things, the other feat Chefchaouen is known for (but not necessarily seen at first sight) might do it: the availability of hashish, as the city is the center of the marijuana plantations region in north Morocco.

It was still pretty early as we were strolling around the alleys and small cute squares. Around 10 or so, but still early for the laid-back, chilled-out standards of the slow calm life in Chefchaouen. We waited for Asaada Restaurant to open (recommended) and we had a great breakfast – so good that for the rest of our stay we kept coming back and only ate there.

Bellies full, we checked in at Dar Toujiar – our guest house (also recommended!), and went out for more exploring. Blue doors, blue stairs, blue walls, blue alleys, Oh! Look! A chameleon! Wow! How cool! Just climbing up a bench! We let the little fellow cater to its chameleon business and then went on.

I know, many photos, but it’s pretty hard not to take photos of just about everything in Chefchaouen. I dare you to try. Snapping at every turn, we only took breaks from walking in order to play with the occasional nifty cat.

Late afternoon we made our way to the hill across, where the Bouzâafar mosque sits atop, to catch prime seats for the sunset show.

The night brings about even more calmness and it makes good to the eye, so in a day one can see just about any shade of blue possible. We whirled once more around the medina, then it was lights out.

In the morning we caught one of the taxis for a ride to Tangier which we shared with another three people, including a girl traveling alone. Again, cloudy blankets made for nice views of the Rif Mountains all the way towards Tetouan.

We were about to spend one last night in Tangier, but our experience with the hostel there was below bar so we cut our Tangier one night stand short.

Before ferry-ing our way back to Europe, we had one last goodbye walk through the medina, enjoyed some snacks and tea at the beautiful Salon Bleu (a nice reminder of the day before; recommended – view, drinks, food, atmosphere – everything!) and took one last goodbye look at the city around during sunset. So goodbye Morocco! Until next time! :)



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