The cities of Morocco: The blue Chefchaouen

Тази статия може да я прочетете и на: Български

When we arrived in Chefchaouen, we were prepared only for the fact that it was blue. And this is not completely true. However, let’s start the story from the beginning, or actually from a moment in January 1887.

If you are curious about Morocco, take a walk with us through all the places we visited in this country in our Morocco category.

The forbidden city – a brief history of Chefchaouen

„On my rising a few minutes later to proceed on my journey, they begged me to go no further, assuring me that if I were discovered I would for certain lose my life, and that even their own people would kill me if they detected that I was a Christian. I told them that I had made up my mind to reach Sheshouan at any risk, and bade them adieu, shaking hands with all of them, but closing my ears to their ill-omened warnings.” (January 1887)

My Ride to Sheshouan – “The Land of an African Sultan” – Walter B. Harris
The beautiful Chefchaouen is one of the most recognizaple places in Morocco. The blue city in Morocco, blue city Morocco
The beautiful Chefchaouen is one of the most recognizable places in Morocco

Travelling is not only seeing the colour of houses, it is a combination of many curiousities. However, I still can’t imagine the enthusiasm of Walter Harris (English journalist and writer, there is also a house-museum of him in Tangier) to hide all night in the town and risk his life, while people outside searh him to kill him, He escapes dressed like a woman and manages to survive, with a lot of bruises and a horrifying story for his friends in Tangier.

The mosques of Chefchaouen
The mosques of Chefchaouen, the Blue city in Morocco
The mosques of Chefchaouen Morocco
The mosques of Chefchaouen

Harris was barely the third Christian who has managed to see, even for a few hours, Chefchaouen. Frenchman Charles de Foucauld was the first one. He entered the city dressed like a rabby in 1883. After him American missionary William Summer also entered Chefchaouen, but did not ever get out of it – he was poisoned by local people. As I can understand from Walter Harris’s writings, there was a huge chance not to reach Chefchaouen at all, if you were a Christian.

The old Kasbah in the Chefchaouen medina, Morocco
The old Kasbah in the Chefchaouen medina, Morocco

For centuries Chefchaouen was consideres a sacred place for Muslims. Even nowadays many pilgrims come here to visit the city, the mosques and the tombs. The history of Chefchaouen dates back to 1471, when Moulay Ali ibn Rashid al-Alami, a descendant of Prophet Muhammad, built a small Kasbah to fight the Portuguese invasions in Northern Morocco. Through the centuries, Sephardi Jews and Moriscos settled in the area after being evicted from the Catholic monarchs of the Iberian peninsula.

Regarding these historical events, it is not a surprise that Christians were not very welcome in Chefchaouen.

Hats bringing some colour on the blue background in Chefchaouen
Hats bringing some colour on the blue background in Chefchaouen
Cats are a popular view in Chefchaouen
Cats are a popular view in Chefchaouen

When Spanish troops arrived in Chefchaouen in early 20th century, they found a population speaking old Spanish dialects. In 1920 Chefchaouen became part of the territory of the Spanish protectorate in Morocco and the city opened to the world. This lasted until the independence in 1956. We can speak a lot about the history of Chefchaouen, but let’s continue with other things.

Chefchaouen in the morning
In the morning hours the view towards mounts Kelaa and Magu is hidden behind clouds. Kelaa and Magu look like two horns and give the name of the city, which means “A look towards the horns”

Chefchaouen and the Rif mountains

We arrived in Chefchaouen from Fes, particularly Fes el Bali, the huge and noisy old medina with narrow streets that kept us in the middle ages for two days. The roas from Fes to Chefchaouen is quite boring and takes several hours. The fastest ways is by car (there are options by bus, too). Driving from Fes to Chefchaouen took us more than 3 hours by the curvy mountainous roads. We travelled with a rented car from Fes.

Chefchaouen is located in the Rif mountains, at 564 m altitde, and somehow it does not fit our idea of Morocco. Here you can get cold even in the warm seasons, when most people enjoy the beaches in other part of Morocco.

Chefchaouen Morocco
Chefchaouen

The Blue city in Morocco is not small and is not entirely blue. Indeed, a lot of things are blue, including the taxis and street lights. But for a 40-thousand city, a lot of things are not blue. So, here we will write our first tip about Chefchaouensettle in the old medina (the area around the old Kasbah). This is the area you see on the fairytale photos.

The old part of Chefchaouen is not accessible by car and baggage is often transported by mules
The old part of Chefchaouen is not accessible by car and baggage is often transported by mules

We arrived in Chefchaouen during some festivity. The main street below the old town was noisy and crowded. We passed by the crowds and got lost. A toothless old man, wearing djellaba, speaking good French and bad English, managed to direct us to one of the gates to the old Medina. Then we dived into the blue streets.

You can see many locals in djellabas along the streets of Chefchaouen, the Blue city in Morocco
You can see many locals in djellabas along the streets of Chefchaouen
Local Moroccans on the streets of Chefchaouen
Local Moroccans on the streets of Chefchaouen

Djellaba – a long outer wide robe with a hood and wide sleeves. It is a typical Moroccan dress and you can see it virtually everywhere, even in the flights to and from Morocco.

The influencer's view of Chefchaouen
The influencer’s view of Chefchaouen

The shades of sky blue

The most beautiful and memorable place in Chefchaouen is the old medina. It beautifully lays on the slopes of the Rif mountains and the sky blue colour in its thousands shades makes the place so famous and photogenic. The paradise of the beautiful photos.

Some of the streets in Chefchaouen are painted blue from the bottom to the top and look iced. Others are just partially blue
Some of the streets in Chefchaouen are painted blue from the bottom to the top and look iced. Others are just partially blue

It is believed that when Spaniards arrived in Chefchaouen, they found only the Jewish quarter blue. But lated the whole city was coloured.

Chefchaouen - the Blue Pearl of Morocco
Chefchaouen – the Blue Pearl of Morocco

Why is Chefchaouen blue?

There are several theories why is Chefchaouen blue. One of them is entirely pragmatic and says that the blue colour chases away insects like mosquitoes. Another theory says that the city was painted blue by Jews, who arrived there in the 1930 after escaping from Hitler. The blue colour should represent the heaven and remind locals of the importance of spiritual life.

It is good to have some other colours besides blue in Chefchaouen
It is good to have some other colours besides blue in Chefchaouen

The least romantic theory (but quite realistic) says that local people oainted the town sometime in the 1970 with the only goal to attract tourists.

If you wonder how the beautiful colour is being preserved – they refresh it and repaint the city each year.

Colourful shops in Chefchaouen
Colourful shops in Chefchaouen

We won’t dig deep into the reason why Chefchaouen is blue, but we have to agree that the effect is amazing and very romantic and beautiful. So, we separated in couples and headed to explore the streets and take photos.

Me , taking photos of Maria in Chefchaouen
Me , taking photos of Maria in Chefchaouen
The ready photo
The ready photo

Although Chefchaouen can be walked around in just a few jours, it is quite an interesting experience to spend a night there, especially if you like to explore places slowly and enjoy every corner.

Another cozy corner in Chefchaouen the blue city Morocco
Another cozy corner in Chefchaouen

We walked uphills, by the narrow streets and steps, enjoying the local children running around and the relatively calm life in the medina. Not least, the quite less disturbing sellers in the shops (after Fes, this impressed us a lot). You should better abstain from photographing local people especially women, without their consent. Apart from the angry comments and looks, you may also receive an elbow hit (I almost received one from a local lady who found me walking too close to her).

More shades of Chefchaouen
More shades of Chefchaouen
Natural dyes, mostly used for colouring textile
Natural dyes, mostly used for colouring textile
A slightly different look to Chefchaouen Morocco
A slightly different look to Chefchaouen

The streets kept leading us uphills until we reached a fountain with two ducks.

The Ras el Ma spring

I have to explain one peculiarity of Moroccans in the touristic places – their main goal usually is to make you pay for something, even if you don’t care about it at all. This is the case with the ducks, too. I stopped to photograph the ducks when a young Moroccan lady jumped in front of my camera and asked for 5 dirhams. 5 dirhams is not a big amount, about 0.5 EUR, but I didn’t expect that anyone would ask me for money to photograph ducks on a fountain. However, after I looked around, I found out that the whole area was full of similar photographic “attractions” like local men in traditional hats, peacocks, etc.

The ducks in Chefchaouen
The ducks in Chefchaouen

A step back to the bridge above Ras El Ma. Chefchaouen is one of the few places with wonderful water to drink, coming from the cold springs in the mountains. The river formed by Ras El Ma makes beautiful cascades. We crossed the bridge and continued our walk because we wanted to greet the sunset from the small Spanish mosque, offering the best views to Chefchaouen.

The view towards Chefchaouen from the Spanish mosque
The view towards Chefchaouen from the Spanish mosque

The Spanish mosque

The path took us uphills to the small mosque that is visible from all parts of the city. Until recently there were only the ruins of a mosque. But it was recently rebuilt.

The Spanish mosque near  Chefchaouen
The Spanish mosque near Chefchaouen
The Spanish mosque and a few tourists
The Spanish mosque and a few tourists

While walking by the path leading to the mosque, we heard the calls to prayer from the many other mosques in Chefchaouen. The path is some 650 long and takes around 15 minutes to climb. Somewhere in the middle of it is the most photogenic place. On our way uphills we met a lot of photographers with their tripods and cameras, waiting for the best light. We continued climbing and the weather became quite cold.

We and the view from the Spanish mosque
We and the view from the Spanish mosque
The view from the Spanish mosque without us
The view from the Spanish mosque without us

The Spanish mosque was built by the Spaniards, as its name hints. They have obviosuly picked a wonderful place, revealing amazing view to Chefchaouen, the Blue Pearl of Morocco. From here Chefchaouen looks like a blue lake on the slopes of the mountains. We stayed to enjoy the view until we got really cold.

Night in Chefchaouen Morocco
Night in Chefchaouen

How to get higher

“Marijuana, cannabis..” murmured a guy following us on one of the blue streets. He was clearly offering us something rather than asking. We sent him away but only a few minutes later we met other “colleagues” of him. It was almost dark there, the streets were full of life. Chefchaouen is famous for its cannabis, grown in the Rif mountains. So, alcohol may be hard to find in Chefchaouen, but cannabis is everywhere.

Maria dancing on the street in Chefchaouen. However, we have to say that we did NOT use the products mentioned in this paragraph and would never recommend their use
Maria dancing on the street in Chefchaouen. However, we have to say that we did NOT use the products mentioned in this paragraph and would never recommend their use
There are many restaurants in Chefchaouen, many of them offering nice views
There are many restaurants in Chefchaouen, many of them offering nice views

The food of Chefchaouen

Our drug is not cannabis but food. Wherever we go, we search for the food. Not only food to fill your stomach but the food that distinguishes ine place from another. For Chefchaouen this special food is the Jben goat cheese. It may be hard to find because it is made only by local families and usually not for sale.

Goats near Chefchaouen
Goats near Chefchaouen
Salad with Moroccan goat cheese
Salad with Moroccan goat cheese

Night in Chefchaouen

The night fell over the Blue City, the blue colour became even more intensive and somewhere between the streets opened a small stall for roasted nuts, where Moroccans queued. We also joined the queue and we were probably the only tourists in this part of the city, outside the central part of the medina. We walked together with Maria, looking around, taking photos and enjoying the quietness and calmness. The quietness from English speech but the happy noise of local kids playing outside.

The last sunrays over Chefchaouen
The last sunrays over Chefchaouen
Night in Chefchaouen
Night in Chefchaouen

What else to see in Chefchaouen?

The following day we climbed to the fortification walls above the medina, another place with amazing views towards the city. From here you can also see very well the Kasbah – the fortress around which the city was built.

The fortifications near Chefchaouen
The fortifications near Chefchaouen

Around the Kasbah you can find many restaurants, for every budget. In the Kasbah there is a museum of the history of Chefchaouen but unfortunately we did not have time to see it. Another interesting place we did not visit (actually I don’t know whether it is open for visits) is the deepest cave in Morocco and the third deepest cave in Africa – Kef Toghobeit Cave.

The fortification walls above Chefchaouen Morocco
The fortification walls above Chefchaouen

If you are curious about Morocco, take a walk with us through all the places we visited in this country in our Morocco category.


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