Morocco’s Captivating Blue City: Chefchaouen

March, 2011

Ever wondered why the captivating city of Chefchaouen perched high in the north-western edge of Morocco’s spectacular Rif Mountains, has earned the Blue City label?

This fantastic destination is a must whilst in Morocco. You would be mad to miss Chefchaouen, not only to learn whether this enigma is in fact correct, but to cast your eyes on this incredibly charming and unusually-hued city.

Come in, enter these dazzling surrounds, and envelop yourself in this unique experience saturated in lapis lazuli and turquoise, which can easily be an unbelievable fictitious set in a movie’s scene…

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

Please enter…

Chefchaouen, Morocco, AfricaGetting to Chefchaouen

If travelling to Chefchaouen from Tangier, then it is about a two-hour bus trip through the stunning Rif Mountains.

You can either buy your bus ticket online from CTM the day before, or take a local bus from the Gare Routiere bus station, about five kilometres from the city centre. A private taxi or public Grand Taxi also does the journey.

The public bus is quite rundown and the slightly erratic driver thinks he is driving an Italian sports car, whilst swerving around steep bends. Not always the best situation when travelling along extremely mountainous roads, but we arrive unscathed, albeit with nerves slightly fractured.

After surviving the hairy ride through the mountains with your crazy Moroccan driver, you are dropped of at the outskirts of Chefchaouen to start the walk up the steepish hill.

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

The ‘Blue’ Theory

Also nicknamed The Blue Pearl, if you are wondering why this is the only city in Morocco, which is painted as such, then there are several theories to contemplate. Some of which include that the blue deters mosquitoes, the colour is soothing, blue reminds people of water’s coolness, or Chefchaouen is painted blue to attract tourists. The reasons are many, but one that may be correct has to do with history.

The city’s inception to blue began centuries ago in 1492 during the Spanish inquisition of which the Sephardi Jews were escaping, and also transferred their tradition of red-roof tiling and white-washing walls. With more Jews escaping Europe during the 1930s, this new influx to Chefchaouen brought the tradition of blue-washed walls and interiors. The transition to blue is reminiscent of the sky and so, their God and for the Jews, a sacred colour.

A millennium later, the tradition continues with the re-painting of buildings yearly by the Muslim Berber residents to retain the mesmerising and hypnotic blue vibrancy.

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

Play time

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

The long and winding road

 

 

 

 

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

Moody Blues

Chefchaouen

Although founded in 1471 as a small Kasbah, Chefchaouen has endured many invasions. The city was closed to outsiders until the 1920s, which is when Spain seized Chefchaouen, and was finally returned to Morocco in 1956.

You could be forgiven for landing here with mouth wide open and jaw dropped. Yes, it really is that sublime.

With each bend you turn or arch under which you traverse, a vivid shade of blue unfolds itself amongst Andalusian traditional architecture in a dreamlike canvas.

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

Going home

Light, dark, deep, watery, pale shades of cobalt and sky blues against ochre-coloured roof tiles, proves both calming and soothing to the eyes. Perhaps this is the reason that locals seem so relaxed in Chefchaouen, whilst stopping for their favourite pastime of a steaming sugary black tea, stuffed with clumps of fresh mint.

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

Hued alleyway

The sky and time of day also affects Chefchaouen’s blue hues.

With the onset of an evening’s light, colours deepen to accentuate a dramatic and altered indigo spectrum. Sporadic royal blues dance around the worn stone buildings, just like a Marionette puppet forced by its puppeteer’s hand.

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

Pearlescent Zellige-tiled facade

The region around Chefchaouen is one of Morocco’s main producers of Kif (cannabis) of which backpackers have known for an age. And tours are available to the growing fields, if you so wish.

Spanish Mosque

Overlooking Chefchaouen from a solitary hill, you can reach this mosque during a pleasant forty-five-minute walk (one-way) from the medina.

Start the walk from the medina’s eastern gate Bab al Ansar, until you reach the Ras el’Ma river. A pretty spot where the chatter of local Riffian women rises up out of the communal stone laundry area, where many clothes are still washed the old-fashioned way, by hand in the river.

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

Laundry of time

Women and children wallow the day away whilst guarding their newly scrubbed laundry on makeshift lines until dried, until ready to venture home once more.

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

Open air tales

Passing agave cacti, tuffs of scrubby bush and prickly pear, the trail leads to the mosque ruin.

The Spanish built this mosque for the local population although unpopular, the mosque fell into disrepair and is abandoned.

Even the sky here seems as it has been impossibly blue-rinsed to match the city below.

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

Spanish Mosque

Along this morning trail you bump into elderly locals from the villages higher up the hill.

Tending their herd with a gentle prod from crooked branches or trying to coax a stray goat from a bush high above, this narrow dusty trail witnesses’ numerous occurrence of Riffian daily life – probably unchanged for centuries.

Souk Shopping

Need a few souvenirs to take home to loved ones or just to spoil yourself?

The Souk is the place to venture to, which sells everything from brightly coloured locally handmade rugs, warm woolly hats, peaked coloured spices, brightly-coloured fragrant oils, and just about anything else Moroccan you desire.

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

Rug vendor

Quieter than the commotion and frantic bartering surrounding souks in Marrakech, Fes, or even Meknès, this smaller and more reserved shopping precinct is a much more enjoyable experience.

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

Spiced night

Colours at night light up every corner of the city to project ethereal tones that bounce off the evening’s blue-rinsed stone walls – a postcard around every corner.

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

Fragrant Oils

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

Hat Man

Accommodation

With a plethora of available accommodation ranging from expensive hotels to inexpensive guest houses offered in Chefchaouen, I prefer the smaller Riads and family-run guest houses. Apart from the excellent service from owners, this type of accommodation is much more personal with a local feel. Stay in a 600-hundred-year-old gorgeous stone room, surrounded by soul, if you so wish.

Shop around as there are great deals to snap up on booking.com and airbnb.com.

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

Watching and waiting…

Leaving Chefchaouen

I could easily spend more time in Chefchaouen as several nights is just not enough.

Such a relaxed atmosphere that this appealing city exudes, but alas, it is time to move on again. This time to the non-typical tourist destination of Ceuta – a Spanish autonomous city.

Have you heard of Ceuta? The city that covers just over eighteen-square-kilometres in northern Africa.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More posts on Morocco.

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

Cafe cat

Chefchaouen, Morocco, Africa

Until we meet again…

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47 thoughts on “Morocco’s Captivating Blue City: Chefchaouen

  1. Oh… my… gosh… I THOROUGHLY enjoyed EVERY bit of this! I didn’t get to go to Chef when I was in Morocco and I was so sad, but this…. this made me feel like I was able to take a glimpse💕

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d love to go here, it’s just so beautiful and it being more relaxed than the bigger cities is good in my book! I wonder whether this would be a good introduction to Morocco for someone’s first time there? Happy weekend Nilla xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Gill, you’d love it there and it would be a good introduction as it’s a little quieter than its neighbouring popular cities on the milk-run. Although, living in Bangkok, you’re probably used to all that anyway. Have a wonderful weekend! 🙂 x

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Suzanne.
      I went a little mad photographing the blues in Chefchaouen and have many more, but didn’t want to bore anyone with too many photos. 😉
      Sounds ideal and glad the sun is holding up for you guys.

      Like

  3. Unless you don’t like the color of blue, haha
    Beautiful pictures as always. I liked the lamp in previous post at lot.
    I heard a lot of rain fell down lately in Italy…Hope all is well at your end?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Excellent and I’m glad you’re enjoying my Morocco posts. You’ll have to go and see Morocco for yourself now. 🙂
      I would definitely return to Chefchaouen, if nothing else but just to stay and relax surrounded by stunning blues.

      Like

  4. Wonderful post, and beautiful writing! I’ve never heard of Chefchaouen before I got on Instagram, but now it seems like it’s exploded in popularity. I love your idea of staying at a smaller riad, too.. And I’ve never heard of Ceuta, but then again exploring off the beaten path is one of my favorite ways to travel so I’m looking forward to those posts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you – I appreciate your feedback!
      It’s best to visit these places before the Guide books make them too popular, becoming a milk-run. Without a definite itinerary and time constraints, it’s much easier to find the less traversed paths. 🙂

      Like

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