Chefchaouen: Moroccan City Made of Skies
Ancient city where majority of buildings are painted blue, lies in the foot of majestic Rif Mountains. It was founded by Jews who had been outcasted from Spain as far back as in 19th century. It was them who decided to build a castle and fence themselves from the rest of the world but since there were only enemies around, alongside weapons they also had to put their trust in the grace of God – thus all shades of blue that are considered sacred by Jewish people. It was supposed to help them repel attacks of Muslims. Still, in the North of Africa powers weren’t equal so in the end the latter ones got the castle.
And this is when the most amazing things begin – one would think: centuries-long religious conflict, but despite one Muslims not only preserved blue houses and buildings intact – they continued the tradition for some reason, they painted every new building in the same “Jewish” colors. And that’s how it goes till now. It is really hard to explain the phenomenon because tolerance was inapplicable to local dwellers at all till as late as early 20th century, because till then Chefcheaouen was an entirely forbidden city: death was awaiting a person of different faith if one was caught there. Historians say that merely 3 non-Muslims visited it by 1920s. Two of them were exposed and sent away.
Nevertheless, nowadays this spot is one of the main touristic objects of the country. Alongside castles, clear mountain air, history “every step of the way”, travelers are attracted by local hashish. It is customary to believe that every hippie and Rasta prefer “hanging” in Goa or Jamaica. In fact, it is blue (you can only imagine how psychedelic it looks in the eyes of those who’ve juts smoked some pot) Chefchaouen and its vicinity where 18% of world’s cannabis is grown – major Mecca for joint-lovers. Hashish is sold right there, together with fruits, vegetables and spices; looking at relaxed and cordial citizens it seems like it is used by every single one of them.
Most interesting part of the city is ancient one – so called medina. Its blue labyrinths of streets hypnotize and confuse even owner of all kinds of navigators and it is very hard to figure something out from locals in English. By the way, unlike the majority of Moroccan territory, few people there speak French because Chefchaouen, being situated in the North of the country, was always under the influence of the Spaniards and their language is second most popular there.
While walking through endless markets, weaving workshops and mosques you get a feeling that the Look at the Horns (this is how the name of the city translates – due two exotically shaped mountains) is populated with only cats and kids. Narrow streets with their impressive acoustics are full of children’s shouting and cats’ meowing. Adult population, aside from those engaged in trade, show up with evening approaching. Their favorite pastime is drinking mint tea in the night, staying long on central Place Uta Hammam until majestic sunrise overshines the city.
For those who like leisurely walks and for gourmets Chefchaouen is a great place because it is there where one can have a the sweetest oranges and drink fresh juice made of them to one’s fill – and it is several times cheaper than ordinary water in certain countries. Also, it is there where ten species of olives are grown to be served with goat cheese. Truth be told, the delight doesn’t look like cheese much – more like slightly hardened sour-cream but it goes perfectly in combination with fresh flatbread.
Despite the fact that there is no sea nearby, the city is still considered a resorts, because travelers are offered most interesting tours to the mountains, refreshing rivers and waterfalls in the neighborhood. It is just as useful to have a walk and breath in some air in local cedar grows. After such trips one would want to enjoy hammams – local saunas – even in hot Morocco. There human bodies are treated and oiled in such a way that one remains fragrant till coming back home.
After a couple-of-days-rest in this blue fruit-and-cheese heaven it is about time to move on, into the depth of this amazing ancient country, towards adventures and new impressions.
- Best time to visit Chefcheaouen is autumn and winter months because in summer it is normally as hot as 35 to 45 degrees Celsius.
- Best way to get there is from Tangier – main port of the country. Thus the road will take three hours tops which is much less than a trip from Casablanca or Marrakesh.
- In order to have as few problems as possible, personal medicine box is one of the most important and essential items in your bag. Despite touristic status of the city, it is very hard to explain in local drug stores what kind of medicine exactly you need because everyone speaks only Arabic. Even names of drugs in Spanish will hardly tell vendors much.