Chefchaouen – The Blue Jewel of Morocco
From Fez, a scenic road snakes through the Rif Mountains. As it twists and turns, a sapphire-like gem appears in the distant valley, sparkling against the greenish-brown of the scenery. Here lies Chefchaouen. The rough translation from Berber as “the view of the peaks” is a nod to the surrounding Rif Mountains. Closing in, the entrance to this small town is unassuming. With no blue shades in sight, the medina is safely tucked away at the end of a narrow alleyway turned staircase, waiting to be discovered.
The Blue Pearl
Chefchaouen is undoubtedly one of Morocco’s (and possibly the world’s) most Instagrammable spots, thanks to the blue hues that surround every nook and cranny. Built on the side on a mountain, the town is a maze of stairs and cobbled streets. Though the blue aesthetic is consistent everywhere you look, each turn reveals another quirky feature. Every alley is another picture-perfect spot and it’s easy to see why Chefchaouen is a photographer’s delight. From archways to colourful flower pots adorning the pathways, the trinkets stores, and the odd cat lazily basking in the sun, it’s impossible not to be whisked away into the charm of this place.
With no must-see landmark, the town itself is the main sight. And what a sight! Chefchaouen does not require a pre-planned itinerary, so taking it slow is the way to go. You can wander around, getting lost through the labyrinth-like medina. You can marvel at the mosaic patterns, or try to spot the different shades of blue. A wander through Chefchaouen is a relaxing affair, especially after the chaos of a place such as Fes or Marrakesh. The hustle is replaced by a sleepy quietness. And surrounded by the calming blue, in a beautiful mountain setting, one can only unwind here.
How the blue came to be
Back to 1471, when the town was only a kasbah called “Chaouen”, or “the peaks“, there was no trace of the blue paint we find nowadays. Its purpose was purely strategic, the northern location being a defense point against the advancing Portuguese troops. By the late fifteenth century, the town evolved with the populations of Muslims and Jews fleeing from Spain taking refuge here. What emerged was a mix of Moroccan and Andalusian architecture, with red-tilted roofs, intricate tilework, and wood carvings. It was then when Chefchaouen was first painted blue. The original reason still eludes. On one hand, it is attributed to the Jews painting Mellah (the Jewish Quarter) blue in honour of God. A more pragmatic point of view is that it had been painted in order to repel mosquitoes. Either way, the townsfolk kept the iconic look alive by repainting the town blue as centuries went past.
If you’re looking for the next best Instagram post, are always searching for a quirky spot or simply need a breather during your journey through Morocco, Chefchaouen is the town for you. You can check it out, along with other Moroccan highlights, on our 14-night Morocco Experience.
Written by Oana Moldovan, Untravelled Paths