D o any pre-arrival research on Morocco – where to go, what to see etc. – and you’re eventually going to read about & see pictures from blue & white Chefchaouen where I’ve just spent the last three nights. There’s not a whole lot to this place – a large town surrounded by mountains (hills really) that’s home to some 45,000 people – but it’s the sort of location that leaves an impression regardless. It might even leave you feeling blue.
— davidMbyrne.com (@ByrneDavidM) May 30, 2014
The town of Chefchaouen was founded in 1471 as a base for Berber tribes to attack the colonial Portuguese who were in Morocco at the time. The town was always anti-establishment and over the years it grew increasingly aloof, anti-European & xenophobic – Christians were forbidden to enter the town on pain of death mainly because the town was founded in a region sacred to Muslims. As a result, Chefchaouen became something of an isolated backwater and it stayed that way right up until the arrival of the Spanish in 1920 – while the French had control of much of Morocco up until Moroccan independence in 1956, the Spanish held sway here in the north in a sort of European Colonial power-share. The Spanish are long gone now, & the Moroccans have their pretty little town back, but things are a tad different here these days – the locals are a little more open, a little more welcoming (& a good thing too given the amount of tourists this place attracts.)
Moroccan Tourist Central
Like pretty much every other larger Moroccan town or city, Chefchaouen has both an original Moroccan Old Town & a colonial-built New Town/City area, both of which are (very) hilly. The New City, outside the brown walls of the compact Old Town medina, has a few pretty parks & a market area. It’s nice. Inside the Old Town medina itself there is a small kasbah & a few pleasant, peaceful squares lined with restaurants & cafes that push the town’s laid-back vibe to the limit. It’s still a very religious place, the scene of many moussems (religious pilgrimage festivals), but there are more than a few tourists around, all catered for by large numbers of cafes, guesthouses & souvenir shops. In fact, & some 6 weeks into my Moroccan travels, Chefchaouen is even more touristy than Essaouira on the Atlantic Coast which up to now had been tourist central in Morocco for me.
Chefchaouen’s (Very Blue) Old Town Medina
All the aforementioned tourists, me included, no doubt appreciate Chefchaouen’s array of pretty parks, all those peaceful little café-culture squares, the town’s quirky guesthouses, & its tiny Kasbah, but it goes without saying that it is the mind-bogglingly photogenic blue-washed walls of the Old Town’s medina that easily steals the Chefchaouen show. It’s not even close.
— davidMbyrne.com (@ByrneDavidM) May 31, 2014
A Chefchaouen Titbit
A somewhat interesting Chefchaouen fact to end with. The pale-blue tone prevalent in the Old Town medina today, & for which the town is known, was only introduced in the 1930s by Jewish refugees – previously windows & doors had been painted a traditional Muslim green. Well I never.