Tucked beneath the raw peaks of the Rif Mountains in Northern Morocco, you’ll find the pretty sapphire city of Chefchaouen.
Founded in 1471 by a Moorish warlord who was exiled from Spain, Chefchaouen was built as a stronghold in the fight against the Portuguese. Famous for its achingly beautiful blue-washed buildings, Chefchaouen is an essential stop on any visit to the Rif region. Seemingly every keyhole, stone wall and doorway is painted in striking shades of azure, cerulean, cobalt, turquoise, periwinkle or powder blue. Largely shut off from the world for over 400 years, Chefchaouen is a photographer’s dream! Painting the walls blue likely happened during the 15th century, shortly after the city was founded.
But why so blue? Well, that depends on who you ask.
Some people will tell you the blue is a symbol of Jewish solidarity. Many believe that early Jews in Chefchaouen introduced the practice of painting walls blue in keeping with their religious and cultural beliefs. (In the Jewish faith, the color blue represents peace, safety and the power of Heaven.) However, many of the locals claim that the blue-colored walls of Chefchaouen were only found in the Jewish part of the city until fairly recently. Older residents say that they remember most of Chefchaouen’s buildings within the medina being white when they were younger. And there are those who say that the wave of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution in the 1930s was responsible for adding more blue hues to the city.
Ask some locals why the city is blue and they may say because the color blue helps deter mosquitoes. Although mosquitoes generally choose to live near water, they don’t actually like being in the water itself. Therefore, it’s entirely possible that residents noticed fewer mosquitoes in the Jewish part of town and decided to follow suit to rid themselves of those pesky little bugs.
Yet another theory is that the blue hues help keep homes cooler during the warmer months. And then there are others who claim Chefchaouen’s walls are adorned in all shades of blue to represent the color of the Mediterranean Sea, symbolizing the importance of the city’s Ras el-Maa Waterfall where locals get their drinking water.
Still others say it’s simply because blue looks attractive and has a calming effect. In Islamic culture, blue is said to be a color symbolizing happiness and optimism.
Regardless of which theory you believe, this old and enchanting town is a darling place to kick back for a few days and soak up the azure atmosphere. Steep, narrow streets are stacked with artisan shops, miniature cafes and yummy street food — and oh-so-comfy riads. Like mine!
Making my way up, down and around the skinny, winding stairs, I was absolutely thrilled with my riad! Safe and secure, I had a fabulous room, a dreamy rooftop lounge and terrace complete with mountain views, a 24-hour front desk, a family-run restaurant and free wifi. Pinch me!
After settling into my room, I made my way back to the main square, Plaza Uta el Hamman, in search of a little supper and some good conversation.
A colorful Chefchaouen character, Ahmed works as a tour guide. While strategizing sightseeing, he invited me to sit with him at his home (pictured) and have tea. I agreed. Ahmed was most eager to share his opinions about American politics with me. For the better part of an hour, we exchanged ideas and information, agreeing to meet up the following morning.
If you’re tired of blue, try Chefchaouen’s 15th century clay-brown kasbah.
Small but charming, this former prison dominates the central square and contains a lovely Andalusian-style garden and houses a nice museum. Eleven towers punctuate the fortress and it’s worth a climb to take in sweeping views of the town.
After a couple of hours sightseeing, I spent the rest of the day sipping tea, window shopping and people watching.
And the evenings here are every bit as relaxed. They’re about finding a spot to watch the sunset and picking out the best restaurant option (preferably one with a terrace). One of the best things about having no set agenda in a city this pretty is that there is no bad choice.
Ready to book YOUR next adventure? Hit me up! I specialize in Europe and the Exotics and I’m very good at what I do. Warmly, Sandy, #TheSandyPapers, (703) 975-1747