Nestled in the glorious scenery of the Moroccan Rif mountains lies Chefchaouen or Chaouen as it is often called by Moroccans. The city with the most photographed and instagrammed medina of Morocco. A quiet place where people come to take a break from the otherwise frantic Moroccan cities.
There’s a sort of calmness that reigns over the place. Is it the mountain air? Is it the availability of kif (cannabis) grown abundantly in the surrounding countryside? Or is it the calming shades of blue that cover the walls of every single building in the city? Whatever it is, there are plenty of things to do in Chefchaouen and you should definitely put this place on your Moroccan itinerary!
Why is Chefchaouen blue?
There are several theories as to why the walls of Chefchaouen were painted blue. One theory says that the blue keeps mosquitoes away. Another one says that Jews who came here in the 1930’s introduced the blue as a contrast to the traditional green of Islam. The blue is also said to symbolize the sky and the sea. And the least appealing theory is that, according to some locals, the walls were mandated to be painted blue simply to attract tourists in the 1970s.
Whatever the theory, there’s no denying that walking through the old town feels like walking through a painting: there’s light blue, dark blue, violet blue and all shades in between! Every corner reveals an even more picturesque scene than the previous one and every house seems worth photographing!
Things to do in Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen’s medina is small compared to other medinas in Morocco, it’s definitely less frantic and you have less chance of getting lost. The narrow streets are lined with small shops selling rugs, leather goods and what seems like an awful amount of sweets! If you are after colourful blankets or lamps, then the souks are the place to go to!
The medina is where the majority of the blue houses are situated. You can spend hours strolling aimlessly through the alleys, photographing each house as you go. Unlike the more popular cities like Marrakech, there’s almost no hassle in Chefchaouen, apart from the occasional local trying to sell you some hashish.
On the southern edge of the medina, you will come to a cute plaza with a lovely old fountain, called Plaza el Makhzen. It’s home to the Ensemble Artisanal where craftworkers produce brightly coloured rugs and thick woollen jumpers.
2. Plaza Outa el Hammam
The main square and beating heart of the medina and an excellent place for people-watching. Considering the small size of the medina, the Plaza Outa El Hammam is surprisingly large! It takes its name from the public hammams that used to be situated around the square. There aren’t that many left unfortunately. You can still find a public one across the square, next to Pension la Castellana.
The minaret of the Grand Mosque, which dates back to the 16th century, towers above the place. Non-Muslim visitors are not allowed to enter the mosque.
3. The kasbah
A kasbah used to be the place where the local ruler had his refuge. Some of the kasbahs are like fortified towns like the one in Tangier. The one in Chefchaouen is pretty modest in size. I was built in the 15th century and its purpose was to defend Chefchaouen from attacks by the Portuguese and the Spanish. Climb one of the towers of the Kasbah for great views over the area or visit the Ethnographic Museum, situated within the walls. The shady gardens can offer some respite from the scorching sun.
4. Ras El Maa
If you are looking for some scenes of everyday life, take a walk towards the Ras El Maa. It’s the place where the river cascades down the mountain slope and where local women gather to do their laundry. It’s situated just outside the Bab Onsar gate. My stroll is interrupted only by a herd of passing sheep. A van is blasting out loud music and a group of young girls is taking endless pictures of the flowing water. Worth to visit if you need a break from all the blue!
5. The surrounding hills
A 30 minutes walk from Bab Onsar brings you to the “Spanish mosque”, situated in the hills around Chefchaouen.The mosque was built by the Spanish in the 1920’s but has never been used. THE reason to come here are the views over the blue city down below. The hike up is relatively easy, but the ground is uneven, rocky and at some points steep. The busiest time is in the evening when a lot of visitors walk up to enjoy the sun setting over the Rif mountains. Morning times are better if you prefer some peace and quiet.
Did you know by the way that “Chefchaouen” means “two horns”? The Rif mountains above the city look like they are split into two by the slope in which Chefchaouen lies.
I had a nice few days at Chefchaouen and before leaving for the arts & craft city of Tetouan, I have a last drink on the Plaza Uta-El-Hammam.
Have you been to the blue city of Morocco? What were, according to you, the best things to do in Chefchaouen?