Have you ever dreamt of visiting a city completely blue?
If you think that’s not possible you are completely wrong! Nestled in the scenery of the Rif Mountains in the northern Morocco, just 4 hours drive from the more famous imperial cities of Fes and Meknes, there is a city where everything is blue: Chefchaouen, better known as ”the blue city”. The houses, the fountains, the doors, the narrow streets are of many different shades, but all blue. Its picturesque medina (the old city) is a maze of narrow and narrow alleyways blue-colored where you would just feel as walking on the clouds.
The city was founded in 1471 by the Moulay Ali ibn Rashid al-Alami, a distant descendant of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, with a population being mainly made up of Andalusians and Moors who were expelled from Spain. The original settlement consisted of just a small fortress, now referred to as Chefchaouen’s kasbah and step by step some buildings grew outside of the fortress with the construction of the medina. During the Ages, local tribes, Moors from Spain, and Jews populated the area and in 1920 the Spanish conquered the town where they ruled until 1956, when Morocco gained its independence.
Why the town is all blue?
There are several beliefs like ” to keep mosquitos away”, ”to keep cool the houses” or to ”symbolize the importance of the city’s Ras el-Maa source of water”, but according to the majority of the locals, it’s blue to follow the Jewish custom and culture. In Jewish beliefs, the blue-color represents the sky that in turn reminds paradise and God. It is said that in 1492 the early Jews in Chefchaouen introduced the practice of painting walls in blue and between 1930 and 1940, the wave of Jewish immigrants escaping from the Nazi persecution, added more blue hues to the city.
Visiting the old city is very easy, I spent there the whole morning before leaving to Fes. I started from Outa-el-Hammam, the heart of the medina, which is a square surrounded with cafes and restaurants and where you’ll find the Great Mosque with its octagonal tower built in the 15th century by the son of the town’s founder, Ali ben Rachid (only muslim visitors can go inside the mosque), and the old Kasbah with its nice garden, a museum and the prison cells used during Spanish rule.
After that you can start your exploration through the narrow alleys with only one suggestion: walk and get lost! At every turn, at every inch, a photo opportunity awaits! If you want to take a nice panoramic pic of the medina, ask the local to indicate you the way to the source of ” Ras al Ma”. Here it starts a path that lead to the old spanish Mosque (situated on the top of the hill) from where you can have a nice view on the blue buildings and obviously take a nice shot as well (just walk for 5 min.). After finishing your visit, if you still have time, a more ambitious travel itinerary could include Le Pont de Dieu (the Bridge of God), an impressive natural rock arc about 30 minutes’ drive from Chefchaouen. In case you decide to spend a couple of days here, i’d suggest you to try the hike to the Akchour waterfalls, located inside the Rif mountains (45 minute drive to get to the beginning of trailhead).
When to go and how long: all year round but the best seasons are spring and autumn. I visited in December and it was cold during the early morning and at night. The best way to visit is to have an overnight there and enjoy the wonderful medina without rushing. On my itinerary, I got Chefchaouen from Meknes around 7 pm, i had my overnight there, then the next day i enjoyed the old city for 5/6 hrs before heading to Fes. If you decide to spend a couple of days there, check out the ”bridge of God” and the cool Akchour waterfalls hiking.
How to get there: if you are traveling around on your own, the cheapest way is by bus. The bus station is situated on Mohammed V avenue, there are buses from / to Tangier, Fes and Meknes and other major cities. Check fare and timetables. You can get there by taxi as well from Fes or Meknes, remember to haggle the price with the driver. You can also get there renting a car or renting a car with a driver. Check here for the private taxi service Tangiertaxi.
Where to eat: inside the medina, around Outa-el-Hammam square you’ll find many restaurants. The average price is around 60 MAD (6$)
Where to sleep: the old city is plenty of affordable accommodations like Riad and guest houses (if you have a so heavy baggage keep in mind that inside the medina you just go by walk). I slept at the Maison d’hote Lalla Khadouj (Rue Sidi Ahmed El Ouafi, sebanin 23 – 15$ per night), a very confy guest house ( reachable by car ) outside the medina but only 10 min. walk from Outa el Hammam square.