The city of Chefchaouen is located in the north of Morocco, entangled between the Rif Mountains.

The local people name it Chaouen, a word which comes from the expression “ech-Chaoua”. The meaning is “The Horns”, given that the city is located between two mountains.

It displays an enchanting scenario and it is one of the country’s most visited places. The houses of the old medina are all painted turquoise blue. And this is the reason for its nickname blue city. The contrast established between the blue and the green landscape, which surrounds the city, is a stunning one.

In the south area, where one nowadays can find the city itself, there was a military camp, which fought the Portuguese expansion who had already taken the city of Ceuta at the time. The religious leader felt the need to build a city but ended up being murdered and the project didn’t move forward.

The foundation of Chefchaouen happened later and is associated with a love story.

Alin Ben Rachid, the cousin of the Moroccan religious leader, fell in love with Lalla Zohra who lived in Vejer de La Frontera, a settlement located in the Spanish Andalusia. She was there to help in the Granada War, one that ended with a decisive victory for Spain, annexing Granada, which was part of the Moor rule.

The two lovers married and were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula, which, at the time, was already under the Christian rule. Ali Ben Rachid decided to establish a Berber city, in the Moroccan mountains. He wanted it to have narrow and sinuous streets, like Vejer, in order to avoid having his wife missing her hometown. Thus, in 1471, Chefchaouen was born. And festivities were held to celebrate its foundation.

The first thing built was the Kasbah, a kind of fortified castle. It worked as a harbor for people and animals and, in Chefchaouen, this had a major Andalusian influence. The first quarter to be born around the Kasbah was the Souika.

In order to encourage the city’s development, Ali Ben Rachid instructed that all the exiled from Andalusia should be sent to the city. In the following two centuries, the city was a shelter for the Jews and Moors, something that had a major role in establishing a huge Andalusian influence over this Moroccan city. The hundreds who flocked from Andalusia built the Rif Al Andalus quarter.

The Jewish inhabitants were the ones responsible for the birth of the tradition of painting their houses blue. It was a tribute to a sacred commandment which affirmed that a thread of the tallit should be painted blue. It was a way for people to remember God’s power.

Then, the Onsar and Sebbanine quarters came to life, as well as the Koranic school and the public bath (madrassa and hammam, respectively). With a new wave of exiles, the souk, a new quarter and then the Kharrazine were all born.

The entry of non-Moors was forbidden until 1920, the year when the Spanish occupied it.

However, there are stories of some adventurers who tried to get in… The French Charles de Foucauld, the English Walter Harris, or the American missionary William Summers. The latter was poisoned before getting the chance to leave the city.

I enjoyed Chefchaouen very much. I strolled through it, amidst that wonderful tone of blue, which puts us in the middle of a somewhat mystical experience. It really seems that we’re walking in heaven…

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