Chefchaouen in Morocco

Friday, 14 October 2022 - 12:00 pm (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, UNESCO World Heritage, Union for the Mediterranean
Reading Time:  10 minutes

© R.asma/cc-by-sa-3.0

© R.asma/cc-by-sa-3.0

Chefchaouen, also known as Chaouen, is a city in northwest Morocco. It is the chief town of the province of the same name, and is noted for its buildings in shades of blue. Chefchaouen is situated just inland from Tangier and Tétouan. It was founded as a military outpost shortly before the Spanish Reconquista of Granada, and its population grew quickly with Muslim and Jewish immigrants fleeing from Spain. The economy is based on a traditional agro-pastoral system with olive and fig plantations; numerous water mills for grinding grain and olives; a handicrafts sector focusing on leather, iron, textiles and carpentry; and summer-dominated tourism. The city of Chefchaouen is located at about 600 metres (2,000 ft) above sea level in the foothills of the Kaʻala mountain in the western part of the Rif mountain range, in northwestern Morocco. The province of Chefchaouen is among the largest in Morocco, with an area of 3,443 km² (1,329 sq mi). It is bordered by five provinces – Tétouan Province to the northwest, Larache Province to the west, Al Hoceïma Province to the east, Taounate Province to the south, Ouezzane Province to the southwest – and the Mediterranean Sea to the northeast. The Province of Chefchaouen belongs to the Tanger-Tetouan-Al Hoceima Region and consists of one urban commune (the municipality of Chefchaouen) and 27 rural communes, giving the province a rural character.

Chefchaouen has maintained strong relations with the inhabitants of the Jbala Region such as Akhmas, Ghomara, Ghazaoua and Sanhaja tribes, particularly in terms of trade. The federations of these tribes were sometimes a source of strength, and sometimes a weakness due to their frequent struggles to take possession of assets such as water sources, grazing areas and fertile land. The traditional houses of Chefchaouen were made of stone, brick, tile, wood, soil and lime. Each house had an open yard in the center surrounded by corridors and bedrooms. The yards are often decorated with fruit trees such as oranges, lemons, berries and grapes, as well as some perfumed shrubs including night-blooming jessamine (Cestrum nocturnum) and jasmine (Jasminum officinale). From a physiognomy perspective, the city is influenced by Andalusian architecture, such as the curved brick archways that strengthen the houses and decorate the narrow blue alleyways, the traditional water network, and the landscaping and care of plants inside houses and mosques. From a cultural perspective, many Chefchaouen families have conserved the art of Andalusian music, which has become the main ritual of Chefchaouen religious festivals and social ceremonies. The rural landscape was characterized by a distribution of space according to intra- and intertribal relations. At the level of each dshar (low-density rural settlements), the houses are built around a mosque or a marabou and occupy the center of the concentric spatial structure of traditional agro-sylvo-pastoral systems. This spatial distribution of dshars is tightly associated with arable land and availability of water resources, with shifting cultivation limited to a diffuse strip of matorral shrubland and pasture that mark the transition to forests. However, this traditional agro-sylvo-pastoral system has been deeply affected by multiple processes of modern socio-cultural and economic transformation.

During the holidays, the city sees a considerable influx of Moroccan and foreign tourists, attracted by its natural landscapes and historical monuments. Tourism is largely seasonal, with 200 hotels in the province catering to an influx of European tourists in the summer. The city history is seen in the brightly painted medina (old town) with its blue-white facades, the narrow streets of the Bab Souk district and the interior gardens of the Kasbah and its ramparts and towers, while the city is surrounded by diversified landscapes including mountains, forests and beaches. A nearby attraction is the Kef Toghobeit Cave, one of the deepest caves in Africa. Chefchaouen also draws tourists from its reputation as a center of the marijuana plantation region in north Morocco. In terms of accommodation, Chefchaouen encompasses in 2016, 68 hotels, including 17 classified hotels, with a capacity of 1,796 beds, including 720 beds for classified hotels.

© flickr.com - Rodrigo Silva/cc-by-2.0 Kasbah © ZLAIJI ABDELLATIF/cc-by-sa-4.0 © OHamama/cc-by-sa-4.0 © R.asma/cc-by-sa-3.0 © panoramio.com - Hiroki Ogawa/cc-by-3.0 Central garden © Mari-Said/cc-by-sa-4.0 © Csörföly D/cc-by-sa-3.0
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© panoramio.com - Hiroki Ogawa/cc-by-3.0
Chefchaouen’s blue walls are a popular subject of interest. There are several theories as to why the walls were painted blue. One popular theory is that the blue keeps mosquitos away. The blue is said to symbolize the sky and heaven, and serve as a reminder to lead a spiritual life. However, according to some locals, the walls were mandated to be painted blue in the 1970s in order to attract tourists.

The medina is one of the most important historical neighborhoods, where blue and white paint dominates the walls and houses, and the streets are so narrow that cars cannot pass, which provides a peaceful and calm atmosphere. The kasbah is one of the first buildings constructed in the city in the Andalusian style. It includes the emir’s residence, a small mosque for the emir, a prison, a garden, a horse stable, sheds for the animals and dozens of towers. The kasbah played a major role as a house of Makhzen (i.e. authoritarian forces) until its occupation by the Spanish in 1920. The kasbah was built from strong and sustainable local raw materials such as limestone, with successive layers of hard rammed earth. Fired red bricks were used to build the sides of the doors and arches. Local cedar, fir, juniper and other woods were used to form the roofs, clad in red tiles. The Kasbah overlooks the Outae Hammam yard. The biggest courtyard of the old Medina is Outae Hammam at more than 4,000 m² (43,000 sq ft). Its name is derived from outae which means “low ground or yard” and hammam due to the presence of the first hammam (traditional public bath) in the center of the town. Its design is similar to the Andalusian public yards of Granada or Cordoba. While historically a crossroad, its function changed to a tourist center surrounded by cafes and restaurants. Souiqah quarter is the second-oldest residential agglomeration in the city, and includes the houses of old Andalusian families and a large number of shops and stalls that sell local products. The traditional souk (bazaar, marketplace) has small shops and stalls selling traditional handiwork such as colorful porcelain utensils, textiles and clothing, leatherware and various souvenirs. The weekly market was a place for strengthening social ties between the townspeople and their rural environment. Al-Kharazin district was settled by many villagers from neighboring tribes, giving it a rural character.

The Grand Mosque of Chefchaouen is the city’s oldest and historically most important mosque, located at Place Outae Hammam at the heart of the medina, close to the kasbah. The Spanish Mosque is a disused mosque overlooking the town from a hill to the east. It was built by the Spanish in the 1920s, and is now a popular lookout point. The Mausoleum of Abdessalam Ben Mshish al-Alami is dedicated to the patron saint of northern Morocco’s Jebalah region, Moulay Abdessalam Ben Mshish al-Alami. His tomb and the village surrounding it is roughly 50 kilometres (31 mi) northwest of Chefchaouen on the old road to Larache.

Ras Al-Maa (mountainous spring of water) is the main water resource for the population. From the Ras Al-Maa, rivulets branch out and provision mosques, houses, zaouias, hammams, fountains, hotels, farms, and gardens. A large number of water mills for grinding grain and olives are distributed near these rivulets. Women traditionally gather along the banks of the river to socialize as they wash clothes and blankets. The river is frequently visited by tourists. The Chefchaouen Mountains belong to the Rif mountain range and are the destination of guided excursions. They are characterized by a rich flora, especially the forests of cork oak, green oak, endemic Moroccan fir and Atlas cedar. The Cascades of Akchour is a mountainous area with many waterfalls, located 29.2 km (18.1 mi) from Chefchaouen.

Read more on VisitMorocco.com – Chefchaouen, the blue diamond, Wikivoyage Chefchaouen and Wikipedia Chefchaouen (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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