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Chefchaouen Part 1: The Importance of Blue

Photo Credit: Anna Groeling
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Photo Credit: Anna Groeling
A man paints a large cabinet in the streets by his shop (Photo Credit: Anna Groeling).

If you’re searching for blue treasure, then perhaps you’re looking for Chefchaouen. The city’s blue walls, doors and houses are impressive and breathtaking. This prevailing color scheme gives the city a tangible personality, which can be experienced through every sense. Here you can find brightly colored spices and scented soaps, or local street artists capturing a new aspect of their city.

Chefchaouen, located in the Rif mountains of northern Morocco, has a Spanish influence from its history of power struggles. While visiting the city, I stumbled across some street art inspired by Spanish Catalan artist Antoni Gaudi.

Chefchaouen, with all its local art and traditions, has an artist’s perspective and heart. It has earned the right as one of the world’s bluest cities. Local women paint Chefchaouen at least 2 to 3 times per year. In the city’s medina, the old sector of the city, every inch is covered in a shade of sapphire or royal blue. And the taxis? They’re the same color.

Another point here, why the color blue? Why cover an entire city in one color?

Photo Credit: Anna Groeling
As I took a picture of a mirror’s reflection of a water well, a women stepped into the frame (Photo Credit: Anna Groeling).

The root of this answer, of course, goes back to Chefchaouen’s past. Jewish refugees started painting the city in the 1930s, as the color holds significant meaning in Judaism. The color blue symbolizes divinity, faith, wisdom and truth. It represents the sky and sea, so to think of the sky above is to think of God. Eventually the whole city of Chefchaouen adopted the color.

The Moroccan city has developed a lot over the recent years and a true blue city contrasted against a mountainous landscape has helped bring in tourists. Chefchaouen is also known for its drugs, a reason why many backpackers make a stop here. It wouldn’t be uncommon for a peddler to offer this. Most will not take ‘no’ for an answer either, even if you keep repeating yourself.

I first came across this ambitious attitude in Tangier as one peddler was selling rock geodes. This man followed my friends and I down the Tangier streets for quite a bit once, matching our pace and walking closely to us, as he tried to persuade us to buy something. In these scenario’s, the best course of action is to act deaf and mute, neither making eye contact or giving a simple reply.

This being said, I felt very safe in both cities. I found myself comfortable in Chefchaouen’s maze of streets and Tangier’s busier crowds. The city’s blue walls are calming. The winding steps and low-hanging roofs only adds to its character. It’s a sensory experience where you can return to the same place and discover new hidden details. As the main religion practiced here is Muslim, calls to prayer ring throughout the city.

Chefchaouen_Groeling16
Moroccan tea bought in Chefchaouen (Photo credit: Anna Groeling).

I also had the opportunity to eat with a local Moroccan family. The walk to their apartment took us outside the medina and into a more residential area. There were kids playing games and kids running around or talking while they sat on benches. When my group arrived at our host’s house, we were welcomed with tea and a hot lunch while a television program played in the background. Moroccan food is rich and savory and the home-cooked meal of meat, rice and bread was no exception. To be welcomed into a local’s home was an opportunity-and a day-that I’ll always cherish. My friends and I talked with a local student about school, daily life in Morocco and our aspirations. The tea that we were served was so well-liked, that our host later took our small group to a shop where we each bought one or two packages.

By this time the light had shifted and we returned to a slightly different medina. The blues had all shifted shades, like a small and still sea, almost as if someone had almost taken a new paintbrush to the city during the hours we had been gone.

Chefchaouen has many layers to it and my time there only allowed for me to scratch its surface. If given the opportunity again, I’d soon return to the blue city.

 

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