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Chefchaouen the blue one ! The story behind the city’s blue hues

The small Moroccan town of Chefchaouen, known to locals as Chaouen, is one of Morocco’s most picturesque destinations. Nestled in the glorious landscape of the Rif Mountains, it has one of the most charming medinas in the country, famous for the different shades of blue paint that cover the walls of the town’s various houses and businesses.

The elders of Chefchaouen described the area as being developed outside the fortress with the construction of the medina, a traditional area of houses and other commercial buildings. During the Middle Ages, local tribes of Spaniards and Jews populated the area.

traditional blue houses in Chefchaouen

Many years later, the Spanish colonised Chefchaouen in 1920, making it part of the Spanish territory in Morocco. The region experienced a large influx of Jews fleeing Europe during the Second World War. Most of these Jews then left the region in the late 1940s and early 1950s to live in Israel. The city was returned when Morocco gained its independence in 1956.

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The reason behind the blue walls

There are several beliefs as to why the city walls were painted blue. Here they are:

Following Jewish customs and culture

In Jewish beliefs, the colour blue represents the sky, which in turn reminds people of heaven and God. There is therefore a strong tradition within Jewish communities to paint things blue and to use blue dye to colour fabrics, especially prayer rugs.

So what caused the spread of blue fever throughout the medina? Some people believe that the early Jews of Chefchaouen introduced the practice of painting the walls blue, in keeping with their religious and cultural practices. Many inhabitants, however, say that the blue walls of Chefchaouen were only found in the Jewish part of the city, the Mellah, until quite recently. Older residents say that most of Chefchaouen’s buildings in the medina were white in their younger years.

The painting of the walls in blue probably took place in the 15th century, shortly after the foundation of the city. Some say that the wave of Jewish immigrants in the 1930s was the direct cause of the addition of new shades of blue in the city.

Representing the colour of water

The walls of Chefchaouen are daubed with all shades of blue to represent the colour of the sparkling Mediterranean, according to some residents. Others, however, believe that the blue symbolises the importance of the Ras el-Maa waterfall, where the city’s inhabitants get their drinking water. Water is essential to life and allows a community to thrive in a harsh environment in the arid mountains.

Keeping cool

Some locals say that the blue helps keep their homes cool in the hotter months. This was probably not the original intention, but it is a valid reason for the idea to continue in modern times.

To keep mosquitoes away

Some believe that shades of blue adorn the city to help deter mosquitoes. Although mosquitoes generally choose to live near water, they do not like to be in the water itself. The colours of Chefchaouen’s buildings can certainly look like flowing water. It is possible that the inhabitants noticed fewer mosquitoes in the Jewish part of the city and decided to do the same to rid their homes of the pests.

Attracting tourists

Although this was certainly not the original reason for the blue painting of Chefchaouen, attracting tourists is a major reason why the practice continues. Chefchaouen used to be a commonplace destination along the trade route between Fez and Tangier. But today, it is a global tourist destination.

To be beautiful, soothing and blend in

Ask some locals why the city is blue, and they may tell you it’s simply because blue is attractive and has a calming effect. In Islamic culture, blue is said to be a colour of happiness and optimism.

Could it be that a few houses near the Mellah liked the colour originally painted by the Jewish settlers and decided to copy it, starting a new trend that has spread from house to house?

Main attractions of Chefchaouen

Aside from the natural attractions and activities nearby, such as hiking in the mountains and visiting the Akchour Waterfalls, one of the main things to do in Chefchaouen is to stroll through the town’s medina and admire the picturesque scenes around every corner and up every flight of stairs. Less frenetic than in other Moroccan cities such as Marrakech and Fez, visitors can discover a multitude of traditional Moroccan products. The blue and white paintings on canvases of various sizes depicting scenes of the city and local life are particularly pleasing souvenirs.

In the old kasbah itself, with its shades of brown, beige, muted red and ochre, tourists will find the small ethnographic museum, sometimes also called the Kasbah Museum. It houses exhibitions and displays related to the history, culture and development of the region.