Blue pearl of Morocco

One day, after we booked our Morocco trip, just for fun, I did a google image search with “Morocco.” I was expecting photos of Marrakech or Fez popping up on my screen. On the contrary, my browser was filled with images from a blue colored small town. This blue city of Morocco, Chefchaouen, is currently on the top of every Morocco-goers list! It has garnered several other nicknames such as “blue pearl of Morocco” and “Santorini of Morocco,” referring to the blue colored medina. Chefchaouen was not in anyone’s radar ten-fifteen years back. With Instagram influencers posting shots of themselves in this land of fantasy, Chefchaouen has experienced a massive uptick in the number of tourists in recent times.

Why is the entire medina painted blue?

It looks stunning. But that can not be the reason that prompted residents of this town to paint their houses with different shades of blue. Our guide told us that there is no unifying theory. Here are some of the speculations he offered-

One of them is that the city was painted blue by the Jewish settlers. There were two surges of Jewish immigration to Chefchaouen. First, when Jews were fleeing Spain in the 15th century and the second time during the regime of Hitler. In Judaism, blue epitomizes the sky, which in turn reminds them of heaven and God. For Muslims, who historically had great idealogical differences with Jewish, blue represents the color of happiness and optimism. So it is possible that initially only the Jewish quarter, Mellah, was painted blue, and then local Muslims went with it.

Some think it’s to keep the mosquitos away! I could not find any scientific paper supporting this theory. As bugs see color in UV spectrum, blue is dull when seen through UV. That is why bugs don’t get attracted to blue and green colors compared to vivid colors like red. But that argument is not applicable to mosquitoes. Generally they are attracted to darker colors than lighter ones. But, one thing I would say that during our visit we didn’t encounter any mosquitoes. So, who knows? It might be working!!!!

Some locals believe that the blue colors keep their houses cool in summer months. That prompted neighbors to follow each other and to paint their houses blue.

Blue also represents the color of the water. It is such an essential life-sustaining force local people wanted to honor its importance by painting their houses blue.

Lastly, and the most likely reason is to attract tourists. Some parts of the medina were historically painted blue. But once locals realized that the blue color is the reason behind the surge of tourists, the practice of painting houses blue exploded.

Capital of…

Our guide told us Morocco has different capitals. Rabat is the administrative capital. But if a city is famous for “X,” then locals designate that town as the capital of “X.” For example, Erfoud is the date capital of Morocco. Ouarzazate is the movie capital of Morocco. Do you know what Chefchaouen is? It is the Marijuana capital of Morocco !!!!! Self-proclaimed to be the Colombia of Morocco, Chefchaouen is often referred to as the blue city of Hash. In Plaza Uta el-Hammam, the main square of Chefchaouen, at least half a dozen times someone tried to sell Marijuana. Laws are pretty strict in Morocco against drugs. One gets up to ten years of imprisonment. Looked like that did not deter locals from selling hash to tourists.

Morocco is one of the largest exporters of Cannabis raisin, locally known as Kif. In 1890, Sultan Hassan I granted special permission to cultivate cannabis in the Rif Mountains while restricting its expansion elsewhere in Morocco. Chefchaouen region, located in the valleys of Rif mountains, ended up becoming Morocco’s biggest hashish producer. These days, most of Morocco's cannabis is still cultivated and processed here and has become a big money-making industry.

What to see?

The best way to absorb Chefchaouen is by getting lost in the medina! Just wander around the maze of the medina, and you never know what’s waiting around the corner! The winding blue alleyways, charming squares, blue doors, and dead-end alleys, mixed with vibrant flower pots, cute boutiques selling Moroccan handicrafts and traditional souvenirs, bazaars, cafés, and restaurants - it is truly a wonderland. It was also interesting to see how the locals live. Though I got a feeling that sometimes they get annoyed with the constant barrage of tourists and posing for perfect Instagram pictures. The best way to keep a sense of direction is by orienting yourself with Plaza Uta el-Hammam, the central point of the town.

There is a small waterfall, Ras el’Ma, at the end of the town. In the evening, this place was buzzing with tourists, souvenir sellers, and food stalls. If you want to pose with exotic animals like peacock or camel, spend a few dirhams, and your wish will be fulfilled. After crossing the stream, we did a short 15-minute hike up the mountain towards the Spanish mosque. You will be rewarded with a beautiful view of Chefchaouen town on one side and the valleys of Rif mountain on the other side. I would recommend going there later in the day. In the evening light of setting sun, the pretty blue houses of Chefchaouen looked absolutely breathtaking.

Why so many cats?

Inside the medina, there are cats on the pavement, on the streets, in shops, in restaurants, in bushes..literally everywhere! It is easy to find scraps of foods here. Sometimes people also feed them. That likely resulted in such an explosion of the feline community. Neutering is not a common practice in Morocco. Islamic belief also says that God will provide enough for all living creatures. Besides, being a developing nation, the state does not want to undertake a massive neutering scheme. Interestingly, locals don’t keep them as pets because some believe that Islam forbids keeping pets.

Few last words

We had some of the best Moroccan foods at Chefchaouen. You must try the restaurant Beldi Bab Ssour, the best chicken Tagine I had in Morocco. Another must-try is the Aladdin restaurant, less so for food more for the best view of the town from your dinner table!

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