Chaouen A Walk Through the Blue City
12 December, 2016
The city of Chaouen is located in the north-east of Morocco, some 60 kilometres from Tetouan. Its narrow streets and whitewashed houses, most of them in blue and white, are strangely reminiscent of the villages in the Alpujarra mountains of Granada. This comes as no surprise if you consider that centuries ago this area in the Rif mountains was settled by a large number of exiles from al-Andalus. Here, especially, what was originally a Berber settlement was transformed in 1471 into a town where Muslims and Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula by the Catholic Kings sought refuge. This accounts for the city’s unique ties to the Andalusian towns which they hailed from, where they derived the centuries-old customs they brought to this land.
One of the main reasons why a trip to this mountainous area is really worthwhile is that Chaouen (known variously as Chefchaouen, Chaouen or Xauen) appears to be frozen in time. It has hardly evolved at all over the centuries as it was considered a holy city. This is also why it was off limits to foreigners. Hence, when you first arrive and start wandering along its narrow streets, where it is rather difficult to get your bearings, you are suddenly gripped by the feeling of having stepped back into the Middle Ages. To compound this impression, in the Old Town the only way of getting around is on donkey back, which heightens the feeling of being a time traveller.
One of the major draws in Chaouen is the Medina or Old Town with its white-and-blue houses, a striking sight for visitors, who find them difficult to resist photographing. The main square, Place Outa el-Hammam, is the nerve centre of the Medina. It is the ideal spot for sipping a cup of tea while soaking up the atmosphere, or for tasting the local cuisine served in restaurants in the surrounding area. Also in the square stands the Kasbah, a fortress built in the 15th century, the interior of which can be visited, and the Great Mosque, its standout feature being its original, octagonal-shaped minaret. Near the square is the old caravanserai, where merchants used to stop over and sell their wares. Currently it hosts numerous local artisans who engage in their crafts and here you can pick up some picturesque homemade souvenirs.
Unlike in other Moroccan towns, in Chaouen it is easy to move around the old medina without being hassled by hawkers, which makes a visit even more pleasurable and relaxing. So, shopping enthusiasts, be sure to head for the souk, which runs from the archway marking the entrance to the medina as far as Outa el-Hammam Square. Get ready to go on a great shopping spree, with haggling included, of course.
A good panoramic view of the city can be had from Bab Onsar gate, in the north-east. Here you will also come across the fountain known as Ras el Maa, with a waterfall and a public washhouse which is still in use, as women come here every day to wash clothes by hand. A road leads from here to the Jemaa Bouzafar mosque, which is a 30-minute walk. The experience is well worth the effort.
Fire up and explore this jewel of northern Morocco situated 115 kilometres from Tangier – book your Vueling here.
Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
Images by subherwal
12 December, 2016