Morocco’s Peaceful ‘Blue Pearl’
The Rif Mountains extend nearly 300 kilometers from Tangier to the Moulouya River valley near Morocco’s Algerian frontier. Nestled within the range is a small city that was hidden for centuries, but now rates as one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Chefchaouen’s streets wind to and fro amid a green and tan landscape, but the city of more than 35,000 is most notable for blue homes and buildings in its ancient section, known as the medina. The incongruous hue is said to have roots in the town’s former Jewish population, according to CompleteMorocco.com. The city often is referred to as the “Blue Pearl of Morocco.”
The city, called Chaouen by locals, was founded in 1471 by Moors and Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition. The city remained closed off from the rest of the world for centuries as its residents fought off invaders such as Berbers and the Portuguese. In the 1920s, Spain captured the walled city, and it opened to the outside world.
Almost all houses, and some alleys, in the old section of town are painted varying shades of blue. The color comes from paint made by mixing chalk, water and pigment. It is believed that Jews brought the blue to the city after fleeing Hitler in the 1930s. There are varying explanations for the color’s purpose. Online news agency Middle East Eye (MEE) said the blue symbolizes “the sky and heaven, and the leading of a spiritual life.”
Locals, however, have differing opinions. Some say it keeps mosquitoes at bay. Others say it makes the streets resemble flowing water. No, says another: The blue signifies the Ras el-Maa spring, which is just outside the city walls.
“Wrong, say others. Chefchaouen is blue because the nearby Mediterranean Sea is blue,” according to MEE. “Arguing that the sea is at least 20 miles away is no use. ‘The sea is very close,’ they persist.”
A January 2016 report from Condé Nast Traveler ranked Chefchaouen No. 6 on its list of “The 50 Most Beautiful Cities in the World,” calling it “a calming respite from the overwhelming frenzy of Marrakech and Fez.”
Artist Mohsine Ngadi, a painter, reinforced the notion of Chefchaouen as a peaceful refuge. He told MEE the blue is not for mosquitoes, nor to commemorate Jewish spiritual life. “Blue was chosen because it eases the eye, especially in summer when the sun is bright. Nobody is ever in a rush here; stress does not exist.”