Morocco’s small city of Chefchaouen—often referred to as simply Chaouen—is one of Morocco’s most picturesque destinations. Nestled in the glorious scenery of the Rif Mountains, it boasts one of the country’s most charming medinas and is famous for its varied shades of blue paint that cover the walls.
Chefchaouen was founded by Moulay Ali Ben Moussa Ben Rached El Alami, a distant descendant of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. The original settlement consisted of just a small fortress, now referred to as Chefchaouen’s kasbah. The fortress was erected to help defend the area from potential attacks by Portuguese invaders since at the time, Portugal was launching attacks against northern cities and towns in Morocco.
A settlement eventually grew outside of the fortress with the construction of the medina, a traditional walled area of homes and other buildings. During the Middle Ages, local tribes, Moors from Spain, and Jews populated the area.
Many years later, the Spanish captured Chefchaouen, forming part of Spain’s in Morocco. The area saw a large influx of Jews fleeing from Europe and Hitler Most Jews later left the area in the late 1940s and early 1950s to live in Israel. The city was given back when Morocco gained independence in 1956.
Reasons Suggested for the Blue Hues
There are several beliefs as to why the city’s walls were painted blue.
To Follow Jewish Custom and Culture
In Jewish beliefs, the colour blue represents the sky, which in turn reminds people of heaven. There is, therefore, a strong tradition among Jewish communities of painting things blue and using blue dye to colour fabrics, especially prayer mats.
So what caused blue fever to spread throughout the entire medina. Some people believe that early Jews in Chefchaouen introduced the practice of painting walls blue, in keeping with their religious and cultural practices. Many locals say, however, that the blue-coloured walls of Chefchaouen were only found in the Jewish part of the city, the mellah, until fairly recently. Older residents say that most of Chefchaouen’s buildings within the medina used to be white during their younger years.
Painting the walls blue likely happened in the 15th century, shortly after the city was founded. Some people say that the wave of Jewish immigrants was responsible for adding more blue hues to the city.
It is unlikely that the local Islamic people knowingly replicated Jewish practices.
To Keep Mosquitoes Away
There are those who believe that shades of blue adorn the city to help deter mosquitoes. Although mosquitoes generally choose to live near water, they don’t like being in the water itself. The colours of Chefchaouen’s buildings certainly can look like flowing water. It is possible that residents noticed fewer mosquitoes in the Jewish part of town and decided to follow suit to rid their homes of pesky bugs.
To Keep Cool
Some locals say that the blue helps keep their homes cool in the warmer months. While this probably wasn’t the original intention, it serves as a valid reason as to why the painting continues in modern times.