Salam from Chefchaouen, Morocco!
We left Spain a few days ago and headed to Morocco via a ferry! It took about an hour, and it was a beautiful and easy ride. There are only about 9 miles between the two countries across the Strait of Gibraltar, so standing on the shore of one country, you can see the other.
We arrived in Tangier and took a bus to Tétouan, where we stayed for a few days. We visited the both the Tétouan and the Tangier médinas while here. Visiting the médina of each of these cities helped us to better understand the connections between Andalusian Spain and Morocco. The city space is an incredibly important place in Islam, as life happens in the city: learning, trading, sharing, growing.
In Tétouan, we visited our first Moroccan médina! Tour guides must be sanctioned by the government of Morocco, and we also had to have an undercover police officer follow our tour group. This was an interesting experience to have, as it was a huge difference from the United States. The médina was very crowded and there were people selling everything from fruits and vegetables, to live chickens and goats, to beauty products and clothing. There were also lots of cats everywhere, as Islamic law prevents animals from being spayed or neutered. The cats just hang out and enjoy scraps of food in the médina, so it’s a pretty good place to be a cat. The médina has small, winding streets, and the Tétouan médina features a “code” of sorts on the ground. If there are three rows of bricks in the center, the road will lead to a gate. Nevertheless, this was one of the most confusing médinas to navigate so I stuck close to the guide.
When the Catholic monarchs took Granada in 1492, they changed the religious and cultural climate of the Iberian peninsula even further. In the years that followed, Muslims and Jewish people were expelled from Spain, or forced to convert. Most of them came to Morocco, and settled in cities like Tétouan, meaning their mark is left on the médina. There are some traditional Andalusian homes in the médina of Tétouan, which show the heritage of the people who came to the city.
We also visited the Tangier médina, which was a much different experience! It was much less crowded than the Tétouan médina, and if it had a “code” or map on the ground, it was not easily understood! Tangier is an international city, so it is much different from other Moroccan cities. The Tangier médina features influence from many cultures, not just Islamic and Andalusian that is more typical of Morocco. One great example of this is American presence in Tangier. We visited the American Legation building, which has stood in the Tangier médina for many years. This building is now a museum, filled with art from artists all over the world who found themselves in Tangier at some point in time. I enjoyed the art in the museum, and we were back on American soil for an hour!
After leaving Tangier, we made two stops: one at the Northwesternmost point of Africa, and one at the Hercules Caves. These were interesting and fun sites to see, especially since we were so close! Legend has it that Hercules himself made the cutout of Africa in the cave wall, you decide if it was him or the waves! Either way, the cutout does have a strong resemblance to the continent!
Now that we are in Chefchaouen, the city space is very different. We traveled about 2 hours into the Rif Mountains to reach the city. Chefchaouen means “look at the two mountain peaks,” which are absolutely striking on the skyline.
The médina of Chefchaouen has been painted completely blue, which is beautiful and recognizable, but also communicates the city space’s history. Many Jewish people lived in Chefchaouen, many of them who were in the city prior to the expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula. Jewish people used to paint a thin blue line around their windows to protect against evil spirits. However, in 1994, Chefchaouen realized that tourists liked the blue so much, that they decided to paint the entire city blue. So, as beautiful as the blue is, it’s not entirely historically accurate, and is a bit of a tourist draw. Nevertheless, I found it beautiful!
The city space of Chefchaouen represents a growing tourist industry in Morocco, as well as an important history of coexistence. The médina has the same winding plan as others, and Chefchaouen features a beautiful kasbah, or royal fortress, like other médinas. Despite the position in the mountains, the Islamic city design did not miss Chefchaouen.
I have enjoyed visiting these first three Moroccan cities on this journey! Morocco is a beautiful place that is so unlike anywhere I have ever been before. The mountains are stunning, the cities are full of learning opportunities, and I am trying to take it all in. I feel really thankful that I am able to experience this incredible country!
Shukraan (thank you) for following along on my adventure!