Morocco

Morocco is situated in western North Africa. It has a mountainous landscape and lies directly across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain. Old medinas, squares, and European-inspired structures distinguish the architecture. Various buildings and layouts constitute a solid testimonial to Morocco’s rich history and tradition.

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The blue city Souks©LonelyPlanet

Most of the design elements are influenced by Islamic architecture, whether using geometric patterns such as symmetry, ornamental calligraphy using Quranic verses, or stunning and colourful ceramic tile mosaics.

Moroccan architectural features Hispano-Moorish influences that are widely present in the architectural details. White walls to reflect the sunlight, large domes for mosques and prestigious establishments, stucco roofs making the building more robust and more durable, and most importantly, the decorative arches. These details are all design elements juxtaposed with Islamic-inspired buildings and structures. 

Moroccan architecture is very diverse, both throughout history and locally. 

It can be divided into two general categories: Andalusian and Southern Kasbah. Andalusian architecture is more complex and refined than Southern architecture, which is much more ancient. 

One of Morocco’s famous cities is   Chefchaouen City, also known as the ‘Blue Pearl of Morocco. It is a UNESCO-approved ancient medina and an acclaimed archaeological museum. 

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The blue city skyline©Travel.Earth

History 

It was founded in 1471 and coloured blue in 1492. Jews, specifically the Sephardi Jewish, escaped the Spanish inquisition and settled in Chefchouen. To make themselves at home, they painted the city blue as an extension of their traditions. The blue refers to the sky as a reminder of God. Funny to know that blue also repels mosquitoes and other insect pests who reside at approximately the same elevation in Morocco’s heavily wooded northern hills.

 Nowadays, the city is considered a hybrid. It envelops and inhabits different cultures like the Berber people, Muslims, and descendants of the original Jews. 

The Medina

The magnificent medina of Chefchaouen corresponds to the old part of the city. The medina of Chaouen is small and quiet, unlike other medinas like that of Fes or that Essaouira.

The medina of Chefchaouen has five doors through which we can venture and put our senses to the test. For example, the different aromatic smells emanating from the spices we can discover in the bazaars and small shops, the smell of hot bread baked in the oven, or the smell of camel leather. A wide variety of colours of the different products sold in the shops and bazaars of the medina contrast with the houses’ white and azure blue reflections. Different alleys and roads shape the medina and lead to the Plaza Outa El-Hamman.

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The blue city alleys ©LePetitJournal

Plaza Uta El-Hammam

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The Plaza ©Viator

Plaza Uta El-Hammam is situated in the heart of the medina.

The Plaza appears as a focal point in the medina of Chefchaouen. It is surrounded by terraces of cafes and restaurants on three sides. The fourth offers public benches to sit on.

 A large cedar occupies the centre of the square, while several lime trees with white trunks border it.

The square, entirely pedestrian, is lively: a place of passage, rest, restoration, and intenselife.

The Grand Mosque, distinguished by the octagonal minaret, is still used for religious worship, so it is not open to tourists. However, its unique octagonal minaret can be viewed from the square. 

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The Grand Mosque ©WIKIDATA

The city of Chefchaouen is full of a group of mosques of a purely historical nature, such as the Al-Aqel Mosque in the Rif Al-Andalus neighborhood, and the Bou Zaarif Mosque, the Great Mosque near the Kasbah.

The Great Mosque of Chefchaouen is one of the most important landmarks of the Blue City. It was built by Prince Moulay Mohammed bin Ali bin Rashid in the sixteenth century AD.

Located within the city, next to the Kasbah, the mosque is one of the most vital traditional monuments today, as it contains all the necessary architectural elements.

Its total area is 1,500 square meters. It contains a school for memorizing the Holy Qur’an, and it is also distinguished by the magnificent minaret with eight ribs.

During the reign of King Mohammed VI, the restoration work of the Great Mosque began, as it included all its basic facilities.

The Kasbah Museum

In the Plaza, Uta El-Hammam sits the Kasbah: an old Moroccan fort. 

The fort has served many vocations through the ages, such as a prison.  

Now it serves as an ethnographic museum and art gallery. There are also beautiful Spanish-style gardens, which provide a nice calm area away from the city. 

The Kasbah was built in the 15th century by Rachid Ben Ali.

In 1471, Christians attacked Morocco repeatedly, intending to seize the country. So the governors then requested to build the Kasbah to protect the city. 

It comprised a mosque (Jama El Kebir) and various nearby dwellings. All were surrounded and protected by a wall, thus forming the centre of the city of Chefchaouen, which developed very quickly.

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The Kasbah ©MoroccoTravel

The Spanish Mosque 

The Spanish Mosque sits isolated on a hill above Chefchaouen, looking out across the city.

 It was built in the 1920s, during the war. 

 The Spanish protectorate spanned over much of Morocco’s northern tip for over four decades, including the country’s blue city. At that time, the military governor of Chefchaouen commissioned the construction of a mosque to pacify the local population amid growing tensions. 

The mosque was named “Bouzaafer”, a word in the region’s local dialect that refers to a man who has a long moustache.

Regardless of the name, the mosque didn’t meet its goal as the residents of Chefchaouen decided to boycott it. Apart from a few calls to prayer, the mosque was never attended by locals. They perceived it as impure, so now it sits abandoned. 

The Spanish Mosque ©Flickriver

References:

Barbour, N. and Swearingen, W.D. (2019). Morocco | History, Map, Flag, Capital, & Facts. In: Encyclopædia Britannica. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/place/Morocco.

Marrakech (2020). Moroccan Architecture. [online] Planet Marrakech. Available at: https://planetmarrakech.com/moroccan-architecture/.

Shamsian, J. (n.d.). Step inside the Moroccan city that’s painted entirely blue. [online] Insider. Available at: https://www.insider.com/chefchaouen-in-morocco-is-painted-blue-2016-8.

Schrader, R. (2022). Is the Blue City in Morocco Worth Visiting? [online] Leave Your Daily Hell. Available at: https://leaveyourdailyhell.com/2022/05/17/morocco-blue-city/‌

Benchemsi, D. (2020). The Kasbah Museum in Chefchaouen (Ethnographic Museum). [online] THINK MOROCCO. Available at: https://thinkmorocco.com/kasbah-museum-in-chefchaouen/

www.moroccoembassybangkok.org. (n.d.). Moroccan Embassy in Bangkok–Embassy. [online] Available at: http://www.moroccoembassybangkok.org/architecture.html#:~:text=Andalusian%20architecture%20is%20more%20commonly

www.frommers.com. (n.d.). Spanish Mosque in Chefchaouen – Attraction | Frommer’s. [online] Available at: https://www.frommers.com/destinations/chefchaouen/attractions/spanish-mosque

www.historians.org. (n.d.). Sephardic Jews and Their History | AHA. [online] Available at: https://www.historians.org/teaching-and-learning/teaching-resources-for-historians/teaching-and-learning-in-the-digital-age/linking-family-history-and-world-history/Sephardic-Jews-and-their-history#:~:text=Sephardic%20Jews%20are%20Spanish%20Jews.*

www.inspirock.com. (n.d.). Visit Kasbah Museum on your trip to Chefchaouen or Morocco • Inspirock. [online] Available at: https://www.inspirock.com/morocco/chefchaouen/kasbah-museum-a866564867

Ghansiyal, A. (2019). 7 Things To Do In The Blue City of Morocco: Chefchaouen. [online] Travel.Earth. Available at: https://travel.earth/the-blue-city-of-morocco-chefchaouen/

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