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Morocco Chapter 2: Chefchaouen, the blue oasis

Still on Day 1 of our trip, after a 6hr bus ride we spent a short overnight pit stop at Tetouan (in the north of Morocco). However, due to delays at the airport and delays from wrangling 30+ tired, hungry, and overstimulated design students and lecturers, we didn't see any of the city before the sun set. So, I can't tell you much about Tetouan other than an average hotel. (Although I did manage to find the bar and the red wine was decent).


The next morning we set off to Chefchaouen.


Chefchaouen - the blue city


Blue is nowhere near my list of favourite colours. But this city of blue had me falling in love at first sight. I had not imagined the impact that so many different shades of blue would have. The monochrome colour scheme emphasises the structures and textures of the walls and highlights each individual element. The occasional bright orange, yellow or pink can be spotted throughout the city, for that vibrant visual contrast.

The city is sprawled out over the base of the Rif mountains like a tranquil oasis, preserved by hundreds of years of tradition. It is a maze of alleyways and stairs criss-crossing the city in no discernible pattern; so wear your walking shoes! (Yes, this is high hypocrisy coming from the woman who once wore platform heels up & down Park Guëll and the tower steps in the Sangrada Familia in Barcelona, but that's a story for another time). The blue paint is reapplied each year. You might hear two different tales about why the paint is used; either to ward off mosquitos, or for protection. This reminded me of what I saw on the island of Santorini, in Greece.

As we walked through the alleyways, we are greeted with shouts of 'hola' from the children sitting on balconies overhead, showing just how much this area is influenced by the Spanish, including those who were forced to flee here during the Spanish Inquisition. Indeed, certain plazas, and restaurants with large, open balconies under archways could have been taken straight out of southern Spain, or other parts of the Mediterranean. As we navigate the maze of streets, we passed colourful stray cats sprawled in the sunshine, children playing in the squares and fountains, and street vendors selling everything from freshly squeezed orange juice, to chalk paint, and locally made crafts.


Doorways are one of the key elements of Moroccan architecture I became obsessed with. The intricacy and elaborateness of doorways in Morocco is a symbol of wealth. There were countless fascinating doorways along our journey, many of them found in Chefchaouen. Even the simplest / smallest doorway held interesting details.


Stairs criss-crossed the city like a maze, framing streets and doorways and alleys to lead you on a journey into the mysterious unknown.


Some of the arches here are visibly different from the horseshoe arches in Hassan II and other traditional Muslim buildings. These are wide and open, with large balconies. Giving this square a relaxed Mediterranean feel.


The painting and re-painting of the walls over the years leaves layers upon layers of brush strokes over the walls. This unique paint effect is captivating makes for a great feature wall – creating interest and drama using only 1 colour.


Last but not least, we had a simple Moroccan lunch at a little rooftop restaurant overlooking the Kasbah, at Chez Aladdin. A slightly kitsch name but the food was good, humble Moroccan cuisine, and perfect for our first real taste of the culture. The mint tea was sweet and refreshing against the warm earthy spices of the preserved lemon & olive chicken tagine I had. I am not a great lover of mint, but I learned to savour the local drink over the course of the trip (though I prefer it not too sweet). The chicken tagine was exactly what you'd expect, juicy and falling apart in your mouth. The salty tangy mouth puckering flavour was simple but delicious - and easy to replicate at home as it features only a few ingredients.


Combined with the panoramic views from the roof and the terrace setting with wrought iron detailing, I felt like it was a page straight from an Aladdin storybook.


Until next time...

À bientôt!

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All photographs and sketches © 2020 Sue Chen


References:

Starkey, N., Wake, M. (2020) Uncovering Morocco: Materials and Finishes. Kingswood Print. Brisbane.

Lonely Plant (2020) Chefchaouen. [online] available from: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/morocco/the-mediterranean-coast-and-the-rif/chefchaouen

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