It’s a blue world in Chefchaouen, the small city of narrow, winding streets in the Riff mountains of northern Morocco. The blues here tell the story of the Jews who left Spain when in 1492 the monarchs, Isabel and Ferdinand, throwing off five hundred years of Muslim control, required Jews to leave or to convert to Christianity. Many Jews left behind their property at that time and migrated to Morocco, with many settling in Chefchaouen.
Though most of the Jews have left Chefchaouen now, immigrating to Israel and elsewhere after Morocco attained independence in 1956, the city is still blue. This is because the citizens have painted the walls various blue shades. Morocco can get very hot in the summer with temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius. The cool colors make the temperature feel cooler, and the blue color is thought by some to help keep mosquitos away. In Andalusia, in southern Spain, people painted their city walls, and the tradition was carried on when the Jews arrived in Morocco. Today, people come to visit Chefchaouen because its walls sing the blues in myriad tones. People come because Chefchaouen is beautiful.
What you want to do in Chefchaoen is wander the streets and discover its nooks where a fountain may flow out from a royal blue wall, or stand inside the blues that reflect off each other in narrow alleys, shining out from a street painted with moons and stars, blues that curl into quiet corners. The blues of Chefchaoen create a peaceful state. “Where are you from?” asks a man standing in the door where the community oven is located. We tell him, and he says, “Welcome to my country.” All over Morocco I’ve been asked this question, and always the reply is “Welcome to my country.”
It’s not just a saying. Morocco is a welcoming country. Just recently, Jews of New York City acknowledged Morocco’s extension of welcome and refuge to Jews during World War Two. Moroccan culture, like cultures in other Muslim countries I have visited, is generous spirited and open hearted. Always when visiting, and often when doing business, people offer you tea. I was taking a photo of my husband in a small street in Chefchaouen, and didn’t see a woman walking there, who stopped and waited while I took the photo. I was filled with delight at the beauty of the place. When I lifted my eye from the camera lens, I saw the woman and apologized. Her response was to smile. She reached out her hand, placed it on my heart, still smiling, and said a few words as she walked on, brushing gently by in her cream colored robe as she continued down the street. Though I hadn’t understood her words, I understood her intent, and felt I had been blessed.
Walking through the central plaza, I see a mother holding her baby close in her arms. Bent tenderly toward the child, over and over she speaks . An hour later, I stroll back through the same area, and she is still there, still cradling her small child in her arms. Wrapped snug in warm blankets and crooned to, this child is dearly loved, at peace. Islam means submission to God. The root of the word is the same as is used in the Arabic greeting, “Assalamualaikum,” meaning “Peace be with you.” Implied, is the idea that to submit to God is to submit to peace. There is lots of business in Chefchaouen, people selling their wares, vegetable markets, people hanging out their laundry. Old men in jellabiyas tap along the stony pavement with their canes, women hang out the laundry atop the roofs. Amidst the activity of daily life, prayer call drifts across the streets. The people of Chefchaoen, continue on in their beautiful town, practicing a way of peace.