Kasbah of Chefchaouen
Last Updated: 2021-01-20
You know you’re getting old when, instead of imagining a life in a big city, full of exciting adventures, you start dreaming of an ideal retreat in some quiet place.
Personally, a little home away from the madding crowd where I can work in a vegetable garden isn’t how I see myself living out my days. I’d prefer a charming house in a certain place in northern Morocco with a peculiar color. I think you might already know which one I mean.
In honor of my retirement plans, today’s entry will deal with one of the most ancient sites in the blue city: the Kasbah of Chefchaouen. Let’s get started!
Kasbah are fortifications built in areas with a certain strategic interest, and can include a wide range of building types. On the one hand, kasbahs and ksars in the south such as Aït Ben Haddou, were built in the Berber tradition of adobe construction often for trade purposes. Where as, in the north, such as the Kasbah of the Udayas in Rabat, they were like solid fortresses of the Arab world, made to ward off possible military attacks. If you want to know more about the infinite and varied catalog of kasbahs, check out this article.
The Kasbah of Chefchaouen belongs to the same group as the Kasbah of the Udayas, and was built as a base to retaliate against the continuous attempts of the Portuguese in Ceuta to take over the north coast of the country.
Chefchaouen, hidden in the mountains with a nearby river, was an ideal place to resupply and launch counterattacks on the Portuguese.
Layout of the Kasbah (click to enlarge)
With this in mind, the defenders built a walled military enclosure, with living quarters for the emir, his family and his subjects, as well as barracks for the soldiers and cells for prisoners, a mosque and a wide empty space that would be the centerpiece for future development of the area (today known as Utta el Hamman square).
The city stood the test of time and became a popular place to settle for Muslims and Jews that had been persecuted and finally expelled from Andalucia in Southern Spain. For these refugees, Chefchaouen was ideal because it was self-sustaining thanks to the nearby water source and its well-hidden location in the foothills of the Atlas Range.
The city was able to grow in the protective shadow of the kasbah, which has undergone several transformations, from its start as a military bastion, to becoming an administrative center under the protectorate, to the culture site that it is today.
Inside the Kasbah
When you visit the Chefchaouen Kasbah, keep in mind that although there is an official schedule, there’s only one gentleman working at the gate. So, when he takes a break for a meal or for prayers, there might not be anyone at the gate to let you in. If this happens to you, just relax and take a tea in the square while you wait.
Although is small like Chefchaouen itself, like many of the larger kasbahs, the first thing that will surprise you once you go through the gate is the sensation that you’ve stepped into another world with a garden and pool in the center surrounded by towers and other elements flanking the wall.
I recommend checking out these areas first, enjoying a relaxing walk in the gardens and going up to enjoy the panoramic views from the watchtowers.
Then, visit the cells to the right of the entrance, where you can see the living conditions of the prisoners. It’s an image that I assure you will give you chills.
Then you could enter the old palace, today converted into an ethnographic museum with an interesting display of cultural and artistic objects―dresses, musical instruments and weapons―that paint a picture of the history of Chefchaouen and Northern Morocco.
Finally, as you leave the museum, on your left as you pass the pool, at the foot of one of the towers there is a gallery located on the ground floor that houses seasonal art exhibitions.
I hope this post has helped you to better understand the history of Chefchaouen and to enjoy your next visit. Much love to all and see you in the next post.
Coordinates: 35°16′N -5°26′W (see location)
Size: Approximately 1 acre (4000 m²)
Construction date: 1471
Hours: 9:30 AM – 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM – 6:30 PM
Entrance fee: 70 dirhams
Where to eat: Located at the hub of the city, the Plaza Uta El Hamman, there are multiple places nearby for all tastes and budgets. Check out our post about where to eat in Chefchaouen for more information.
If you want to know more about the city, check out our Chefchaouen tourism guide.