top of page

Travel: Tetouan & Chefchaouen , Morocco 4/8/2023

Updated: May 14, 2023

Continuation of a trip which started:

4/5 - Seder Pesach in Tangier -(part 1)

4/6-9 - Tangier City - (part 2)

Mustafa - the alleged " English speaking" Taxi driver, whom El Minzah Hotel - at which we stayed in Tangier, recommended, refused to discuss beforehand, the fee for the

pre-planned excursion, out of Tangier of the following day,

Mustafa - Taxi Driver- +212 623 2 569 30

When we were picked up from the hotel this morning and after the drive had already started, Mustafa demanded an unreasonable fee ,for the day's drive, which we totally disagree with, based on some prior asking around.

Dismayed, were ready to abort the entire drive idea, when some negotiation on the fair fee began. After some Moroccan style back and force.. the matter got settled. with very clear expectations .. and the ride of the day continued.

So one needs to be prepared for this surprises and unreliablities when traveling in Morocco, dealing with Taxi drivers.

There are usually 3 main destinations for a day trip excursion from Tangier:

To East side 2.5 hours drive each way



To West side , one our drive each way


We chose to visit 2 out of the 3

while driving through the Rif Mountains

Rif Mountains

4 Mountains ranges occupy more than two thirds of Morocco's territory,

mountain ranges: The High Atlas, the Middle Atlas, the Anti Atlas and the Rif.

The Al-Rif, mountain range of northern Morocco, extends from Tangier to the Moulouya River valley near the Moroccan-Algerian frontier, nearly 500 km

The highest point of the Rif is 2456 m. For the greater part of its 180-mile (290-km) length, the range hugs the Mediterranean Sea, leaving only a few narrow coastal valleys suitable for agriculture or urban settlement.

Since Moroccan independence in 1956, communications across the Rif have been improved with a summit road and the Route de l’Unité (from Fès to Kétama).

The area is the Homeland to the indigenous people of the Rifians people. that has been inhabited by Berbers since prehistoric times.

This mountainous most verdant and fertile area, receives more rainfall than any other region in Morocco and ofers an amazing pastoral scenery

The varied vegetation includes: fir trees, cedars, wild olive trees, cork oaks or oaks. Rif

Farmers in the Rif produce most of Morocco's supply of cannabis. The region is economically underdeveloped.

The Scenery on the way to Chefchaouen

Reservoir in Zinat

Chefchaouen - the Blue City

Chefchaouen or the “blue pearl” is noted for its buildings in shades of blue, on the foothills of the Kaʻala mountain in the western part of the Rif mountain range, is a must .

This small mountainside traditional town is a haven of peace.

Strolling through the narrow winding gorgeous blue alleyways of its typical and quiet medina, reveals the blue-washed buildings, curved brick archways that strengthen the houses , small hotels or guest houses, tiny charming squares with coffee places, skillful hand craftsmanship focusing on leather, iron, textiles, and carpentry; sold in small shops/ stands, and unique culture.

In addition to the flocking tourists,

that ignite the economy, traditional agro-pastoral system with olive and fig plantations; and numerous water mills for grinding grain and olives, are in view at the forested surroundings

The town was founded on the rugged slopes of the Chefchaouen Mountains, as a military outpost.

The small kasbah jihadist fortress was built in 1471, when a fierce war against Portuguese armies took place.

Built by Ali ibn Rashid al-Alami, (a descendant of Abd al-Salam ibn Mashish al-Alami and Idris I.) shortly before the Spanish Reconquista of Granada, it served in line of defense against Portuguese invasions of northern Morocco.

The kasbah which was constructed in the middle of the medina- old quarter in the Andalusian style, with its lush gardens also.includes the emir's residence, a small mosque for the emir, a prison, a garden, a horse stable, sheds for the animals, and dozens of towers

The town's population grew quickly with many Muslim Moors, Moriscos and Spanish and Portuguese Jews immigrants fleeing from Spain, who settled here during and after the Reconquista of Spain

Chefchaouen was home to Andalusian families , including several well-known poets and philosophers, between 1492 and 1609, when the last Moriscos were expelled from Andalusia by King Felipe III. building their own residential quarters surrounded by walls, in the Andalusian architectural style, very similar to the Arab quarters of Granada.

The traditional houses with red-tile roofs were made of stone, brick, tile, wood, soil, and lime.with open yard in the center surrounded by corridors and bedrooms, and the yards often decorated with fruit trees such as oranges, lemons, berries, and grapes, as well as some perfumed shrubs including night-blooming Jessamine.

The urban expansion included military fortifications such as walls and about ten gates and the construction of several mosques including the Grand Mosque

In a few decades, the fortress of Chefchaouen turned into a prosperous new city, in which the Andalusi-Granadan culture merged with the local mountain inhabitants - Jbala tribes culture. Many Chefchaouen families have conserved the art of Andalusian music, which has become the main ritual of Chefchaouen religious festivals and social ceremonies.

The Jews of Chefchaouen

Numerous Jewish families thrived in this picturesque blue town for centuries as the town became a thriving merchant route, and the Jews of Chefchaouen prospered. until Morocco gained independence and most Jews left for Israel in 1968

In 1918 there were 22 Jewish families or 200 people out of a total population of 7000. Today,Chefchaouen's population is 50,000 inhabitants, and no Jews

A sign reading El Mellah el Yadid, at the Jewish quarter,

The blue buildings, the sources claim are a remnant of a Jewish religious tradition of weaving prayer shawls with tekhelel (an ancient natural blue dye) to remind people of the presence of God. In Chefchaouen, this practice was translated into painting the buildings blue for the same purpose.

Why Blue??

The city of steep steps and narrow winding streets is rinsed in blue, from its stucco walls to its weathered wooden doors.

Although the town was built in the 15th c, in reality it wasn't until the the 1900s that it was painted in blue. The other few explanations includes:

The color blue represents the sky, reminding the religious of heaven, God.and water

Others more practical say it serves as a mosquito repellent, or to keep cool,

And the commercial oriented are convinced that the blue look nice,and definitely attracts tourists, which is great for business,

Spending 2 hours on a very hot day, surrounded by Blue and among a sea of visiting tourists, walking up and down the steep crowded medina, turned us puffy and Red.

Departing Chefchaouen

Glad to be back to the AC of the car, we headed back,, but not before making another stop at the other mountainous impressive town of Tetouan .

The Hispano-Moorish foot marked, town is surrounded by a belt of orchards that grow oranges, almonds, pomegranates, and cypress trees

Tetouan - The White City

Renowned as a multicultural center, the historic medina of Tétouan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. and also the town has been part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network in the area of Crafts and Folk Art since 2017

Situated at the foot of the Rif Mountains, along the Martil Valley the "white town" of over 2000 years old, with about about 400,000 inhabitants, is one of the 2 major ports of Morocco on the Mediterranean Sea, a few miles south of the Strait of Gibraltar, and about 60 km. of Tangier. The town's main economy is based mainly on tourism and commerce. The coastal area is a major tourist destination during the summer period.

The city was built in the 9th c around many water springs on Mount Dersa, near a river, the Martin.,near Tamuda, a former Roman settlement, Tetuan was inhabited primarily by Mediterranean pirates. attacked and completely destroyed by the Portuguese by 1400,

it remained deserted for almost a century.

Spanish influence which dates from 1912–56, is reflected in the white buildings and broad boulevards of the Spanish part of the city,

The streets are fairly wide and straight, and many of the gorgeous white houses belonging to aristocratic families, descendants of those expelled from Al-Andalus possess marble fountains and have groves planted with orange trees.

Within the houses and riads the ceilings are often exquisitely carved and painted in Hispano-Moresque designs, and the tile-work for which Tétouan is known may be seen on floors, pillars, and dados. The city has 7 gates which were closed at night up until the early 20th c. Many SufiZawiyas are scattered inside the walled old city.

Traditional craftsmanship is concentrated in the old medina where every specialty has its own quarter among them are Zellige (tilework), pottery, plaster engravings, embroidery, inlaying with silver wire, the manufacture of thick-soled yellow slippers, much-esteemed flintlocks, and artistic towels used as capes and skirts by Jebala women in rural areas.

The first settlements date back to the 3rd ,BC a few miles outside of the modern city limits, belonged to MauretanianBerbers . Later, in the 4th BC Phoenicians traded there and after them the site—known now as the ancient town of Tamuda—became a Roman colony under Emperor Augustus

The Berber Marinids started building a casbah and mosque in what is now the old city in the 13th C and the settlement expanded by sultan Abu Thabit Amir, who fortified the place. which, the Castilians destroyed in retaliation for piracy in the 15th C

Pirates Heaven

Tétouan became one of the main centers of piracy in the region whenn.Corsairs considered it as a form of retaliation against the Spanish Reconquista that led to the loss of their homes back in al-Andalus,

The harbor served as a port from where piracy missions were launched, captives were taken to dungeons. were underground prison complexes with a series of connected caves called Mazmorras, were excavated .

The captives were sold to the slavery market if ransoms were not paid.subterranean

These installations were rediscovered in the early 20th century.

The Spanish author -Miguel De Cervantes, himself a captive in Algiers, Algeria between 1575 and 1580, refers to Mazmorras in El juez de los divorcios (The Divorce Judge), where the protagonist compares his marriage to "captivity in Tetouan's caves."[

He also mentions it in Don Quixote, in addition to talking about Tétouan in El trato de Argel, La gran sultana and La ilustre fregona.

It is believed that he had contact with some prisoners who told him about the hardness of the dungeons of Tétouan.[

Diplomat and explorer Leo Africanus, while visiting the city, mentions in his book Description of Africa that there were 3,000 captives, but some historians dispute that figure.

Around the late 15th c. It was re-built and fortified by Ali al-Mandri, who emigrated from the Nasrid city of Granada, along with thousands of Muslims and Jews from Andalusia, who arrived following the 1492 Spanish expulsion and who settled in the north of Morocco and on the ruins of the city of Tétouan.

The city went through a prosperous period of reconstruction and growth and became a center for the reception of Andalusian civilization., linked to Granada.

It is nicknamed "Granada's Daughter" as well as nicknamed "Pequeña Jerusalén" (Little Jerusalem) by Sephardi Jews.

The vast majority of the population are Muslims and small Christian and Jewish communities also existed though declined sharply when most moved to Israel

In the 17th C, the city was governed by the wealthy al-Naksis family. and at the end of the century, the city was taken by the Alaouite sultan Moulay Ismail, who encountered fierce resistance.

Later it was taken by Ahmad al-Riffi, the Alaouite governor of Tangier and leader of the Berber army. who ushered in a period of stability building many of the city's landmarks such as the Meshwar palace and the Pasha mosque, the oldest standing mosque in Tétouan

located on Hassan II Square, a historic urban space also traditionally known as the Feddan, in the Medina of Tétouan. The compound's oldest building was constructed around 1740 as the local Government Palace (Dar al-Emrat)

The palace was the former main seat of political authority of the Spanish protectorate in Morocco from 1913 to 1956 which encloses both the former governor's palace and the former Spanish consulate, which in the protectorate era respectively housed the Khalifa or personal representative of the Sultan of Morocco on the compound's northwestern side, and the Spanish High Commissioner on its southeastern side.

The complex was repurposed as a Royal palace following Morocco's independence in 1956 and its proclamation as a kingdom on 14 August 1957.

In In 1988it was refurbished under King Hassan II by designer André Paccard ,

The Feddan was remodeled and a wall and monumental gate were erected, thus isolating the former High Commissioner's residence from public view.

The palace is not open to the public.

Tétouan received a number of Algerian immigrants following the French invasion of Algiers in 1830. who according to Bouhlila, they introduced baklava, coffee, and the warqa pastry now used in pastilla

In 1844, Morocco lost a war against the French and in 1856, it signed the Anglo-Moroccan treaties of Friendship with the British and in 1859 Spain declared war on Morocco

In 1913, Tétouan became the capital of the Spanish protectorate of Morocco, remainning the capital until 1956, when Morocco regained its full independence.

Tétouan was one of the most active Moroccan cities in resisting colonialism

The Jews of Tetoun

Tétouan has been home to a significant Sephardi Jewish community which immigrated from Spain after the Reconquista and the Spanish Inquisition. This Jewish Sephardi community spoke a form of Judaeo-Spanish known as Haketia.

According to the World Jewish Congress there were 16 Synagogues and only 100 Moroccan Jews remaining in Tétouan by 2015.

In 1790, a pogrom occurred, started by Sultan Yazid. The mellah, where the Jews lived, was pillaged and many women raped

At this point there was an emigration of Tetouani Jews to Gibraltar, where the large Jewish population maintains links with the community in Tetouan.

In 1807, Sultan Slimane relocated the mellah south of the medina to build a large mosque at its previous location inside the medina.

The Mellah of Tetuan was sacked in the Hispano-Moroccan War of 1860, when there were 16 synagogues. This was followed by appeals in the European Jewish press to support Jewish communities like the one in Tetuan, leading to an international effort called "The Morocco Relief Fund."

The Paris-based international Jewish school Alliance Israélite Universelle, along with Rabbi Isaac Ben Walid of Tetuan, then opened in 1862. its first school in Morocco

in Tetuan

Of the 16 synagogues which once were found in the Mellah (the Jewish neighborhood), only one synagogue remains, and named after the spiritual leader - Rabbi Isaac Ben Walid (1777–1870)

Nowadays, the Mellah’s inhabitants are mostly poor peasants

The cemetery, which is located on Monte Dersa, is more than 500 years old, with approximately 35,000 tombstones, making it the largest Jewish cemetery in Morocco. The major saint is Isaac Ben Walid

Following the exodus of Jews from Morocco after 1948, there were very few Jews left in Tétouan.[By 1967, only 12 remained (López Álvarez, 2003). During that period, many emigrated to South America and much later to Israel, Spain, France, and Canada.

Today, the only synagogue remaining is the Rabbi Isaac Bengualid Synagogue, which serves as a museum.

Back to Tangier

A huge traffic jam clogged the road on the way back ,as we were getting closer to Tangier. Many drivers, irritated from the Ramadan long fasting day, were in a hurry to get back home by sun down for the Ramadan meal.

Sitting in the car for 2.5 hours in one direction and 3,5 hours back, even if being driven, curbed our enthusiasm, for any other excursions outside of Tangier. However visiting these 2 unique towns was definitely worth the long drive.

To be Continued ..,,


bottom of page