For today’s Moroccan adventure we went North from Chefchaouen to Tetouan (that’s Tetouan, not Tatooine as Shane thought initially – he was most disappointed when he learnt the truth). Once the capital of Spanish Morocco, Tetouan is today a thriving university town with a very well preserved medieval medina (translation = old town). It was Tetouan’s walled old town that we went to see today.
Tetouan is one of Morocco’s 2 major ports on the Mediterranean Sea; it lies just a few kilometers South of the Strait of Gibraltar, in the far North of the Rif Mountains. To reach this sizeable town we had to drive along winding mountain roads, through cypress forests and past orange, almond and pomegranate orchards. The vistas as we travelled higher into the Rif Mountains were amazing, with rocky peaks, wide valleys and fast-flowing rivers all around us.
The main attraction in Tetouan is its medieval medina. Built in the late 15th century, the walled old town was constructed by Spanish Muslims and Jews expelled from Andalusia during the last years of the Reconquista*. No longer welcome on Christian Spanish soil, they moved here to Northern Morocco and built themselves a town atop the ruins of an old Phoenecian city. The medina they built is still there and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its Moroccan-Spanish architecture a unique feature.
*The Reconquista is the name given to the 780 year war between Christians and Muslims that saw the liberation of the Iberian Peninsula from the Islamic Moors (i.e. North Africans). The Reconquista lasted from the first Islamic invasion in 711AD to the fall of Granada (Andalusia), the last Islamic state on the peninsula, in 1492.
Like most medinas in Morocco, Tetouan’s old town is a maze of narrow laneways, made all the narrower by the market stalls set up along either side. Traditionally these market stalls provide locals with the opportunity to buy everything from fruit, veggies, meat, fish, chicken, eggs and fresh baked bread; to clothes, carpets, candles and cooking utensils. We had a great day weaving our way through the medina, watching the woodworkers and tailors at work and admiring the wares for sale. Our experience in the medina today was great – it was busy but people were so polite and friendly that we felt completely at ease. No one harrassed us to buy anything and the shop-keepers seemed happy to have us there just looking – it was lovely! So lovely we lingered for longer than we intended and even bought stuff! TAKE NOTE SHOP KEEPERS AND SALES MEN OF TURKEY & EGYPT!!
We learnt today that all medinas were required, under Islamic law, to contain 5 things to ensure its inhabitants could live happy, healthy lives:
- At least 1 mosque for communal prayers.
- A madrasa (translation = Koranic school for children).
- Fountains providing fresh water for drinking, washing and ablutions.
- A hammam (translation = public bath house).
- A bakery to ensure everyone could have fresh bread.
The medina of Tetouan definitely had all of these elements, and we got to see them all!
We went exploring through the mellah (translation = Jewish quarter) as well. Tetouan was once home to a large Jewish community which immigrated from Spain after the Reconquista, though there are just 7 Jews left in the town today (most of them immigrated to Israel last century). We met one of the last Jewish inhabitants of the city today – he introduced himself (via translations through our guide) and seemed genuinely happy to show us around the tiny tailor’s shop that his family has owned for centuries.
It was nice having a day to just wander the streets of Tetouan, to soak in some of the atmosphere and get a bit more of a feel for Morocco. After our day exploring we happily hopped back in the car with Tariq, our guide, and Yusef, our driver, and came back to Chefchaouen just in time for an awesome sunset and a great dinner of cous cous with grilled lamb and vegetables. Mmmmmm tasty, tasty lamb……