Chefchaouen was built in 1471 by Moulay el Ben Rashid ed Alami, a Moorish exile from Spain. It served as a refuge for Moriscos and Jews escaping the Spanish Inquisition and was also a stronghold against the Portuguese. Its Jewish population painted the town blue during the 1930’s, possibly to control mosquitos, though the actual reason seems open to speculation.
At the center of the town square is The Qasaba, built in 1471 by Moulay el Ben Rashid ed Alami in the Andalusian style, complete with crenelated walls and a watch tower with a prison in the bottom. The top of the watchtower affords the expected panoramic view of the countryside. I’m impressed with the finish work of both the carpentry and the brick flooring, and wonder if the top floor doubled as a residence. The prison cell in the base of the tower reminded me of Casanova’s cell in Venice – some things are universal.
Gardens and fountains – important features of Islamic buildings during this time period - separate this tower from anther building at the opposite end, that I think might be the original manor house for Moulay Ali Ben Musa. The manor house is built in the traditional riad style, three stories tall with rooms on each level opening out onto an open central courtyard. The fountain in the center of this courtyard is original but I suspect most of the interiors have been reconstructed. The building is unfurnished except for the lanterns.
It now houses the Qasaba Ethnographic Museum, displaying traditional Moroccan craft in a series of settees.
This replica workshop displayed the steps employed in plaster carving on a wall. The back wall shows the template that the workmen were copying onto another section of the wall. Tools and examples of the plaster carving were laid out on a table. A video in another section of the museum showed a woman demonstrating plaster carving. It’s a pretty fascinating process. I saw a great deal of this art form in historic buildings in Morocco and Moorish Spain (most notably the Alhambra). It was fun to see templates, both in static museum displays and in active use in furniture and ceramic shops that I would see later throughout Morocco.
A replica of a mosaic workshop showed clay that was glazed and baked in slabs, and then chiseled into 700+ different shapes for assembling into mosaics. Another replica shop showed the different types of clay used to make the slabs. I saw a small sampling of mosaic tiles at the Hassan Museum in Casablanca (part of the Hassan II Mosque complex) and would learn much more about this process when I visited the Art Tile factory in Fez.
A painter’s workshop included brushes, and jars of pigment. I saw these sacks of similar pigments on the sidewalk in front of some of the shops when I returned to the town square.
A final display showed the tools of the trade for a cabinet maker. This is another art form I would see in practice in person in a cabinetmaker’s shop in a souk, later on in this trip.
Upon reading more about this museum when I returned home, it became apparent that I missed several of the displays, so this is just a sampling of what is there. The museum is open every day from 9am to 1pm and from 3pm to 6:30pm. The entrance fee is 10 DH. It’s located in the town center known as the Plaza Uta el-Hammam.
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Heather Daveno hails from Seattle, Washington, where she works as an office manager by day and a self taught textile artisan by night. In her spare time she is a “hobby historian” and is currently researching the female side of her family history for a book she plans to write, titled: “The Matriarch Diaries.”
You can see her current textile projects at August Phoenix Mercantile and her travels at Daveno Travels.