The Spanish Mosque, Chefchaouen’s Best Scenic Point

The city of Chefchaouen as seen from the mosque’s lookout

photography by: Omri Westmark

Famous for its azure-colored buildings, Chefchaouen has a multi-faceted heritage that goes far beyond its striking appearance. During the Spanish colonial rule of the region, Morocco’s blue city was considered a coveted strategic stronghold. To appease the local population and gain their support, the Spaniards erected a mosque on the town’s hilly outskirts. While the mosque was never used for its initial purpose, in recent years it became a pilgrimage site for intrepid travelers, enticed by the place’s breathtaking vistas of the city and its surroundings.

There is no shred of doubt that walking along the blue streets of Chefchaouen is a mesmerizing experience. Nonetheless, this unusual city has a greater story to tell than merely its striking colorful oddity. Nestled atop a hill on Chefchaouen’s eastern outskirts, the Spanish Mosque as its name suggests, was built in the mid-1920’s by the Spaniards during their colonial rule across the region.

 

The Spanish protectorate spanned over much of Morocco’s northern tip for more than 4 decades, including the country’s blue city. As the military governor of Chefchaouen, Fernando Capaz, sought to pacify the local population amid growing tensions, he commissioned the construction of a mosque on a hilly terrain that overlooks the town.

 

Upon inauguration, the Andalusian-style Mosque was named “Bouzaafer”, a word in the region’s local dialect which refers to a man who has a long moustache. There are three competing theories into how this exceptional moniker came to be. Story has it that the Spanish governor, Capaz, had a hefty bundle of hair over his upper lip, and since the mosque was his brainchild, it was natural to confer him this honor. Others attribute the name to the local landlord or the engineer who oversaw the project, both of whom had a formidable moustache.

 

Regardless of its fuzzy nickname, the mosque didn’t meet its goal as the residents of Chefchaouen decided to boycott it. In fact, apart from a few calls to prayer, the mosque was never attended by locals, who perceived it as impure, while some even speculated that it is used as a mean to conduct espionage.

 

With no worshipers, the mosque was abandoned and soon fell into a state of disrepair that lasted long after the Spaniards left the region. It wasn’t until 2007, when the municipal authorities opted to renovate the crumbling edifice as part of their effort to attract tourists. While the hilltop mosque never lived up to its expectations, and probably never will, its scenic location boasts some stunning views of Chefchaouen, particularly during sunsets. To get here, exit town via the Bab El Onsar Gate and then follow the narrow hiking trail that ascends southeastwards. The newly paved pathway, which abounds with agave plants and pear cacti, culminates in a bridge and dozens of steps that ultimately lead to our protagonist.

The trailhead

photography by: Omri Westmark


The paved pathway that leads to the Spanish Mosque

photography by: Omri Westmark


The mosque and its surroundings, partly obscured by prickly pear cacti

photography by: Omri Westmark


In one point, the trail turns into a bridge over a small tributary

photography by: Omri Westmark


The brand-new staircase, serving as the final leg of the journey

photography by: Omri Westmark


The Spanish Mosque, aka “Bouzaafer"

photography by: Omri Westmark


The mosque is bestowed with spectacular views of Chefchaouen

photography by: Omri Westmark


The blue city, as viewed from the mosque’s nearby plateau

photography by: Omri Westmark