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Nestled high in the gray Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen, known as the "Blue City," is built on a hillside, and is a world apart from its larger, Spanish-style neighbors. The pace of life here seems somehow in tune with the abundant natural springs, wildflowers, and low-lying clouds in the surrounding mountainsides. From Rifi Berbers dressed in earth-tone wool djellabas (long, hooded
robes) and sweaters (ideal for cold, wet Rif winters) to the signature blue-washed houses lining its narrow streets, Chefchaouen has managed to maintain its singular identity.
Founded in 1471 by Moulay Ali ben Rachid as a mountain base camp for launching attacks against the Portuguese at Ceuta, Chefchaouen, historically off-limits to Christians, had been visited by only three Europeans when Spanish troops arrived in 1920. Vicomte Charles de Foucauld—French military officer, explorer, and missionary—managed to make it inside the walls disguised as a rabbi in 1883. In 1889 British journalist Walter Harris, intrigued by the thought of a city closed to Westerners a mere 97 km (60 mi) from Tangier, used a similar strategy to gain access to Chefchaouen while researching his book Land of an African Sultan. The third visitor, American William Summers, less lucky, was caught and poisoned in 1892.