Tangier, between Mediterranean and Atlantic
Tangier, mythical and cosmopolitan, its old medina and hotels have seen the biggest cities march by. Stars of all kinds, musicians, artists, photographers, writers, poets, all fell under the spell of its lights, have participated in the legend of this unique city in which, according to the encounters, one speaks fluently Moroccan Arabic, Rifan Berber, Spanish or French.
Paul Bowles and the Beat Generation, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Kerouac to name but a few, have given this city a reputation that gives us the opportunity to bathe in the Atlantic and Mediterranean on the same day.
The construction of Tangier Med Port, Africa’s largest port, has somewhat changed the configuration of a central part of the city, particularly at the foot of the medina, on the edge of the old port and seafront promenade. Second economic and industrial center, the surroundings of the third Moroccan city in number of inhabitants are only a vast speculative building site.
East of the port the municipal beach and Malabata Beach offer swimming along the long Avenue Mohammed VI.
Every year, Tangier hosts major international festivals: the International Tangier Book Fair in April or May, the Tanjazz jazz festival held there in September or the Nuits de la Méditerranée, a festival devoted to world music taking place in July.
Small and Big Socco: The Medina of Tangier
Thirteen gates, mostly of Portuguese origin, protect the medina. It is through the Grand Socco that we enter this maze of narrow lanes lined with white houses whose terraces, some of which give a sensational view of the bay of Tangier.
The city’s nerve centre, this vast square is also called the Square of April 9,1947 for the speech on independence that Sultan Mohammed Ben Youssef gave there that day. Just behind you can see the minaret with the beautiful multicoloured earthenware of the mosque Sidi Bou Abib.
On Thursdays and Sundays there is a large market frequented by many Rifaines who dressed in the traditional striped bullfighting and wearing straw hats with woolen pompons sell their products.
In these alleys going up and down, you can find many craft shops, jewellery stores, herbalists, kissariyas and still stumbling on these old walls from where you can sometimes see the ocean or the sea.
Starting from the Grand Socco, Es-Siaghin street, the jewellers’ street has quickly taken your steps to the small Socco, a colourful and always animated square. Central crossroads of the alleys around which the city was formed and extended, there are many cheap cafés and lodgings. Nearby, Rue de la Marine, is the minaret of the Great Mosque of Tangier built by Moulay Ismaïl at the end of the XVIIth century.
This is the ancient fortress built by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Reconverted into an archaeological museum, the Alawite Sultan Moulay Ismaïl had the Dar el Makhzen palace built there in the 17th century from the beginning of the British in the city. Overlooking the medina, you can reach it through the steep alleys that start from the Little Socco to Kasbah Square.
These are ancient bastions whose cannons, some of which have always been towards the sea, are the source of most of the invasions that the city has suffered. From Dar el Baroud Street, on the Bd Mohammed VI, you will discover a magnificent view of the city and the bay.
The port of Tangier city
The historic port of Tangier now receives only a few ferries from Tarifa in Spain. A marina and marina with 1600 rings, shopping malls, restaurants and a cable car linking the kasbah to the port are being built.
The old fishing port with its colourful animation and fleet of trawlers and the cry of its seagulls is now located in a basin a little further west, rearranged and enlarged to better furnish the Tangier tables and small gargotes of the seafront with its fish and seafood.
The numerous ferries connecting mainly with Spain, now depart from the port of Tangier Med, nearly 60 km from the city centre. Bus and taxi connections.
The mythical and emblematic theatre of Tangier, the Gran Teatro, was built and created in 1911 by a couple of Spanish immigrants and bought by the Spanish state in 1929. Retroceded to Morocco, which has restoration at charge.
The theatre is a good example of the cultural splendour of Tangier at the beginning of the 20th century. With 1400 seats, it was the first theatre to be created in Morocco, even if the aim of its creation was above all to make Tangier more Spanish, which welcomed more and more immigrants from the peninsula.
The work of the Spanish-Tangian architect Diego Jimenez, the theatre, in a state of progressive decay since the sixties, closed its doors in 1974.
Access: located on rue Anoual, near Avenue Mohammed VI, and closed, the theatre is unfortunately not open to the public.
The Kasbah Museum. Dar el Makhzen
Called Dar el Makhzen or Sultan’s Palace, this archaeological museum is housed in the eastern part of the Kasbah of Tangier.
According to the legends, the site would have been occupied by the Carthaginians and the Romans, who would have built a temple dedicated to Hercules.
Tour in turn, the places were the residence of the Portuguese governors in the fifteenth century then English until the end of the seventeenth century. As evidenced by a carved inscription in the zellige wall covering of the building, the palace itself was founded by Ahmed Ben Ali once the English occupier was expelled from it in 1737.
The building serving as the Pacha’s siege, courthouse and then treasury will become the symbol of Cherifian power. After undergoing modifications, construction of the large garden gate, Riad es-Soultan, under Moulay Hassan 1st in the late 19th century, the kasbah palace will be converted into a museum in 1922.
The visit of this museum-building begins with the treasury, Bit el Mal, which keeps an iron safe with an ingenious closing system that required the presence of two people to open it.
A projection offers an overview of the main sites that provided the objects exhibited in the old palace. These relics of the past cover a period from prehistory to the 20th century. There are silver jewellery of Phoenician origin, others in ivory, ceramics and terracotta figurines, amulets, Roman glassware. Some of the painted ceramics and figurines come from the Kouass site, which dates back to the fourth century BC.
Access: Kasbah Square in the northwestern part of the medina.
Open: every day except Tuesday from 9 am to 4 pm. Closed on Fridays during the hour of prayer (11:30 am. – 1:30 pm.). Enter: 1€.
It was created in 2007 on the initiative of the French producer Cyriac Auriol, the Tangier photographer Yto Barrada and the Moroccan producer Latif Lahlou in the premises of the former Cinema Rif.
Its vocation is to offer the public programming focused on the diversity and quality of cinematographic works outside the channels of commercial films while promoting Moroccan cinema. Two projection rooms and a library make up the premises.
Access: Rif Cinema. Rue de la Liberté. Place du 9 avril 1947.
The United States Legation
Created in Tangier in 1821, it is the oldest of the permanent American legations established abroad in the world. In 1956, the legation will house the American Consulate and an Arabic language training school for American diplomats until 1962.
The building was transformed into a museum in 1977. The interior presents a European decoration and furniture from the beginning of the XIXth century, in sharp contrast to the medina in which the museum is integrated.
It is the European Tangier of the 19th century, orientalist paintings, a letter from George Washington to the Sultan of Morocco in 1789 to send him the recognition of his country have places of choice. For the anecdote, Morocco was the first country to recognize the young United States as early as 1777.
There can be a beautiful exhibition of Provençal mirrors, some of which were meant to end up in harems of the Maghreb.
The museum library, once a brothel, is open only on Saturdays from 3 p. m. to 6 p. m. and on Sundays from 10 am to 1 pm.
Access: 8, Rue d’ Amérique, near the Grand Socco by the Rue du Portugal.
Open: Monday to Friday from 10 am. to 1 pm (12 pm on Friday) and then from 3 p m to 5 pm from 10 am to 3 pm during the month of Ramadan. Admission free of charge.
This room offers a beautiful and complete collection of old photos of events, general views, personalities or buildings that participated in the evolution of Tangier.
Access: 44, Rue Touahine.
Openings: every day except Saturdays from 11 am to 1 pm and 3:30 pm to 7:30 pm. Admission free of charge.
St Andrews Church
Built at the end of the 19th century in the Arabo-Andalusian style, with the English flag and St. George’s Cross floating on its bell tower, it would be the only Anglican church installed in Morocco.
Access: Rue d’Angleterre.
Opening: every day from 9:30 am. to 12:30 pm. and then from 2:30 pm. to 6 pm.
30 km east of Tangier towards Ceuta, we reach Cap Malabata by a road lined with pine forests and small coves often deserted. These beautiful landscapes are sometimes crossed by shepherds grazing their herds at the edge of cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean.
These caves would be those of the Hesperides Gardens? the place where Hercules rested after carrying out his 11th task: killing the dragon to capture the golden apples.
Very popular with Moroccans, the place, sublime to contemplate the sunset, is crowded with tourist displays. The caves contained some prehistoric remains and the hard limestone of their walls was used for the manufacture of grindstones.
Access: The caves are located on the Atlantic between Achakkar and Sidi Kacem beaches. Exit Tangier via Avenue Moulay Rachid (direction Tanger-Ibn Battuta airport) then take the Route des Grottes d’ Hercules on the right after the Ibn Battuta stadium. The caves are on the left side of the car park.
Open daily from 7am to 8pm. Enter: 0.50€.
It is there that the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean. Situated 14 km west of Tangier, the lighthouse’s surroundings offer a splendid view of the turquoise waters and the long Achakkar beach stretching to the south.
The road that crosses the Cape Cape Nature Reserve to reach it offers beautiful landscapes. At the foot of the lighthouse, dangerous currents do not lead to swimming.
Access: use the P-4601 road from Avenue Banafsaj to the west of Marshan.
Asilah has become a thriving little seaside resort, as the wrought-iron windows of the white houses in its medina remind us, until the independence of Morocco. Located on the Atlantic Ocean 45 km south of Tangier, the city is protected by beautiful ramparts erected by the Portuguese in the 15th century.
In the narrow streets of the medina, Castilian was adopted as a second language. We enter through Bab Homar, named puerta de Terra by the Spaniards, whose tourists are the majority.
The gate of the sea, Bab el Bahar, leads to the ramparts where the tower el Kamra, the tower of Asilah, gives a beautiful example of 15th century Portuguese military architecture. Near the tower a bastion offers a panoramic view of the ocean and the fishing boats at anchor in the harbour.
Access: several daily bus or train connections with Larache (40 km) and Tangier (50 km) and of course large collective taxis. The N1 and A1 highways connect these three cities.
The Raissouni Palace
It is the palace that was built by a brigand who had conquered the city at the beginning of the 20th century. A mythical figure of the city, he owes his fame to the kidnapping of the U. S. consul and a Times journalist, who was released for a £14,000 ransom.
He will become governor of the city once the inhabitants of Asilah ask him to rid them of the local pasha. He will be hunted by the Spaniards after the Second World War.
The palace hosts an annual music festival in August and has a cultural centre.
Access: near the ramparts in the northern center of the medina.
M’ zoura Cromlech
About 15 km southeast of Asilah, the M’ zoura cromlech presents a unique site in the Maghreb: a vast group of 176 menhirs surrounding a tumulus containing a Neolithic tomb (3 to 4000 years BC).
Access: join the A1 at the junction where the station Afriquia is, direction Ouled Abbou then road to M’ zoura. Free inlet.
Larache and the archaeological site of Lixus
Larache is a large village on the south bank of the Loukkos estuary, close to 100 km south-west of Tangier.
The medina, surrounded by thick walls and overhanging the harbour, offers, far from mass tourism, narrow and steep alleys going down to the ocean. Like the souk S’ ghir located at the entrance, its squares are noisy and colourful, animated until late in the evening.
Place de la Libération, the main square of the city, is a meeting place for the youth of the city, which can be found on one of the many terraces of cafés housed at the bottom of buildings with Hispano-Moorish facades.
In the north of the medina, overlooking the surroundings, the castle of the Stork is an ancient Spanish fortress whose it is dangerous to venture into the ruins. On the other hand, the panorama of the estuary and ocean is worth the trip.
The Ras R’ mel beach is located north of the estuary. Unfortunately not always very clean and well maintained. You can reach it by boat from the fish market or by car or by bus in summer. Numerous cafés restaurants.
The archaeological site of Lixus
Located 5 km north of Larache on the N1 road leading to Tangier, the ancient city of Lixus was founded by the Phoenicians in the 7th century BC and annexed by the Romans in 40 AD.
Equipped with several temples, some remains of many basins suggest that Lixus was an important fish salting centre. The remains of an amphitheatre, workshops and terms, including a mosaic dedicated to Neptune, are also on display at the Tetouan Archaeological Museum.
The most important tourist sites of the region, it is at sunset that the colors on the salt marshes, wadi Loukkos and ocean are the most splendid.
Access: with buses no. 4,5 and 7 which leave in front of the castle of the Stork or by the N1 national road in the direction of Tangier.
Tangier in History
Even if the mythical presences of Atlas and Hercules are recorded, it is the Phoenicians who first arrived nine centuries BC on the site of the present-day Tangier, well before the Carthaginians founded a counter there, Tingi, in the 4th century BC, before the Carthaginians founded a counter there.
Included in the kingdom of Maurétanie at the fall of Carthage, 146 BC, Tangier became, under the name of Tingis, capital of the Roman province of Maurétanie Tingitane around the 1st century AD. Strongly Christianized for several centuries, it was invested by the Byzantines in the 6th century and did not become Muslim until 706 after its conquest by Moussa Ibn Nossair.
During the XVth century, it underwent several Portuguese assaults before they seized it in 1471. Tangier would then go through the game of royal marriages under British control until Sultan Moulay Ismaïl conquered it in 1684.
In the XVIIIth century Tangier became the diplomatic capital of the Cherifian kingdom and the headquarters of the foreign representations accredited to the Sultan.
The rivalries between French, Spanish, British and Germans will be lively to have the preponderance on this African city controlling access to the Mediterranean. Tangier thus became an international free zone in 1923 while recognizing the independence of the sultan.
Its final status will be adopted and signed in 1925 by several European countries, plus the United States and the Soviet Union.
It will be administered by 17 European officials appointed by their respective consuls and nine Moroccans, six Muslims and three Jews.
This period will be the period of Tangier’s great international influence, both in the economic and cultural fields.
Morocco will recover definitively and fully Tangier that at the independence of the country in 1956.