Tangier, the Rebel

Also called the “city of the strait,” Tangier holds a special place in Moroccan history and imagination. Its history goes back to the 4th century B.C., when it was just a Carthaginian trading post. Much later, in the 8th century, it was the starting point for the conquest of Spain by the Umayyads of Damascus; it was a Berber lieutenant named Tarik Ibn Ziyad who commanded the invasion; the Rock of Gibraltar owes its name to him (Jebel Tarik).

Its strategic position has always been coveted by foreign powers, namely France, Spain, the United Kingdom and Germany. In 1923 Tangier became an international free zone until Morocco’s independence in 1956; it enjoyed freedom of exchange and trade until 1960, when it became a city like any other.

But Tangier’s history has been especially marked and no other city better symbolizes this openness to the world that is specific to the Kingdom, an openness in geographic terms, of course, but also an openness to the other nations: Americans, English, Spanish, French, Jews who came from Andalusia after the Reconquista made the city a haven of tolerance. It has always held a special place in the hearts of countless artists—painters Delacroix, Matisse, Marquet … and poets and writers (Paul Bowles, William Burroughs, Pierre Loti, Jean Genet and more recently Tahar Benjelloun).
To discover the city, there is nothing better than to walk around it, even if it means getting lost in the narrow streets of the medina. Under Spanish influence from 1912 to independence, the city has kept its typically Andalusian character. You can start with the Petit Socco (the small market), famous for its cafes, on the edge of the new town and the medina, before reaching the Grand Socco (Souk Bara) by Bab Fahs. Be sure not to miss the Cinema Rif, an historical monument that was on the verge of disappearing, before being saved by an association. Today the cinema is called Tangier Cinematheque. Another place not to be missed is the Kasbah of Tangier which dominates the city and offers a breathtaking view of the strait and the nearby Spanish coast. Do visit the Al Ghorfa Museum, which was once a palace the sultans used to dwell in when they came to Tangier.

The visit of the city can be completed by the Marchan, which houses the Royal Palace and the Guest Palace, but also the mythical Hafa café, which has remained unchanged for decades; young and old alike come to sit there and contemplate the ocean for hours on end, sipping a mint tea or coffee. You can end your visit with a drive to the west of the city on the Mountain, a chic district where one can only guess behind high walls large and beautiful villas, as well as some palaces, overlooking the Atlantic. Continuing on, you will reach Cape Spartel, a promontory with a beautiful lighthouse, a stone’s throw from the Caves of Hercules.

Tangier also has a foot set in modernity, symbolized by grandiose projects, such as the Tangier Med Port, which makes the region an exceptional industrial hub, irrigating Africa and Europe and competing with Algesiras; Mellousa, to the south-east of the city is home to the Renault-Nissan plant, the largest automobile factory in Africa, and which attracts its share of subcontractors and other service providers, creating tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs.

More recently, the Mohammed VI Tangier Tech City, the result of Moroccan-Chinese cooperation, is set to become an ultra-modern industrial city, with an initial 500-hectare area under development. Finally, to link the region with the rest of Morocco, a High-Speed train has been in operation since November 2018 between Tangier and Casablanca.