Tangier – the gateway of Morocco
A bohemian harbor city, located just 32 km to the south of Spain, introduces travelers from around the World to Morocco and its diversities. What else makes it so specific and what attracts the foreigners ? Why did the biggest rock’ n ’roll stars like members of The Rolling Stones chose it as their destination ? How to get there and around ? What to see, do and avoid ? You’ll find the answers, thoughts and recommendations below. Enjoy !
What makes Tangier so special and where does its charm come from ? There are several answers to these questions, one of which is its rich history. The city represents blend of cultures, a mixture of tradition and modernity, and stands for European gateaway to Africa and vice versa. The city was conquered many times over the centuries and ruled by different nations, each leaving their own legacy. In 1956 Morocco won its independence from France and Tangier returned to the rest of the country after being an international zone shared by European powers, but the foreign influences remained. Almost right away after regaining autonomy, Tangier immediately transformed, losing its cosmopolitan character. However, colonial villas and international street names still exist and embody city’s turbulent past.
At first glance, new city doesn’t differ much from western metropoles what can be surprising for anybody who imagines Morocco as a risky travel destination with seedy cities, hostile atmosphere and not necessarily safe neighborhoods. Well, those won’t be found in Tangier. New city can be found rather unattractive by the tourists though. If you stay longer, there might be places worth considering a visit, like for example Mohammed V Mosque, but the heart of the town is beating in medina – the old part of Tangier.
Old medina – a tangle of narrow streets
Even though Islam is the largest religion in Morocco and the vast majority of god-worshipping buildings are mosques, the influence of other religions can be found in medina, while strolling through its narrow streets. One of the examples of a religious minority and an 18th century relic is an old Spanish church La Purisima, located at Rue as-Siaghin – the main street leading from Grand Socco to Petit Socco.
Medina itself reminds of a labyrinth of alleyways, a sort of tangled network of paths leading travelers to an unknown destination. Instead of carefully tracking your position on a map, you’d probably better let yourself get lost and explore hidden corners, observe traditional living, ending up at Petit Socco square for a cup of Moroccan tea. In the past, it used to be a dodgy district with suspiciously looking people hanging around, and drugs, as well as prostitution were an everyday occurrence. Nowadays, it’s a tranquil square, a great place to sit and watch people passing by, while drinking mint tea or Moroccan coffee, called Maghrebian coffee by the locals. Nonetheless, you can meet dealers offering a deck of hashish or weed to anybody who seems to be a tourist. They are rather not too pushy though and once you show no interest they go away. Morocco has large plantations of hashish being at the same time a world’s top supplier of cannabis and this product is widely popular among locals, as well as backpackers visiting Morocco.
Another important square Grand Socco (Pl du Avril 1947) is located behind medina’s wall – just at its entrance. However, this large, cobblestoned plaza is not the only highlight at that site. What immediately drags attention, is Sidi Bou Abib Mosque – a decorated in polychrome tiles mosque with its colorful minaret. Nearby the mosque you can find the absolute Tangier’s cultural scene pearl – Cinema Rif. It’s located in an art deco building, where foreign as well as domestic movies are shown. Although the movies are not the latest, people go to watch them on the big screen, meet up and spend time at the cinema bar.
A few steps away from the Grand Socco Square, Mendoubia Gardens lure with their tranquility and green space. This is one of a few green spots we came across during our stay in Morocco. The more to the south, the drier and more desert-like the climate is. Old towns are usually filled with buildings and architectural landmarks with no space left for parks or gardens. Besides the fact, that you can unwind and observe the quarter where the old Tangier and the new Tangier meet, you may also come across interesting people.
So why did the Rolling Stones pay multiple visits to Tangier ? In my opinion they felt just right in the city being visited by hippies, swindles and dreamers, having unsavory reputation. With easy access to hashish, being hypnotized by the city’s bohemian spirit, they could roam and unwind away of the western reality. Keith Richards – the lead guitarist is known for his fascination towards Tangier and Morocco resulting in decorating his house with local carpets and furniture. Brian Jones – the former vocalist, was on the other hand mesmerized by the sound of the local music instruments what lead to a release of the album Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka.
Once you are dazed with the hustle of the city, sandy beaches on the outskirts might be the place where you can find solace. In order to get there, you can take a cab from Grand Socco or to go a bit outside the square in the direction of the new city and search for taxis, which are less pricy, but you will need to wait till the cab gets filled with passengers. Peaceful, sandy beaches are located nearby another tourist attraction – Grottes d’Hercule and it takes approximately 20 minutes to get there.
In the afternoon the beach is empty. You can see families sitting on blankets, listening to the sound of waves, or young couples strolling secretly along the coast, far away from their parents’ eyes.