Morocco has an interesting transportation system. Petit taxis are for short trips within a town, and grand taxis take you in-between towns. We arranged a grand taxi to take us from Tetanou to Tangier.
Tangier has been a major Mediterranean port and melting pot between European and African cultures for nearly three millennia—specifically since the Phoenicians first established it as a port in the 8th century B.C. Much later, in the 8thcentury, the Moors used it as a base from which they captured Spain. Invasions, both military and cultural, also went in the other direction. Portugal, for example, captured the city in 1471, the Spanish captured and controlled it for 60 years in 16th century and then the British. While Arabs regained control in the 17th century, the city became a pawn in 19th-century European diplomatic struggles and became an international city (under the control of multiple countries) in the early 20th century, until Spain established colonial control in 1912. It remained under Spanish control until 1956, when it was returned to Morocco. By then the city had become an industrial hub, a major international shipping port and a reputation of international intrigue, drawing famous writers and artists from around the world.
As the city has grown and modernized, it may have lost much of its mystique. However, it is an attractive place to visit and provides much less culture shock to American visitors than do many other Muslim cities. Most of its current highlights are in its:
- Medina, which is the city’s historic center and traditional marketplace; and especially its
- Kasbah, which, while occupying only a corner of the Medina, is its heart, with its palace (now a museum), its mosque, its walls and especially its tangle of narrow winding streets.
Meanwhile, the modern city, Ville Nouvelle, which is outside the medina’s gates, is relatively Westernized. This is especially true for the downtown and beach areas.
The Medina and the Kasbah
The Medina, which occupies the waterfront and northern part of the city, used to be the city’s economic hub. Although its commercial role has largely been eclipsed by Ville Nouvelle, it still houses some areas of interest. The most interesting among these is the Kasbah.
The Kasbah, which generally has a Portuguese character, is the site of many of the city’s remaining walls and gates. It is also the home of the 17th-century Sultan’s Palace (now an Archeology Museum) which is supposed to be lovely but was closed each of the times we were able to visit. (Besides, after recent visits to Versailles, Seville’s Alcazar and Granada’s Alhambra, we would be hard to impress). The Palace’s most impressive external site is its Kasbah Mosque, with its lovely carved and painted entryway and its tile-clad octagonal minaret which towers over the Kasbah skyline.
The real fun is wandering the streets of the Kasbah, with its white buildings and warren of narrow streets and alleyways. Some of these alleys are only a few feet wide at street level. And when you look up there may be a foot or less separating the buildings, where the open shutter of one building, touches the wall of the building on the other side of the street. We particularly enjoyed exploring the differences between the different neighborhoods (such as Christina, Jewish and especially Berber) with its pastel-painted walls and designs that add a touch of art to the generally homogenous streets.
The Gate of Bastinado marks the exit from the Kasbah and the entrance into the Medina’s main square and the city’s historic commercial district. After our previous day’s visit to the Tetouan medina, its Tangier counterpart surprised us in two ways:
- The Tangier Medina is much, much smaller and has many, many fewer merchants and shops than that in Tetouan; and
- The Tangier Medina is generally confined to storefront shops (versus pouring way out onto the streets in Tetouan), the shops have consistent product lines and relatively upscale products (compared with the mishmash or products and often previously used goods sold in Tetouan medina) and products are displayed neatly and in rationally organized ways (rather than in confusing piles as was the case in Tetouan). The difference was like night and day—like a “Tale of Two Medinas”.
There appear to be a couple reasons for this striking difference. First, Tangier appears to be a wealthier, much more cosmopolitan city with much more direct European influence than Tetouan. Second, it has a much more developed downtown area with more modern, more upscale shops. Much of the city’s commercial activity has moved to this area. Moreover, the very existence of these stores has shaped customer expectation for all stores.
Overall, the medina’s most interesting street is probably Rue Es-Siaghine (a major thoroughfare since Roman times), which stretches from Petite Socco (a souk that used to be the center of daily city life, but has lost much of its role to the more modern shops of Ville Nouvelle) and to Grand Socco (a commercial center just outside the Medina that is the site for a more traditional evening market).
Among the more interesting of the medina’s landmarks (besides the Kasbah, the walls and the gates) are the previously grand Continental Hotel (which is much less grand these days) and the American Legation (140-year home of the American Consulate which is now a museum)
This district, to the south of the Medina, is the city’s current economic and social hub. Its primary activities are centered around Avenue Pasteur, Avenue Mohammed V and the beach. The Avenue Pasteur area has some of the older and more established sites, including four major 1930-era landmarks: the
- French Consulate, which sits in the midst of a pretty garden;
- Once and still grand Hotel el-Minzah (the traditional residence of royalty, politicians and movie stars, with its pretty courtyard);
- No longer grand, or even open, Theater Cervantes; and the
- Still popular terrace, which sports a number of Portuguese canons and views of parks and the waterfront.
The area around Avenue Mohammed V, meanwhile, is the city’s current hotspot. It is home of modern, typically high-rise apartment and office buildings. Even the railway station is modern.
The beach area, meanwhile, appears to be becoming increasingly popular, with modern high-rise resort hotels providing competition to a number of older ones. The large and pretty beach, while too cold for Moroccans in mid-October, still seems to find some happy residents, such as ponies, horses and even camels (that tourists can pay to ride).
The development of the beach—and indeed the entire waterfront–however, appears to be still in its infancy. The mega-development projects are currently in progress:
- Tanger Ville, a big residential, commercial, hotel and cultural complex is being built just past the beach around what is intended to become a large pleasure-craft harbor; and
- A large fish harbor and complex is being build off the coast of the Kasbah as a mean of expanding and centralizing the city’s fishing industry.
We were in town for only two meals, one dinner and one lunch.
El Morocco Club, which is more European than it is traditional Moroccan, is where we had dinner. We began with a seared a foie gras lobe on crisp angel hair and a rose-flavored juice. Tom enjoyed his roast lamb topped with couscous with lamb jus. Joyce had less luck with her dish. While the sea bream was properly cooked, the sauce provided little taste and the garlic mashed potatoes on which it was served had such a pronounced taste as to overpower the delicate fish. We also tried another, Moroccan wine, a pleasant, and much more complex (and expensive) blend of 2013 Syrah and Grenache from Eclipse.
We had lunch at Salon Bleu, a small, very causal Kasbah restaurant where we ate on the top deck with a birds-eye view of the Kasbah, the Medina, the ramparts and the waterfront. We shared one three-course lunch (hummus appetizer, chicken tagine and couscous main course, and crepe with “1,000 honey holes”) for dessert, along with one appetizer sampler plate with hummus, avocado dip and tomato salad). Nice and a pleasant atmosphere.
We stayed at Dar Chams Tanja. What an incredible place. First, it is beautiful. Each room is different and well laid out from what we could see. Our room was large with lots of windows. The shower was one of the best ones that we have ever had. When you arrive, you are given tea and cookies while you check in and information on the city. The room also has some cookies in it in case you get hungry. Also you have a bottle of water for each person, robes, slippers, shampoo etc. They even have wash cloths—something that not every hotel has!!!!. They have a beautiful terrace upstairs with a drop dead gorgeous view where breakfast is served in good weather. OK, so the place is beautiful and comfortable. That’s one reason to be there. The location is great in the heart of the medina, which is another reason to be there. But the owners take this to an entirely higher level and make you feel like part of the family. They are very friendly and helpful and can’t do enough for you. The combination makes this an amazing place to stay.