Tangier, Morocco’s gateway to Europe
London - Called the “Bride of the North” and the “Pearl of the North,” Tangier is Morocco’s gateway to Europe on both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
Vast redevelopment projects have been carried out in the city since King Mohammed VI ascended to the throne in 1999 after Tangier was seen to have been neglected during the reign of his father, King Hassan II.
Tangier, which is one of Morocco’s major tourist destinations, is preparing to welcome tourists and Moroccan expatriates, who are expected to arrive in the city by the tens of thousands this summer.
Abundant green spaces adorn the city’s entrance while the 3km corniche is undergoing a makeover, with greenery, large esplanades and sports areas replacing demolished nightclubs, bars and restaurants, which are to be relocated under the pedestrian walkway to give way to an unfettered view of the Mediterranean.
A few metres from the ancient medina, a state-of-the-art facility, Tanja Marina Bay International, is being completed.
On the other side of the corniche is a modern, upscale district harbouring hotels such as Farah Tanger, Royal Tulip, Movenpick and the soon-to-be operational Hilton, giving high-end tourists a wide choice of luxury options.
However, the most fascinating part of Tangier is its ancient medina, which was built on a series of hills. It is also undergoing a major restoration.
Renowned international artists have been captivated by the devilish charm of the medina. Henri Matisse, Oscar Wilde, Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams, Eugene Delacroix, Emilio Sivilla Torres, James McBey and William Burroughs are among the well-known people who put the Pearl of the North on the map of the world’s famed tourist destinations for iconic figures of art and literature.
Matisse dubbed Tangier “the painters’ paradise” and McBey was so in love with the city that he was buried on his land there. His grave overlooks the Strait of Gibraltar and includes an engraved inscription in Arabic that reads: “He loved Morocco.”
On the way to the Grand Socco, a large plaza known as the gateway to the medina, the historic El Minzah Hotel is a reminder of the architecture of Morocco’s colonial past. The hotel was built in the 1930s in the style of a Moroccan palace by Scottish nobleman Lord Bute.
Entering the old town through Bab el Fahs unveils a vibrant atmosphere. Fabrics, spices, fruit and vegetables adorn the shops. Streets narrow in the medina, making walking difficult because of the cars squeezing past street vendors. Old women selling vegetables and fresh mint in their traditional northern Moroccan attire are scenes that are increasingly rare.
The architecture is a fascinating mixture of Andalusian, Moorish, colonial and Moroccan styles, each of which depicts a time in history.
The Tangier American Legation Museum is in the southern part of the medina. The breathtaking, five-storey mansion houses paintings and three rooms dedicated to the American writer Paul Bowles.
The museum also offers a glimpse of the history of the relationship between the United States and Morocco, which was the first country to recognise American independence.
North of the medina lies the Mendoub Palace, which was built in 1929 and was bought by American publishing tycoon Malcolm Forbes in 1970 from which to publish an Arabic language version of Forbes magazine. Forbes hosted extravagant social events in the palace, including his 70th birthday party.
After Forbes’ death in 1990, it was used to house King Hassan II’s personal guests, before being converted into a museum. It has been reverted to a house for royal and state guests.
The Kasbah Museum, off Place du Mechouar, is a must see. It houses a large collection of artefacts tracing Morocco’s history from the Stone Age to the 20th century.
Outside the Kasbah is Café Hafa, Tangier’s most famous café. Close to the necropolis and the Phoenician tombs, Café Hafa is the perfect spot to end a tour of the city with freshly made mint tea while enjoying a perfect view of the Mediterranean.
Tangier is a mesmerising city because it allows visitors to travel to several countries in different eras in one place. No wonder it is called the Pearl of the North.