Tangier, Morocco’s gateway to Europe

Sunday 21/05/2017
A view of modern Tangier. (Saad Guerraoui)

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.