BAB AL BAHR, THE SEA GATE
Tangier is one of the most international and cosmopolitan cities in Africa. Located on the north coast of Morocco, bathed by the Atlantic Ocean. Separated from the European continent by the Strait of Gibraltar, it is only 21 km away from the Iberian Peninsula.
The Kasbah of Tangier, located on the top of a hill, offers one of the best panoramic views of the city. It is simultaneously a great watchtower to dominate the strait and spot the Spanish coast. We propose a short walk through the medina up to Bab Al Bahr or “sea gate”. From up there, the views of the bay, port, and the beginning of the medina are beautiful.
The best way to access the viewpoint is going up through the medina or “old city”. This is an enjoyable walk, without any hurries or excessively steep slopes. Right away, visitors will be able to notice the great international influence that Tangier had throughout the XX century. Despite all of that influence, Tangier still conserves its old charm with a multitude of mosques, madrasas, palaces, and gardens that mix all together with bazaars, coffee shops, and old colonial houses.
We are almost there! We arrived at the Kasbah or “fortified central part of a town or citadel”. We will enter through one of its main gates, Bab el-Assa or “sentinel´s gate”. During the walk and before arriving at the defensive wall facing the sea, visitors will be able to visit the Kasbah Museum. This museum is located inside a palace dating back to the XVII century and the governor´s residence. This building is, maybe, the most valuable building in the whole city. The museum contains a precious collection of handcrafted items.
The walk up is worth it. It stands out the wonderful landscape, the port, the medina, and in a clear day, one can spot the Strait of Gibraltar and almost touch the Spanish coast with your fingertips. Let your imagination run wild!
Address: Bab Al Bahr Gate. Rue Riad Sultan next to Kasbah Square.
Transport: Taxis in Morocco are cheap and it´s the best means of transport. There are two types: the petit taxi, with 4 seats which only work in the city, and the grand taxis, which are larger and allow for longer trips to the exterior of the city. The most common thing is to use the petit taxis of yellow colour. Moroccans usually share the same taxi.
In order to get to the Sea Gate, there are two ways. One way would be to take a petit taxi from the hotel directly to Kasbah Square. However, the most scenic route would be to ask the taxi to stop at La Place 9 du Avril 1947 and walk up to the Place Petit Socco. Once there, one may continue through Rue Almohades, Rue Sbou, Rue Bab Assa until reaching Kasbah Square. This way, one may explore the medina and the kasbah.
MOROCCAN SWEETS AND MINT TEA
Moroccan gastronomy is rich and diverse, especially its pastry products. La patisserie plays a huge part in everyday life as well as in religious festivities, such as Ramadan. At noon, sweets and pastries are perfect to have along with Moorish tea. Shall we recharge our batteries?
The French influence is present in Moroccan bakeries. From the preparation to some of the ingredients of choice when baking cakes, biscuits, pestiños (honey-coated fritters), or a variety of nuts-filled pastry bites.
Honey, walnuts, pistachios, raisins, figs, plums or dates, are combined with syrup, spices, and orange blossom. Just to top it all up, a thin layer of pastry is used to wrap all the different combinations. The gazelle horns are very typical. The biscuits are also very varied and delicious, such as the ones made from coconut, chocolate, or almonds.
Moroccan tea or mint tea is much more than just a drink, it is the quintessential drink in Morocco. It represents part of its culture and it is the best way of welcoming any visitors, a symbol of their hospitality. It arrived in the country around the XIX century, after England had lost many of its traditional market routes due to the Crimean war. In an effort to find new commercial routes, they introduced the tea into the Moroccan territory.
The ingredients are simple, but the elaboration and the way of serving the tea are very important. Both processes having their own particular ritual. The ingredients are half a litre of water, one spoonful of green tea (the Chinese gunpowder type), four or five spoonfuls of sugar, and a handful of mint.
In its elaboration, the most important part is to own an authentic Moroccan teapot. A spoonful of green tea and the boiled water is poured into the teapot. The mix is then boiled again adding the sugar, giving the tea a caramelized flavour. Lastly, the mint is added and the tea heated again, this time not allowing it to boil again.
In order to finish, the tea is served from the teapot and a certain distance into a flat glass. The tea is then returned to the teapot and the process repeated up to three times to ensure that all ingredients are thoroughly mixed and giving it a smoky aroma.
Moroccans usually say: the first glass is “sour like life”, the second is “strong like love” and the third is “sweet like death”.
THE MEDINA, THE GREAT SOUK, AND THE NEW CITY
Tangier is the last city of Morocco for most visitors traveling with Europamundo. Many of them would have already seen the Souk of Marrakech and the Great Medina in Fez, two of the greatest shopping centres for Moroccan crafts. Nevertheless, if visitors wish and want to spend their last dirhams, we propose something different.
Artisanal workshops can also be found in Tangier. Products made from leather, wood, or metals such as bronze and copper. However, the region stands out due to its textile production. Traditional clothing woven with cotton and silk, sportswear or leathers, are all of great quality and price. The artisanal works from the Riff, the northern mountainous region, is also presents in the bazaars with different items of pottery and basketry.
We highlight three main shopping areas in the city. Each one is different, but they are all fairly close to each other. It is worth taking a look and wander all three of them. Would you come with us?
The New City. It is the most European Tangier. All around the Square of France were Rue de la Liberté, Boulevard Pasteur, and Avenue de Belgique all converge; different boutiques with typical elegant garments such as caftans, djellabas, and scarves. Establishments with sports clothing and casual wear, perfumeries with natural fragrances such as roses, chamomile, lavender, jasmine, or apple. On Rue Liberté, the number of shops featuring oriental imports and electronics with great prices stand out.
The Great Souk. It is worth giving a special mention to the Central Market. Wandering through the food market, blending in with the locals, smelling the bread fresh from the oven, seeing the contrast of colours of all the spices, dried fruit, and olives seasoned in a thousand ways, it is definitely worth it. All its products could be converted into a beautiful souvenir to take back home. A different idea could be to buy the in-season fruit; figs and dates are excellent snacks. Those looking for a decorative piece will also find local pottery and basketry in the market and very close to the bazaars, on Rue de la Plage.
The Medina. We will find the entrance to the medina or old city to the right of the Central Market, the Bab Al Fhas Gate. We recommend walking through Rue Siaghine and Rue Almohades with their shop and bazaars. In the streets of the medina, it is still possible to witness craftsmen working wood or steel. Incredible herbalists and perfumeries. Knowing how to bargain is a must, even though the prices are already low, one must find a more adjusted price. Probably the product to be bought was handmade by the same person selling it.
We shall finish in the Place Petit Socco of the medina. Underneath our feet, it is where the old Roman forum of Tingis could be found. Once upon a time, this was the most important market of the country; and at the beginning of the XX century, it was a meeting point for diplomats, bankers, and European merchants. During the 50s and 60s, its cafes were full of intellectuals, artists, spies, exiles, and all types of characters, the Beat generation! We may imagine their stories while sitting in Cafe Central, where it is said to be the best place in the city to taste mint tea.
Transport: It is recommended to take a petit taxi from the hotel to La Place du 9 Avril 1947, from there the three shopping areas may be reached easily on foot.
MINZAH HOTEL: A HOLLYWOOD SET
Every corner in Tangier exudes history. Underneath the light in which their peoples have lived and live, a magical atmosphere is formed. A city that seems to be drawn on canvas lit by the blue sky. Throughout the years, many have succumbed to its charms, trapping ones´ heart. It doesn´t matter where the picture is taken because once visitors look back at it, they always say: I want to go back!
It is difficult choosing where to take the most special photo. Tangier Bay, Sidi Hosni Palace, Cervantes Theatre, Moshe Nahon Synagogue, the Great Mosque…? They are all incredibly special places; however, among all of them, there might be one that might exceed the visitors´ expectations, The Minzah Hotel. Since its construction in 1930, the hotel has been considered the most elegant in the city and it is a mythical location in the city´s XX century history.
If we had to imagine the Rick´s Café of Bogart, we could inspire ourselves in the Minzah Hotel. In fact, its old bar was recreated in the Warner Studios, where the film Casablanca was filmed integrally back in 1942. Various scenes of The Sheltering Sky of Bertolucci were also filmed in this hotel.
Since the time the hotel opened its door, many distinguished figures have stayed in this hotel. A good part of the Beat generation of American writers met in its halls and lounges. Paul Bowles and his wife Jane shared ideas with Capote, Borroughs, or Kerouac, to name some. An atmosphere that would mix the enigmatic and the decadent, libertine and artistic parties. A place where part of the aristocracy was eager to spend their fortunes, or enjoyed being around actors, intellectuals, spies, and exiles. If its walls could speak, they probably could rewrite a part of history.
We must highlight the stunning inner courtyard with half pointed arches over the classic columns and the central fountain. On its walls, we can observe pictures of musicians, presidents, or fashion designers that have stayed in the hotel in the past. It is worth mentioning that it was one of the favourite spots to stay for Churchill, Barbara Hutton, Rita Hayworth, and most recently the Rolling Stones.
Visitors may access the hotel, even if they aren´t staying in it, and roam through the lounges, courtyards, and gardens. This beautiful hotel is sure to inspire you to immortalize the moment and the place. This will be your picture and this is the perfect place, you choose the moment.
Rue de la Liberté, 85
It is recommended to take a petit taxi from the hotel to La Place du 9 Avril 1947, from there the square is a short walk that leads us to the Minzah Hotel.
THE MOST DISTINGUISED TRAVELLER: THE TOMB OF IBN BATTUTA
Hidden in between the alleys of the medina, the tomb of the most distinguished Moroccan traveller can be found. Everyone knows about the great expeditions undertaken by Marco Polo or David Livingstone. However, not many people know the story of Ibn Battuta. This dreamer was born in Tangier in the year 1304, and soon showed a great interest in literature, especially the one related to geography and travels.
He left a work of great importance, the tale of an adventure with epic shades. Rihläh or Book of Travels, translated into the West as “Through Islam”. It narrates the journey of almost thirty years and more than 120,000 km. The text describes everyday activities, supernatural occurring, and stounding events, giving a historical, geographic, folkloric, and ethnographic data. Always having Islam as the fundamental guide and source of inspiration.
On the 13th of June 1325, with only 21 years of age, Ibn Battuta left in a pilgrimage in order to fulfil one of the five precepts of Islam. Visiting at least once in your lifetime, Mecca, the holy city, where he returned on many occasions and acted as a professor of Theology. Later, he abandoned the limits of the Islamic world and mourned the devastation caused in some places after the Mongolian campaigns, such as Bagdad, a city that once inspired so many poets he wrote:
“There is nothing left of its past glory, but its name”
He travelled Tartar territory, meeting the Persian Kahn who welcomed him with great esteem. During those years, he travelled through the silk route, Syria, and the coast of the Black Sea. He lived in Delhi for a long period of time next to the sultanic court to then travel to China, through the Maldives, Ceylan (today´s Sri Lanka), Sumatra, and Calcutta until reaching the Chinese ports of Quangzhou and Canton.
Upon his return to Fez, the capital of Morocco in 1349, he was welcomed as a national hero. The then sultan commissioned him to travel as an ambassador to Granada, where he stayed for almost a year and related the problems that the Nasrid kingdom was suffering. In hindsight, the last Moorish kingdom of Al-Andalus. Upon his return, he started his last caravan journey. He passed through the Atlas and the Sahara Desert reaching the Malian Empire. After this, he returned to Tangier in 1953, at 50 years of age, this time to stay.
“The most beautiful thing I have seen in all my adventures has been my city”
In 1355, he started to redact all his travels. A huge artwork, a source of valuable and unprecedented information for the period. He revealed the Arabic civilization in expansion, with its conflicts and contradictions, but at the same time, diverse and mundane. A very personal vision and a window to look into the past.
It is located inside the medina, on the street that carries his name. Take a petit taxi from your hotel to Place 9 du Avril 1947. On foot, take Rue d´Italie towards the north. Then turn right on Rue Bab Gzenaya and stay on the left of the road until reaching Rue Ibn Battuta. From there, visitors will only need to follow a series of red arrows located on the walls that indicate the directions towards the tomb.
Despite the airport and the football stadiums taking his name, Ibn Battuta´s tomb is surprisingly modest, just lying next to a public fountain and only marked with a small plaque and bands painted in blue colour. Such a relevant person should rest in a more prominent place, with a museum dedicated to his works. Maybe one day.
THE CAVES OF HERCULES: MITHOLOGY AND NATURE
We propose a trip to the Atlantic Ocean. An imaginary journey by the hand of the most popular hero of Greco-Roman mythology: Hercules. The Roman Empire arrived in the region creating the province of Mauretania Tingitana. This is the reason why we encounter places in Moroccan geography related to mythology such as the Pillars of Hercules, The Garden of the Hesperides or The Caves of Hercules.
The caves are located 14 km away from Tangier and 5 km from the Spartan Cape. They are a series of natural grottos with entries both through land and sea and they are known as The map of Africa due to their resemblance to the African continent. The openings were created by natural erosions and human activity to extract the precious stones from its walls. We are still able to appreciate the patterns left by the instruments used for the extraction.
Why the name of the Caves of Hercules?
The legend has it that Hercules rested in this place after stealing the apples from the garden of the Hesperides, which is located, as the tale has it, near the Roman ruins of Lixus, close to the coastal city of Larache. It was said that the apples from the garden were protected by nymphs, as they were made of gold and they awarded immortality.
Europamundo goes through Larache, crossing the Loukkos river in its route to Rabat.
But let´s get back to the caves. While Hercules rested, he was attacked by the giant Antaeus, son of Poseidon and Gaia, and protector of the northern Berber lands. Hercules killed the giant by suffocating him while he raised him in the air to avoid the help of his mother Gaia, the Earth. After the bout, Hercules sealed the cave with a stone and left the body of Antaeus inside.
The wife of Antaeus, Tinjis, asked Hercules about her husband´s disappearance and falling in love with her beauty, he asked her to marry him, and so she did. As a result of the union between Hercules and Tinjis, Sufax was born. According to the Berbers, Sufax the true founder of the city of Tangier, his son Diodorus reigned over many Berber tribes and that’s how the Greco-Roman and Berber mythologies connect.
Transport to the Caves:
The best way to reach the Caves is with a Grand taxi from the hotel. Visitors can always ask for help from Europamundo guides or in the hotel reception to contact a taxi. The taxi will take visitors there and back with a closed and adjusted price. Furthermore, the taxi drivers can speak your language and they love talking and showing around the city.
Visitors should leave early in the morning. The duration of the trip from the time leaving the hotel to the time returning to the hotel is approximately three hours, enough time to continue with Europamundo´s itinerary.
WALTER BURTON HARRIS AND THE ANGLICAN CHURCH OF ST. ANDREWS
The Anglican Church of St. Andrews was finalized in 1894 over a land that was donated to the British by the sultan Hassan I. It is a temple of eclectic architecture, predominating the Moorish style. In its interior, over the altar, the “Our Father” is written in Arabic and behind it, there is a cleft that indicates the direction of Mecca with carved quotes from the Koran.
It is worth taking a moment in its cemetery, in which stands out the monument in honour of squad leader, Thomas Kirby Green, one of the war prisoners executed during the “Great Escape”. We can also find an entire section dedicated to “tombs of World War II”. Whole aircrews shot down, with their tombstones joined together shoulder to shoulder.
In between all these buried war heroes, we may also find civilians that are worth discovering. One of them is Walter Burton Harris. He lived between the XIX and the XX century when France, Italy, and Spain were establishing colonies or protectorates in the north of Africa. A turbulent time period of bloody wars, but also a space of commercial, intellectual, and artistic exchanges.
Walter B. Harris was born in London in 1866 and died in Malta in 1933. He was a traveller, a writer, and a journalist. At just 19 years of age, he established himself in Tangier, where he resided for 30 years. During those years, he worked as a correspondent for The Times. He got to build a beautiful villa near Tangier, which he named Villa Harris. It was later repurposed as the Villa Josephine Hotel that remains one of the most spectacular and prestigious properties in Vieille Montagne area.
Of an egocentric character, Harris soon gained the respect of the locals through his feats. He loved to tell in public stories from his travels in regions of the country outside the safety limits for a common European. He was captured and imprisoned by a mountain chieftain Raisuni, with whom he would later befriend and wrote in admiration about him. It is known that he was the confidant of at least three Moroccan sultans.
Some say that Walter Harris inspired George Lucas to create the legend of Indiana Jones. He was even portrayed later on by the actor Kevin McNally in an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, in which he saves Indiana Jones in a slave market in Marrakech.
We don´t know if Walter Harris was the Indiana Jones of the time, but there is no doubt about the fact that he lived a thrilling life. He left behind an extensive collection of written works, not only in Morocco but also in Egypt and regions of the Middle and the Far East such as Yemen, Kurdistan, Burma, the Dutch East Indies, and the French Indochina.
St. Andrews Church is located very near the Great Souq in Rue San Francisco. Check its timetable, however, it normally opens its doors at 10 am.
Take a petit taxi from the hotel to Pace 9 du Avril in the Great Souq. A short walk full of history takes you to St. Andrews Church.
INTERNATIONAL ZONE OF TANGIER: THE GREAT SOUQ AND THE NEW CITY
George Orwell used to say that, “Tangier was the only city in the world where you could buy English stamps, pay with French currency, and send the letter through a Spanish post office.” A very rich and complex society, where different religions, costumes, and languages coexisted in harmony and respect.
On 24th June 1925, during the Algeciras Conference, Spain, United States, Belgium, France, United Kingdom, Portugal, Netherlands, and the Soviet Union; and later Italy, signed an agreement for a new status: Tangier International Zone. This status was maintained until the independence of Morocco on 20th October 1956. Its condition of the international zone and its location in the strait favoured free commerce and the arrival of new residents. In the 50s, the population increased to 200,000 inhabitants, of which around 70,000 were foreign, in its vast majority Spanish.
Embassies, consulates, banks, museums, schools, and colleges were built. New neighbourhoods were born and others found themselves transformed. The literary atmosphere was found in bookshops and cafes; the social and nightlife shifted in between theatres, luxury hotels, and palatial houses. La belle époque!
We start our walk from its neuralgic center, La Place 9 du Avril 1947, or the great souq. Once upon a time, it was here where people from the countryside and surroundings met to sell their products. We can see the Sidi Bou Abib Mosque, the Rif cinema, and the Mendoubia gardens.
Through l´Avenue d´Anglaterre, we can see the Anglican Church of St. Andrews. Within its cemetery, lay the bodies of important characters such as Walter Burton. In front of it, we find Hotel Villa de France, where the painter Matisse lived in room 35.
If we walk down Rue de la Liberté, we would pass by the 1930 Mizah Hotel, which remains to this day, the most elegant hotel in the city and a legendary venue in the history of the XX century. In Rue Anoual, we find the Great Cervantes Theatre of which only the façade remains. However, when it opened its doors in 1913, it was the largest theatre in Africa. Great stars acted here, such as Imperio Argentina, Enrico Caruso, Carmen Sevilla and Manolo Caracol, among many others.
La Place de France, where we will see the French Consulate which is located in a luxurious colonial palace, the Delacroix exhibition hall, and the great Cafe de Paris, in which intellectuals and writers such as Jean Genet used to meet.
The Pasteur Boulevard, the origin of the International Tangier, begins from Place de France. In barely half a kilometer, we can find many important buildings, such as the Cervantes Institute, The Goicoechea Building of expressionist architecture, the Roxy cinema, the Bank of Morocco, the Chaare Raphael Synagogue, or the Moroccan Debt House of 1910. To conclude our walk, Europamundo suggests walking into Librairie des Colonnes, a bookshop founded in 1949, a place of gatherings and knowledge.
Place 9 du Avril 1947, Avenue d´Angleterre, Rue Amerique du Sud, Rue de la Liberté, Place de France and Pasteur Boulevard.
Transport: Take a petit taxi from the hotel to Place 9 du Avril, from there is a pleasant walk full of history.
THE TANGER BAY AND THE CONTINENTAL HOTEL TERRACE
Before, we talked about taking a break. We propose to wander around the Tangier´s corniche, otherwise known as the Bay and Port. This is the area that has undergone the largest modernization in the last few years. The area has undergone works to produce a large promenade, a marina, leisure spaces, and commercial zones with restaurants, shops, and underground parking. Furthermore, it counts with various popular sand beaches for the summer.
One may want to go through the “peninsula of the marina”, prepared for the mooring of leisure boats and sailboats. This is where the prestigious Royal Yacht Club is, the oldest in Morocco, dating back to 1925. If the weather allows it, it is wonderful to walk sprayed by the sun and the sea breeze. Its location is unique, just in the point where the Atlantic and the Mediterranean cross, a true gate in between Europe and Africa.
Following the Avenue Mohamed VI, we reach Tangier´s walls and on the left, rising over the medina, is the Continental Hotel. But before going up, it is worth getting to know the walls, a rectangular fortress with various watchtowers and 13 access gates. Just after a few steps, one can access one of the towers from an old Portuguese castle, Borj Dar El-Baroud. The view dominates the bay and the new mosque in the port.
The walls were built by the Portuguese when the army was under the command of King Alfonso V who conquered the city in 1471, after various sieges. It was of outmost importance to control and fight piracy over the maritime trade routes, especially spices, gold, and other goods being sourced from Black Africa. We are in the “Era of the Great Portuguese Voyagers”.
We enter the medina through the Bab El Marsa Gate and we take the Rue Dar Baroud until we reach the Continental Hotel. Before taking a seat on the terrace, visitors may want to have a look at the interior of the hotel. The decoration of the halls and lounges is traditional Moroccan full of wood, mosaics, colourful stained glass, and ceiling lights. They all take us into a fairy tale with princesses, magic lamps, and hidden treasures.
During the International Tangier, the hotel hosted characters such as Winston Churchill, Pio Baroja, Jacinto Benavente, or Antonio Gaudí. The Catalan architect arrived at Tangier with the project of a new cathedral that was never built. Part of the action of the book by María Dueñas, “The time in between”, takes place here.
Now, yes! We deserve to take a break and Carpe Diem on the terrace of the hotel. Everything that we have been able to see on our route here is now under our eyes. The views will be marked in our memories as unforgettable. Visitors may want to share this moment with a Moorish tea and chat to the staff that usually speak English and are very friendly and easygoing.
Continental Hotel, Rue Dar Baroud, 36 (The medina)
Our hotel might be near the promenade and we may be able to walk up to it. If this is not the case, take a petit taxi up to the promenade, Avenue Mohamed VI. Visitors may take the McDonald´s as a reference. From here, one may walk leaving the beach to the right until reaching the medina and the Continental Hotel.
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