Few port cities in the world have quite the allure of Tangier, with its magical literary past, historic tangle of streets in the Kasbah and its stunning Grand Mosquée. This gateway to Africa, barely an hour’s boat ride away from Europe, never ceases to mesmerise the many people who visit each year. Here are some suggested must visit sites for Tangier:
Pass under Bab Haha gate and you’re in the Kasbah, with its cobbled alleyways and layers of mystery. There’s plenty to see, as the hilltop location means sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. But ditch the guidebook – it’s all about stumbling upon surprises in this crumbly ancient quarter. You may get lost but that’s part of the fun – keep walking uphill and you’ll be sure to find one of the babs, or gates, that lead out of the maze. Look for the famous 17th-century palace, off the Place du Menchoar, which is now a museum. It displays intriguing relics from the Stone Age to the 20th century.
THE GRANDE MOSQUEE DE TANGER
Originating in the fifth century CE, when it was the site of a Roman temple, this is a fascinating historical structure. During the eighth century, its central location seemed suitable for a place of Muslim prayer, and so a mosque was erected. After the Portuguese conquest in the late 15th century, it was converted into a cathedral and, subsequently, back again to a mosque. As is religious custom in Morocco, the building is not open to non-Muslims – but whatever your faith you can admire the elegant minaret and intricately carved main portal.
Burgeoning tourism has meant much-needed funding for clean cities, sites and beaches around Morocco. The sands lining Tangier have benefited particularly well, shaded golden against the sparkling blue sea, and present a great escape from the busy city. It’s close to the bustling port – Tangier is a major African hub for maritime traffic from Europe – so you shouldn’t expect Maldivian levels of tranquillity. But the lively action, from braying camels to groups of young people parading, is what makes being by the sea such a special experience in Tangier.
ST ADREW’S CHURCH
Most visitors – and locals – agree that this is one of Tangier’s most captivating sites. Consecrated in 1905, St Andrew’s Church is a dramatic fusion of architectural styles that exhibit the city’s history of faiths. As you’d expect, it’s a focal point for Christians in Tangier. It also exhibits Quranic inscriptions on its Moorish interior, as well as the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic – and with its location, it observes the direction to Mecca. If you get the chance, take a wander through the atmospheric cemetery, paying your respects at the tombs of soldiers who died fighting in North Africa during World War II.
AMERICAN LEGATION MUSEUM
Morocco was the first country to recognise the USA as an independent country, 18 months after the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed on the Fourth of July 1776. This museum cuts an elegant presence within the hustle of the Medina, adding a notable international feel to the city with a curious 1940s vibe. Step in and prepare to be transported to a different time with a host of absorbing displays, including one on the Morocco-phile author Paul Bowles. Essential viewing includes James McBey’s painting Zohra, often dubbed the Moroccan Mona Lisa.
You’d never guess that the Petit Socco used to be the haunt of drug dealers and prostitutes. Today, it’s now an innocuous pedestrian square – a place you plonk yourself to drink mint tea or orange juice outside one of the popular, buzzing cafes and watch the world go by. If you want to act local, order a procession of fresh mint teas over the course of an hour or so. Unlike the teabag version, in Morocco, the drink is made simply with boiling water, a handful of fresh mint leaves and a touch of sugar. The result is thirst-quenching and utterly delicious.
This lawned main junction, spiked with tall palms, is where new Tangiers flows into the old city. A mosque is on one side and a cinema on the other, with the wide road terminating in narrow cobbled streets. At this crossroads between the ages you can browse traditional market stalls to stock up on nuts, fresh fruit and even a flowing kaftan or two. The central fountain is surrounded by benches, and you can join the Tangier locals who converge here, shooting the breeze and relaxing in the balmy early-evening air.
While you’re in the Grand Socco, make a quick detour to this cinema, which screens mainstream and independent films. With its art deco-style good looks and origins in the late 1930s, this is an authentic Tangier experience. The cinema happily embraces its mixed cultural roots and, like Tangier, is a crossroad of cultures – showing films in French and Arabic.
LIBRAIRIE DES COLONNES
Book-lovers of every stripe adore the Librairie des Colonnes, a Tangier institution that dates back to 1949. It evolved into a stomping ground loved by some of the 20th century’s greatest writers, including Paul Bowles, Samuel Beckett, Truman Capote, Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams. The time-warped exterior of the building is charming, while the inside is lined with shelves upon shelves of books – some in English – making for a fascinating place to while away a rainy-day hour or two.