With its strategic position at the entrance to the Mediterranean and gateway to Africa, Tangier has been a continually changing panoply of marauding groups who used the position to foray further and continue gaining power. Some have hung around to embrace the sea and light and easy-going lifestyle.
In the historical period (centuries B.C.), so-called Berber tribes lived in small villages; Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans sequentially occupied Tangier and created the first fortresses and larger settlements. Vandals and Byzantines invaded, followed by the Arabs in the first part of the 8th century, when the local people were converted to the Islamic religion. From Tangier, the Arabs continued north to Spain, parts of which they occupied for nearly 8 centuries.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Portugal, Spain, France and Great Britain used Morocco like a game of cards, variously grabbing and gifting parts of the country until its independence from France in 1956. What has given Tangier much of its modern reputation was the period from 1912–1956 when Tangier was turned into an “International Zone” divided among many countries, including the U.S. (the rest of Morocco remained under French control). This was indeed a wild and wacky, so-called “Interzone”, period when people flooded in from many parts of the world seeking adventure, exploitation, and inspiration. Many books and movies are based on this period, with its spies, criminals and artists. Even today, the city has a large expat community as people seek the beauty and alternative lifestyle Tangier offers.
Much remains from the Roman period. The photo below shows Roman tombs in rock on a Tangerine cliff top overlooking the sea—not a bad place to be buried! The rocks are sandstone that was deposited by turbidity flows that carried sand from a coastline to the deep sea. Not surprisingly, these rocks are similar to those found in Tarifa on the other side of the strait. The mountain range in southern Spain continues under the Mediterranean, which is less than 300 meters deep here, and into northern Morocco.
We did a walking tour in Tangier with Abdullah, whose appearance reflects the diversity of ethnic groups that have passed through this region. The photo view is northward to the port where ferries shuttle people back and forth across the strait.
We stayed with a woman from New York who has been living in Tangier for 8 years. She remodeled a house into a small B&B that is situated in the heart of the small medina—this one compact enough to find one’s way around without so much difficulty! Her beautiful house is decorated in bright colors and filled with Moroccan art—a pleasure for the senses. From the rooftop terrace there is a stunning 360-degree view that includes most of the medina and the coastline. The photo below is toward the Kasbah which is the part of the medina that, in ancient times, was given extra fortification to defend the city.
The Kasbah Museum includes many interesting historical remnants, including a floor mosaic from the old Roman city of Volubilis that we visited outside of Fés. Even in the open-air ruin, many floor mosaics were preserved, but this one in the museum, which shows Venus navigating, is particularly vibrant. For sure, the Romans were partying it up here more than 2000 years ago! Morocco’s rich agricultural land provided essential foodstuff for the empire.
The relationship between the U.S. and Morocco has been positive. Did you know that Morocco was the first country to recognize our independence?—a fact that all Moroccans we met proudly shared with us. The Tangier American Legation Museum, which is the only U.S. National Historical Legation outside the U.S., celebrates the relationship between our countries. This photo of a photo in the museum shows Obama with their king who by all accounts is enlightened. Prior to the Arab Spring events he instituted a new constitution that is gradually giving the citizens ever more democratic rights.
One day we visited the charming town of Asilah whose seaside location and mild climate attracts visitors including expats who live there part of the year. Houses in the small medina are painted white with blue accents that match the intense blues of the sea and sky, and provide the perfect Mediterranean vista.
Walking the streets in the medina provides other visual treats—many walls are painted with a huge variety of different art works. Here is part of one particularly excellent example.
The final photo is part of another mural in Asilah. We saw many cats in Morocco and were impressed by how well treated they were in a country where people are mostly poor. Then we heard the story about the prophet Mohammad. Apparently, one day a cat was sleeping on his robe and, rather than disturbing the cat, Mohammad cut off a piece of his robe and went on his way while the cat remained in its spot. We saw many cats in the street that had been provided with small cushions or cloths to make them more comfortable!