To say that a city is experienced certainly implies that it is old, that is has seen a lot and that it has many things to teach and divulge. This is certainly the case of Tangiers, although it is as bustling, beautiful and charming as any other city in Morocco and perhaps all of North Africa, it holds a special treasure. This town has really been the access point, the public face of Morocco to the world for centuries due to its proximity to Europe and its placement on the heavily criss crossed waters of the straits of Gibraltar. Tangier is a town all with its own identity, but it is so alluring that it has attracted, artists, explorers, thinkers and all types of individuals who have transformed the place just as much as it changed them.
Tangiers is an alluring destination and it has many of the things that travelers love sense of mysterious neighborhoods, long history, wide panoramas, unspoiled beaches, and friendly people all in relative close proximity to more popular tourist routes like Southern Spain or the Mediterranean sailing route. The city itself is not just the unique styles of North African art, culture and architecture, but a strong influence left especially by the French and Spanish is easily felt too. In fact, most of the tourists who come here often arrive by boat rather than by air. While the city does have a nice airport that is connected even with low cost airlines to many European destinations, most come on cruises, hydrofoils and ferries either from Spain, Gibraltar or from around the world. Once on foot in the city things can be quite confusing as the old marketplace and Medina’s are concentric circles that have no real reason or plan to their structure. A simple rule to keep in mind is that the whole city sits on a hillside, so any steps going up will take you into the city and inland and steps downhill are taking one toward the beach and port. Even when the unplanned streets can be confusing, there is a definite charm to this type of urban exploration. One gets the sense of being lost in another world, and it can be quite liberating to abandon oneself to the sights, sounds and smells, knowing that eventually the streets have to lead to somewhere more open and spacious. The city lies only 20 miles across the water from Gibraltar and that makes for a wonderful daytrip if one has time to spend here as well.
Any exploration of the city itself is incomplete without admiring one of its most impressive expanses, the beachfront. The wide and beautiful beach area is often full of soccer games, people taking walks, seaside traffic and pleasant restaurants. There are also a fair share of hustlers and folks who are offering every sort of goods, service and tour. As a rule even if you are lost, just ignore these people and find where you need to go on your own. There are also lots of police around so have no fear, as much as you ignore any of these people and refuse to get taken in by their scams you will be fine. The beachfront stretches along the city’s entire North side and Avenue Mohammed IV is the main thoroughfare. Head south and uphill into the heart of the city to behold some of its more famous works. Most of the way up to the Grand Socco and the Souk one will find a barrage of goods for sale, small inns, home-style restaurants with great fish and neighborhood ovens where a small fee is paid to have a local wood over fire up the meats purchased at market that day. At the heart of the marketplaces lies a small square with fountains, the city’s main minarets and an Anglican Church nearby. This is the absolute heart of the city. From here one can simply sit and watch the ebb and flow of locals, tourists and business from every aspect. It soon becomes apparent how this city has gained its eclectic appeal and the title of experienced, it is a place where all types feel at home on a mystical market hillside by the sea. In the market itself be sure and see the endless flow of classic Moroccan lamps, brassware, spices and teas, leather goods from Fes and hand-woven Moroccan tunics. There are many great deals to haggle for, many teashops at which to bask in the savory drink and even a hookah. Right in the middle of all this is the American Legation which is an exquisite house that stretches above and around the market. It was the first embassy of the United States and it is significant in the history of diplomacy around the world.
Further uphill and west from the Grand Socco lies an even hillier and more open space where there is located the Kasba. This fortress and museum is on a high point for the whole area. It was formerly the Sultan’s palace with opulent rooms and gardens. Itself a photographer’s paradise with its brilliant colors, exquisite ceilings and multilayered geometric shapes, it provides commanding views of the city, the port and the sea beyond. The Kasba is a great spot for panorama and itself contains much art and artifacts from the enduring history of this idyllic location all the way from Phoenician times. One stop that must be made in this area is the nearby Café Hafa. This tucked away spot is not readily visible from any road, but follow signs and ask friendly locals and it is a spot worth seeing. The mint tea, hookah and even some snacks are very reasonably priced and all of this one can enjoyed on a terraced café that has nothing blocking its cherished view of the open sea. Here one can enjoy gentle breezes, admire the green hillside and lookout over the busy straits. Tangier is certainly a charming place which will inspire, it is a place that has come of age in the world, a place that like the face of a gentle aged person can tell stories just by the lines in its streets, buildings, culture and nature.