Tangier – the Gateway to Africa – Morocco

13 May


Short Description. I strolled through the medina and went to Dar Nour to take pictures for a blog article. In the afternoon, I went to the Ville Nouvelle, and in the evening, I stayed at Dar Bargach, in the heart of the medina.

Long Description.

In the morning, I left the accommodation I had in Tangier as quickly as I could. The hosts weren’t even at home when I left, so I left the door open, as they didn’t leave any other indications. Eventually, I headed to the old medina.

I parked near the entrance to the medina and gave some money to the man guarding the parking lot. As usual, I gave him as much as I wanted, the gesture mattered. Then, I entered the medina through the main gate Bab el Fahs – the gate in Grand Socco Square, a typical Arabic medina gate, of immaculate white, but with a pointed arch of Gothic influence.

Tangier: Bab el Fahs - the main entrance in the medina coming from Grand Socco

Tangier: Bab el Fahs – the main entrance in the medina coming from Grand Socco

Facing the Gibraltar straight, Tangier always had a strategic importance in the Mediterranean area. It was, at the same time, the gateway to Africa. While Morocco had been repeatedly divided between France and Spain throughout history, Tangier remained a kind of international zone until the country gained independence. After that, it went into an atrocious decline and was dominated by criminals and drug addicts until 1999. Then, a new development project revitalized the port area, and tourism exploded as criminality had disappeared.

Surrounded by 15th-century Portuguese fortifications, the medina in Tangier was slightly different from other Moroccan medinas. Arab culture dominated, but the medina also had European influence. White houses, tangled pedestrian streets, winding and narrow. But somehow, the bustle of the Arab medinas was missing. It was a more settled, quieter, neater bustle.

Tangier: the main square or Petit Socco (or Souq Dakel) in the old medina

Tangier: the main square or Petit Socco (or Souq Dakel) in the old medina

The medina in Tangier didn’t have a main street. The only main alley was the one that linked Grand Socco square (outside of the medina) to Petite Socco (inside of the medina). Petite Socco, or Souq Dakel, was a kind of square formed organically at the crossroads between several streets inside the medina. And it once was a place for sale, drugs, and prostitutes. On this street, there also was the Spanish church, with a monastery next to it. The monastery featured an inner courtyard surrounded by porticoes – an architectural element typical of the Gothic monasteries from the European Middle Ages.

Architecture in the Tangier medina was certainly different than in other Arab medinas. Multi-level dwellings featured a balcony facing the street as opposed to the typical Arab dwellings that opened onto an inner courtyard. Multiculturalism could be felt through the presence of religious buildings belonging to Islam and Christianity, as well as eclectic buildings of European influence. At the edge of the medina’s main street, one could see the port of Tangier and the Gibraltar straight.

Tangier: a street in the old medina

Tangier: a street in the old medina

Many Europeans – French or Spaniards, moved to Tangier. They came to Tangier and settled with a business in tourism or opened a riad for visitors in the medina. The most picturesque neighborhood in the medina was the one where the sultan’s fortress sat in Place de Mechoir. The fortress, kasbah, stood somewhere in the higher neighborhood of the medina. The sultan’s fortress (palace of the Kasbah Dar al-Makhzen) hosted a large museum complex, with a big inner courtyard surrounded by porticoes. However, it didn’t have the same decorative richness as in other Moroccan palaces. One could feel the European influence, more settled and less exuberant. The fortress also had vast gardens with lush vegetation where everyone took advantage of the palm trees’ shade.

Only the streets in the kasbah’s neighborhood (the oldest neighborhood in the medina) had typical Arabic character. In the surroundings of the kasbah, I went to Dar Nour, where I had talked to Philip (the French owner of the dar) to set up a barter and write an article about his dar in exchange for accommodation. Philip offered me a fresh orange juice on the terrace overlooking the whole medina, a gorgeous breathtaking view. Then, he showed me all the rooms of his dar to take pictures. However, the rooms were all fully booked and I had to look for another accommodation in the medina.

Tangier: along the streets inside the Kasbah - Dar Nour (a restored traditional house as a very special guesthouse)

Tangier: along the streets inside the Kasbah – Dar Nour (a restored traditional house as a very special guesthouse)

Dar Nour was extremely beautiful – a typical Moroccan dwelling with numberless rooms, corridors, stairs, terraces, and pergolas, from where one could admire the whole medina in Tangier. Immaculate white everywhere, perfectly dazzling – especially on the terraces, while all rooms were unique – decorated with discreetly colored Moroccan furniture. And bathrooms had my favorite finishing, my beloved tadelakt.

At noon, I had lunch in Grand Socco Square, a mix of fried fish and shrimps, french fries, olives, bread, and an orange Fanta served in an old bottle, as those found in Romania during the 90s. Grand Socco was a large, circular square with a central fountain. The square sat on the border between the old medina and the Ville Nouvelle, the New City. The New City had modern buildings, of colonial influence, but not same quality architecture as in Casablanca or Rabat. I strolled through some new neighborhoods on the hills in the new city for a while. Then, I walked on some sloping streets, and returned to the medina to search for accommodation.

Tangier: view of the old medina from Dar Bargach

Tangier: view of the old medina from Dar Bargach

I went to search for Dar Bargach, a Moroccan dar recommended by the Lonely Planet guide within the maze of streets in the medina. Before I carried my luggage there (the medina was exclusively pedestrian), I went to see where it was located. I wanted to know how to get there on the winding streets, so that I could come with my luggage directly there. I talked to the owner, a very nice young Moroccan woman. The accommodation was a bit more expensive, but I had a typical Moroccan room overlooking an inner courtyard in a traditional dar.

Also, I had to move my car from where I had parked it in the morning to the other side of the medina, near the port. There, the parking guards immediately approached me. I paid 20 dirhams per night for the car. I had to negotiate with them because it didn’t work to give them as much as I wanted. They knew I had to leave the car there overnight and took advantage of this. Obviously, they asked me a higher price. However, it didn’t even matter how much I spent for parking as long as I stayed in a traditional Moroccan dar. It all worth it.

Dar Bargach was located right in the heart of the medina, at the edge of several winding and deserted alleys. As soon as you entered the small, stylish patio, you felt overwhelmed by the perfect synthesis of Moroccan architecture – stuccoes, colorful mosaics, tadelakt on the walls, painted wood ceilings, an intimate and quiet atmosphere, secluded from the urban bustle. From the terrace of Dar Bargach, one could admire the entire medina of Tangier, including the Gibraltar straight and a bit of Spain.

If you want to read more about my trip through Morocco, here are all my Travel Diaries from Morocco (x21).

Have you been to Tangier or plan to go there? Leave a comment below this post and tell me what you liked in Morocco.

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