Morocco’s Tanjier – An Intriguing History

Tangier (also known as Tangiers) is one of Morocco’s larger cities with a an official population of approximately 670,000 although the recent growth of unorganized suburbs has pushed it to close to 1 million. Tangier is situated nearly opposite to Gibraltar, and as such has been a strategic location for trade, war and the movement of peoples for thousands of years. The city was founded in the 5th century BC by the Phoenicians, renowned for their trading prowess who also founded Carthage in modern Tunisia, a bitter rival of ancient Rome.

Tangier became a Roman colony following the defeat of Carthage, and through the succeeding centuries Tangier would pass from the Berbers to the Vandals, the Byzantines, Portugal, Spain, and even England for a short time. Considering this head-spinning history, it’s no wonder today’s Tangier is one of the most multicultural and cosmopolitan cities in the world!

Tangier’s murky diplomatic status in the century or so before becoming a part of Morocco in 1956 made it a worldwide hub of smugglers, spies and skullduggery. Agents, double-agents and their contacts were relatively free to go about their shadowy business without official hindrance. Whether it was the Great Game of the 19th century, intelligence gathering in World Wars I and II, or the convoluted and cryptic “Spy vs. Spy” maneuverings of the Cold War, Tangier was the place to be for the undercover set!

It’s a little-known fact that Morocco was the first country to officially recognize the newly independent United States, in 1777. In 1821, reigning Sultan Moulay Suliman bestowed on the US the Legation Building in Tangier, the first foreign property owned by the American government. Still standing today and completely restored, the Tangier American Legation Museum is a popular tourist attraction. Another curious fact about Tangier is that the juicy “Tangerine” oranges enjoyed worldwide were originally exported from Morocco through the port of Tangier, thus acquiring their name.

The Moroccan government has given the city of Tangier great leeway in local administration and the city’s demographic realities are both respected and catered to. The city runs 5 separate school systems: Moroccan, American, French, Spanish and English. The varied educational backgrounds of Tangier’s citizens should come in handy as Tangier’s economy continues to expand. Tourism and agriculture, the city’s largest employers, should receive a boost from the completion of major infrastructure projects like the Tangier-Mediterranean port and a wealth of planned industrial parks.