Tetouan, Morocco – of the Rif and Mediterranean Sea

With a brace as strong as the Rif Mountains at its back, Tetouan stands as a shining relic of the beauty of Northern Morocco as it looks over the Mediterranean Sea. When the Berbers in between the second and third centuries BC founded the city, the first inhabitants would have never guessed how popular, or how varying their history would become.

When it was first founded, the Berbers named the region Tamuda. After two centuries of relative peace, the Romans took over the area, completely annihilating the early Berber structures and forming their own prominent trading post and mild-weather getaway. As Spain was becoming its own powerful nation and as it began taking over other enclaves and ports along the Atlantic side of Morocco, they saw an appealing opportunity to control even more of the trade routes coming in and alongside Northern Morocco. For three centuries, Spain controlled the area, even after some significant battles against Berber forces. But, in the 1600s, Moulay Ishmail, one of Morocco’s most tyrannical leaders, pillaged, plundered, and murdered countless in order to unify his realm.

Throughout the 1700s, Spain and Morocco kept their trading doors open, regardless of past wars. Trade routes flourished between Spain and Morocco. And, Tetouan was at the center of it all. Even through the 1900s, Spain and Morocco used Tetouan as a major trading base, as goods were being moved through Ceuta –the northern enclave of Morocco that is still considered a Spanish territory.

If you are planning on spending some time in northern Morocco, the beaches of Tetouan are a great place to begin. Even though the Mediterranean Sea is at its warmest in August, Moroccan holiday tourists won’t give you much space to enjoy the sun and salt. Up until mid-July, however, you can enjoy a practically calm beach. And, through September, as the weather is changing, you’ll find that an afternoon stroll by south of town will offer some of the best beachside scenery in all of Morocco.

Most tourists hang out in Place Moulay el Mehdi, and rightly so. Here, the area gives way to Spanish-influenced architecture and dining. If you are visiting in the springtime, when an afternoon shower might eliminate the possibility of a beach day, you might try exploring the Archaeological Museum of Tetouan, which houses some well-preserved Roman relics and pottery inspired by both Moroccan, Roman, and Spanish heritages. If you want to get a closer look at Moroccan art, then head to the Museum of Moroccan Arts, which houses some fine examples of Moroccan painting, crafts, carpets, musical instruments, and even weapons.

And, although traveling in the Rif Mountains might be a bit un-Moroccan due to the hashish trade, the easy-going atmosphere of Tetouan will give you some time to escape, to lounge, and to relax. So, if you only have a few days and are entering Morocco through Tangier, Ceuta, or even Melilla, you might consider making Tetouan a definite stopover to absorb the sun and culture, and perhaps sit back and sip some mint tea in the town’s lively plaza.