The International Hub: Tangier, Morocco

Even though there are lesser-explored regions of the northern sections of Morocco, Tangier once attracted the likes of Tennessee Williams, Paul Bowles, and even Barbara Hutton. While the port and city were considered international territories, they both came under Moroccan control in 1956, only a few months following independence. At this time, the city’s economy spiraled downward and has only recently seen a recovery due to tourism, a pouring of money into infrastructure, and new legislation that will turn the area into a tax-free port once again.

Tangier has always been a strategic and important port throughout Morocco’s history. Historically, it was controlled by the Berber dynasties through the mid-1500s until pirates began looting nearly every passing ship venturing into the Mediterranean. The Portuguese took care of the issue directly but after 200 years, the area was handed over to Britain, which didn’t control the territory for long due to extreme Berber resistance. Britain, however, wanted to ensure that no other European country would control the area, due to their stronghold on Gibraltar, so they supported the Moroccan king, or sultan, at the time against any attempts on invasion.

By the latter 1800s, Tangier had already become an international zone in theory. But, it officially became so after World War I, which gave the territory under the control of France, Spain, Britain, and other European countries that would use the port city for the louche business dealings and a reputation for extreme sexual deviance.

Although the decadent behaviors of the town haven’t faded completely, the town suffered until Europeans started seeing it as a vacation getaway, especially the British, who continue to use it as a cheap holiday destination for its well-priced hotels and holiday attractions. Additionally, tourists frequent the city for the weather that brings nearly sunshine every day of the year. In latter years, Moroccan tourists have made up the majority of travelers who come to escape the unbearable heat of Fez and even Marrakesh.

Tangier isn’t a difficult city to navigate compared to the throngs one might face in Casablanca, for example. Instead, its main street is Boulevard or Avenue Pasteur that intersects with Avenue Mohammed V. Here is where one can find the Librairie des Colonnes, the Madani perfumery, and the famous Place de France. The most famous area is the Grand Socco, which has the Sidi Bouabid mosque.

Moreover, the medina of Tangier isn’t as grand as that of Fez by any measure, but does showcase the historical Kasbah and even the gravesite of the world’s first travel writer, Ibn Battouta. The Jewish section of town is still intact, although most families moved from the area following independence. One of the most frequented spots is the famed Café Central, where actor William Burroughs was inspired for The Naked Lunch.

Overall, Tangier has regained some of its mid-20th century prominence. The city is booming with tourism once again and Europeans and Americans alike often pass through the city as they cross the Straight of Gibraltar. Tangier, which is dubbed “The Gateway into Africa” still holds a certain charm of Moroccan flavor mixed with European charisma.