Exploring Tangier Morocco
Tangier is a city of juxtapositions; old with the new, Middle East with the West, European with the African, and so on. Long occupied as an international city, world renowned for its indulgences into vanity, and one of the last places on Earth where people are stuck in centuries past.
Strategically positioned at the entrance to the Mediterranean and access to two seas (Mediterranean and Atlantic), Tangier has a long history of invasion, occupation, and foreign influence. Once a French colony, too close to Spain to have a definitive border, and home to many a disillusioned American or Brit, the flair for the fancy is ever present. Shop owners in traditional dress still tend to their homes that double as venues for selling local goods, the local people of Tangier continue to build up on old foundations as has been done for many centuries.
The winding and ever upward twisting alleys of the ancient Medina, with its elaborate Grand Socco entrance, evoke a feeling of stepping back a millennium into the past. Exotic smells and sounds fill the air, as the obviously shady figures shadow our slow movements through the crowded streets. The unbelievable assortment of spices, fruits, and veggies, beckon us into each shop as we make our way up the massive hill to our Riad (the Arabic version of a hostel/hotel), La Tangerina, at the peak of the Medina.
Tangier has something for everyone. Its location on two oceans makes for world class seafood, as well as its access to unbelievable Mediterranean agriculture. Berber women frequently make their way into the Medina to sell local arts, crafts, and food products. One gets the sense that this is a place where many cultures collide to make business, as they always have. It’s easy to get lost in Tangier, your only cue to direction being uphill (to La Tangerina) or downhill (to the sea).
Amongst the typical tourist trap shops and peddlers, it is possible to find truly remarkable works of art, antiques, and other artifacts. Completely by accident we managed to stumble into the world famous Boutique Majid (as seen on Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain), where we found priceless works of art from all over Africa, meticulously collected by the shops eccentric purveyor, Majid. Just a short jaunt from La Tangerina, an amazingly talented local artist, Chaara Mohammed, sells his wonderful depictions of the city around him in a closet sized gallery. His son was working the shop when we stopped by, telling us that his father paints all day every day!
One cannot visit Tangier without walking through the narrow Souk at the Grand Socco. Fresh butchered meats, complete with lamb’s head, line the stretch with unbelievably priced herbs and spices, and Berber women selling enormous fresh goats milk cheese in palm leaves. At the end of the Souk is the world famous seafood market, which is not for the faint of heart (or nose!). We visited at the end of the day, when the energy was tense as vendors tried to rid themselves of their final catches.
Dining in Tangier is highly enjoyable, and I recommend seeking out the places where locals and tourists alike eat. The food is very reasonably priced, and always quality. Lamb or chicken tagine, as well as harissa soup (don’t forget to add the lemon!) are absolute musts. We even found a pizza place, putting its own unique Arabic twist on pizza, where $3 bought a huge and exceptional pie. Check out our post on our favorite restaurant, Restaurant Populaire Saveur de Poisson.
Having spent several days back in time, a short trip into the new city illuminated the striking differences between the old and the new. In our ignorance, we did not expect such an opulent and clean city. Everything was immaculate, the houses huge and beautiful, and gardeners everywhere hard at work keeping the city looking beautiful. Not far outside the city we entered the Moroccan country side, indiscernible from the Spanish countryside except for the smaller number of people. The views from the hilltops overlooking the Atlantic were spectacular, and felt like a wonderful place to live.
Overall, Tangier is a fun, vibrant city, complete with the ancient feel of the Medina, although we highly recommend exploring the city surrounds, as the countryside is equally beautiful. The short trip to Hercules Grotto is well worth it, and make sure to indulge your tourist side with a camel ride on the beach.