From the southernmost parts of Andalusia, you can see a fantastic skyline presenting a coast of the Dark Continent 20 km from Europe. The view is stunning, and some people find it hard to believe that those two continents are situated so close to each other. Quite often, I hear from people who see the unique skyline for the first time: “It’s impossible!”, “It’s amazing!”, “Is Africa so close???” And what if you wanted to swim through the Strait of Gibraltar and set foot on a new continent? A piece of cake!
It is easiest to go for a one/two-day trip to Tangier. It is possible from Algeciras and Tarifa. We decided to take a fast ferry from Tarifa, and the sight of the European coast made a great impression on us. The ferry trip took about an hour (the luggage is scanned like at airports).
After leaving the harbor building, we got surrounded by a group of locals intrusively shouting their offers. And here is a helpful tip – if you decline politely but firmly, they will leave you alone.
Tangier is a typical harbor city shaped by multiple nations and cultures occupying this region. Berbers founded the town in ancient times, and Greeks named it Tingis. In the seventh century, the city was taken over by Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, and Visigoths. In 707, Tangier and many of Morocco were under Arab control, who built a base camp there for their raids on the Iberian Peninsula.
A strategic location and ongoing wars and conflicts made Tangier constantly go from one hand to another. In 1471, it was included to Portugal, and over 200 years later, it was taken over by the British when, in 1661, together with Mumbai, it was included in Catherine of Braganza’s (a Portuguese princess) dowry after she married the king of England, Charles II. The British controlled the city and the local area for another 22 years. Later, they handed it back to the Arabs, who, surprisingly, ruled over Morocco up to the early XX century.
French and Spanish colonization of Morocco made an impact on Tangier, too. In 1923, a neutral area called an “international zone” was created in the city. William Burroughs called it an “Interzone” in Naked Lunch – a masterpiece created during his stay in Tangier. During its glory days, the free zone was a destination for many artists from all over the world, who wanted to find their exotic oblivion. Among them were the poet Paul Bowles, members of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles… The Free City zone was under French and Spanish patronage, a joint French, Spanish, and United Kingdom administration. Later, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States became sources of influence there and established their administrative divisions. This peculiar melting pot lasted until 1956, when the city reintegrated into independent Morocco.
If you want to have a break, here are my recommendations:
Tangier is not a large city. Because of that, you will not need a car or a guide to navigating the old town… If you want to see other city districts or visit the local area, you can use the service of intrusive taxi drivers. However, remember to negotiate the price – it is the local culture and a custom…
Do not fully trust received offers because the locals are skilled at talking and inciting. It is best to treat a conversation as fun. Do not expect that a mere taxi driver can take you and show you the interiors of villas and sheik palaces, etc. The driver will take you, indeed, to the neighborhood and show you a hedge behind a richly ornamented fence – and that’s all you will see of the sheik mansion :) Sometimes, it is good to check the technical condition of the taxi before getting into it because, at one time, we could see the road, during our travel back to the hotel, through the hole in the floor.
How to get there?
On a ferry from Tangier or Algeciras – departure time, reservations, information, and prices CLICK HERE. You can buy tickets before entering the harbor in Tarifa, as well.
We witnessed twice passengers being led in and out from the upper deck next to the cars on the ferry's lower deck. At the end of the trip, people are crowding downstairs in a queue towards the exit, carelessly putting their heavy bags on the hoods of the cars… And suitcases, trunks, and big bags scratch the paint. If you need to take your vehicle (because you want to travel further into Morocco), I advise the drivers to get to as soon as possible to the car queue so that your car is situated as far from the ferry entrance as possible.
Maybe you will find helpful a map of Tangier with the most significant attractions and cafes highlighted.
I recommend The Seamstress, a book by Maria Duenas in which Tangier is an essential background of the whole story…