Ex­plor­ing the eclec­tic bazaars and Moor­ish arches of Morocco’s cul­tural cap­i­tal

Seabourn Club Herald - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Andrew Maclear

Ex­plor­ing the eclec­tic bazaars and Moor­ish arches of Morocco’s cul­tural cap­i­tal

Tangier has for­ever been a mag­net for artists and writ­ers, philoso­phers and so­cialites. The city se­duced Matisse and De­gas with its light, en­rap­tured Bowles, Bur­roughs and Gins­berg with its lib­eral, ex­otic at­mos­phere, and thrilled Bar­bara Hut­ton and Mal­colm Forbes as the ideal set­ting for their elab­o­rate par­ties (with celebrity guests like the Rolling Stones of­ten in at­ten­dance). An in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity of writ­ers, artists, chefs, film­mak­ers and de­sign­ers main­tain its rep­u­ta­tion as a unique Euro-African en­clave. Mul­tilin­gual and mul­ti­cul­tural, Tangier has a cos­mopoli­tan am­bi­ence in­fused into its streets and walls. French, Ara­bic and Span­ish hang in the air, yet English is on the tip of every­one’s tongue. This ever-shift­ing city looks to the At­lantic and the Mediter­ranean, wait­ing for the brisk squalls that wash clean its dusty streets.

Dif­fer­ent worlds over­lap here. From the an­tique charms of the An­cien Me­d­ina, to the in­ter­na­tional ar­ti­sans clus­tered around the Amer­i­can Le­ga­tion build­ing at the Me­d­ina’s bor­der, to the tree-lined coast over­look­ing the Straits of Gi­bral­tar, Tangier will al­ways show you a new face. Here are a few high­lights for dis­cov­er­ing the se­cret plea­sures of this in­ter­na­tional city.


The Me­d­ina is the hub and the heart of Tangier, and the Grand Socco, dom­i­nated by cafés, of­fers en­try points be­tween the Me­d­ina and the mod­ern city. Con­sider stop­ping here for cof­fee or mint tea be­fore con­tin­u­ing into the city proper. In Tangier, café so­ci­ety is alive and well and raised to some­thing of an art. The beau­ti­fully re­stored Cinema Rif and ter­race café is a good place to prac­tice the time­less skill of sit­ting, re­lax­ing and ab­sorb­ing the en­vi­ron­ment. An hour spent with an espresso observing the light, the peo­ple and the build­ings is never time wasted. The ar­chi­tec­ture is a col­li­sion of Span­ish, Arab, French and Por­tuguese; fine old man­sions are abut­ted to di­lap­i­dated houses with un­kempt wrought-iron bal­conies. Bougainvil­lea tum­bles from rooftops and en­ters win­dows


un­in­vited. The elite rub shoul­ders with the im­pov­er­ished, and there is still a mild air of sub­terfuge to be found in the right bar, at the right time of night. Tangier has spruced up its ap­pear­ance but has never sur­ren­dered its mul­ti­far­i­ous per­son­al­ity. Hip on one cor­ner, down-at-heel on the next, it’s hard not to be se­duced.

At its core, The Me­d­ina is com­posed of nar­row lanes and al­leys in vary­ing states of re­vival or survival, some not much more than a me­ter or two wide. Th­ese are home to all man­ner of crafts­men, spice ven­dors, fab­ric shops, leather work­ers, jew­el­ers, shoe­mak­ers, fruit stalls, book­shops and patis­series. It takes a keen eye to dis­tin­guish the good from the bad in this mélange but, at the very least, pick out a pair of hand­made leather slip­pers to re­mind you of your Tangier ex­pe­ri­ence. If a color ex­ists, there is a slip­per to match it. As­cend­ing the Me­d­ina into the Kas­bah, you will find Las Chi­cas, a mod­ern, mul­ti­level store hold­ing an in­ter­est­ing col­lec­tion of ob­jects, pic­tures and clothes, as well as a small café. Push­ing the pe­cu­niary en­ve­lope fur­ther, Laure Welfling pro­duces highly priced, hand­made kaf­tans, orig­i­nal ce­ram­ics and high-end Moroc­can leather goods. Her store is next to the newly ren­o­vated Kas­bah mu­seum atop the Me­d­ina.


A visit to the Tangier Amer­i­can Le­ga­tion is an ex­pe­ri­ence less dry than it sounds. Res­cued from di­lap­i­da­tion by a group of lo­cals and ex­pats, the build­ing — do­nated to the United States by Morocco in 1821 (and the first piece of prop­erty ac­quired over­seas by the Amer­i­can govern­ment) — is a loose af­fil­i­a­tion of mu­seum, cul­tural cen­tre and school. The Le­ga­tion no longer con­ducts diplo­matic ac­tiv­i­ties but holds an eclec­tic as­sem­blage of Tangier and Moroc­can mem­o­ra­bilia. It houses Paul Bowles’ mu­sic, books and pho­to­graphs and, among other ac­tiv­i­ties, con­ducts lit­er­acy classes for women who live in the Me­d­ina. Ce­cil Beaton wa­ter­col­ors of Morocco en­liven the walls.

Worth a de­vi­a­tion and just a few yards be­yond the Me­d­ina walls is the weaver’s mar­ket. The Fun­dook Cheira is a vast, canopied af­fair hold­ing fab­ric sell­ers and tiny, bustling work­shops. Morocco is known for its fine fab­rics — sim­ple linens and com­plex weaves. Usu­ally op­er­ated by one man and an ap­pren­tice, the work­ing in­te­ri­ors of the fab­ri­cas are a fas­ci­nat­ing con­fec­tion of 19th-cen­tury pedal-driven looms, pul­leys, wheels and winches that travel up the walls and across the ceil­ings. The re­sul­tant fab­ric evolves at the ap­pro­pri­ate speed — slowly, but with skill, care and at­ten­tion.


Lit­tle is aban­doned in Morocco and the Me­d­ina’s bric-a-brac stores are crowded with things re­formed, re­cy­cled and re­an­i­mated. A dis­carded bird­cage be­comes a lamp, a bed­stead reap­pears as a table, a bi­cy­cle frame is dis­man­tled and re­formed as a chair. Me­tal work­ers are on many cor­ners and just watch­ing the cre­ative process is worth the time.

If you wish to wan­der be­yond the en­vi­rons of the Me­d­ina — for ex­am­ple, to the Boule­vard, the mod­ern com­mer­cial zone just be­yond the old city — hail a pe­tite taxi that will stop even if oc­cu­pied. The chore­ographed chaos of the Tangier taxi ex­pe­ri­ences is part of the ad­ven­ture. Don’t be alarmed if you find your­self traveling with strangers and in the wrong di­rec­tion, but you will get to your desti­na­tion — even­tu­ally. There is life be­yond the Me­d­ina and it’s worth the quick zip to La Casa Barata, a vast, sprawl­ing mar­ket of dis­count wares, carpets, clothes and curios which re­quire hours if not days of ex­am­i­na­tion.

Sus­te­nance is re­quired af­ter a morn­ing’s as­sault on the senses so head to El Morocco Club atop the Me­d­ina in the Kas­bah. The three-story restau­rant’s slick dé­cor, moody pi­ano bar and calm, tented rooftop ter­race pro­vide a per­fect lunch venue. An out­side, street level ter­race pro­vides lighter fare and sits on a leafy square. Un­der the di­rec­tion of Vin­cent Cop­pée and Os­car Badji, the Morocco Club presents an in­trigu­ing and con­stantly evolv­ing menu cater­ing to a de­voted lo­cal au­di­ence and to well-in­formed vis­i­tors.


If you’d like a city es­cape, head by taxi through the pine forests and along the verdant coastline to Cap Spartel, a fabulous lookout point to the At­lantic and the Straits of Gi­bral­tar. A grand taxi (i.e. it will be yours alone) will de­liver you in 30 min­utes, and there the ex­clu­sive Ho­tel Le Mi­rage and restau­rant will be wait­ing. A wrap­around ter­race pro­vides the per­fect lookout to­ward the At­lantic and the al­most 200 miles of un­in­ter­rupted beach that stretch from Tangier to Casablanca. The menu features tra­di­tional Moroc­can cui­sine and a daily sup­ply of lo­cal­caught fresh fish. The restau­rant is pop­u­lar and ex­clu­sive, so reser­va­tions are ad­vised.

If you have time in your itin­er­ary, strike out along the coast an­other 20 min­utes and find Asi­lah, a pretty port and me­d­ina town, im­pec­ca­bly white­washed and main­tained. Many visit for the day, and many visit solely for lunch. If you do make Asi­lah your lunch stop, try La Perle, which has a fu­sion menu of French Moroc­can ideas un­der the own­er­ship and guid­ance of na­tive chef Lar­son Iouini, who spent over 25 years run­ning his own restau­rant in Dublin. Asi­lah also has ex­cel­lent car­pet stores, with many hand­made tex­tiles sourced from the High At­las.

For a farewell to Tangier, make a stop at Café Hafa in Marchan, a Tangier icon, now ap­proach­ing its 100th birth­day and com­posed of a jum­ble of ter­races de­scend­ing to­ward the coast road. Take a fi­nal mint tea and con­tem­plate Spain, just 8 miles dis­tant, etched in mauve on the hori­zon. Or watch the storks, year-round res­i­dents, drift across the sky. It’s likely that Bowles, Genet, Ker­ouac and many oth­ers did the very same thing.

An old Tangier say­ing hangs in the air: “You have watches — we have time.”

Cap Spartel

The Me­d­ina

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