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Tangier – A Journey of Inspiration

Some destinations attract visitors for their museums; others, for their beaches or mountains, for the energy they give off or, simply, because they are fashionable. In the case of Tangier, the journey is inevitably related to the inspiration and yearnings for the past which it harbours like some muse of the arts. Myriad artists and scholars have passed through that city, located on the northern tip of Morocco, and have become spellbound by its charms.

The Light and Colour of Tangier

The first artist to be captivated by Tangier was the French painter, Eugène Delacroix. In 1832 he journeyed there as part of a diplomatic mission and ended up being seduced by its light and colour, as masterfully portrayed in such paintings as Jewish Wedding in Morocco.

The Spanish painter, Mariano Fortuny, who was familiar with Delacroix’s production, also went to Tangier in search of that magic, which infused a host of sketches and notes for his Orientalist works.

Henri Matisse reached Tangier in 1912. There, not only did he encounter “the landscapes of Morocco just as Delacroix had depicted them in his paintings”, as he himself stated, but he also discovered a new palette of colours for his own works. He took up lodgings in room 35 of the extant Grand Hotel Villa de France, where he painted such works as Window at Tangier.

Paul Bowles, Tangier and the Beat Generation

Tangier became a veritable beacon for writers, particularly in the 1950s and part of the 1960s. And, no wonder, as from 1923 to 1956 the city was a demilitarised zone under joint administration by various countries. This measure was implemented on account of its strategic position in the Strait of Gibraltar and the ensuing international disputes over its control. Known as the Tangier International Zone, it became a place of passage for many people – diplomats, adventurers, artists, spies and others. Functioning as “everyone’s city” or, if you will, “no man’s city”, it enjoyed an unusual status as a place of freedom and tolerance which would be difficult to find elsewhere.

One of the best known regulars in the city was the writer and composer, Paul Bowles, who arrived in Tangier in 1947 and was completely swept off his feet by its charms. It was there that he wrote his first novel, The Sheltering Sky, so masterfully ported to the cinema by the director, Bernardo Bertolucci. Then ensued the arrival of other creative figures, including Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and Francis Bacon. And, he was also instrumental in spawning the Beat Generation – William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who succumbed to the allure of a place where they could give free rein to their imagination and – there’s no denying it – their vices, too.

Tangier Today

What remains of all that past now? While a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, and the city is in the throes of a process of renewal, the spots which resonate of those artists are still standing.

A visit to the Grand Socco provides a suitable introduction to the city. Its pleasant ambience and colourfulness are guaranteed, as is your likelihood of (literally) getting lost in its streets. You will eventually end up willy-nilly in the Petit Socco, a square in the heart of the Medina, packed with cafés and restaurants. Another square, the Place de France, is also a must-see, as it is the site of the Grand Café de Paris, with a history of its own. This is where our protagonists spent countless hours chatting and observing the passers-by.

The Fondation Lorin, housed in a synagogue, boasts a fine collection of photographs, documents and posters that give you a good idea of what Tangier was like in the first half of the 20th century. Then there is the Tangier American Legation Museum, a visit not to be missed by enthusiasts of Paul Bowles as it features a section dedicated to the writer which displays photos, portraits and Moroccan musical scores which he recorded himself.

The Villa Muniria – now reconditioned as the Hotel El-Muniria (1, Rue Magellan) – was the favourite lodgings of the Beat Generation. Tennessee Williams and the Rolling Stones themselves were counted among the guests that stayed there. It was there, too, in room number 9, that William Burroughs wrote his seminal work, Naked Lunch.

Another landmark of literary Tangier is the Librairie des Colonnes (54, Boulevard Pasteur). It was a meeting place for writers and artists, while nowadays it continues to host cultural activities.

Like the writers and artists of yesteryear, allow yourself to succumb to the charms of this inspiring city and plan your trip with Vueling!


Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación

Images by Dieter WeineltAndrzej Wójtowicz


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