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.
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
7 Café Terraces in Tangier
Truman Capote wrote of Tangier: “Almost everything in Tangier is unusual. Before coming here you should do three things – be inoculated for typhoid, withdraw your savings from the bank, say goodbye to your friends…” Capote was there in the summer of 1949, but Tangier still holds out that invisible but very real lure which the author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) and In Cold Blood (1965) observed. “Tangier is a basin that holds you, a timeless place; the days slide by less noticed than foam in a waterfall.” That is how the celebrated American writer accounts for so many travellers – artists, writers, bohemians – landing in Tangier for a short holiday and then deciding to settle there indefinitely, simply “letting the years go by”. That is what today’s route is about – sitting back on one of the terraces and watching the city bustle unfold.
At the Top of the Kasbah
1. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but at La Maison Blanche Riad-Hotel
We can’t think of any better way to start the day in Tangier than by breakfasting on the panoramic terrace of La Maison Blanche Riad-Hotel, located at the top of the Kasbah, alongside the main gate to the erstwhile fortress. After spending a peaceful night in one of their nine rooms – each one with its own décor, dedicated to artists who helped turn Tangier into a fascinating, cosmopolitan place (Paul Bowles, Juan Goytisolo, etc.) – you will witness first-hand the leisurely awakening of the city. Enjoy the light that so impressed Matisse, the sea and the multi-coloured rooftops. Price per room: from 100 to 150 euros, breakfast included.
The Heart of the Medina
Once you feel rested and well fed, it’s time to wander through the Medina. Whichever way you enter, within two minutes you get hopelessly lost in the chaotic maze of alleyways, those tunnels with coloured walls where no shaft of sunlight ever penetrates but which are always filled with light. Both sides of the pleasant grotto are lined with all kinds of workshops and businesses. Cobblers, basket-makers, jewellers, dairies, barber shops, spiceries… The toing and froing of people and goods is constant. Everything gets conveyed in hand-carts, as cars wouldn’t fit in these narrow streets. The agreeable chaos is augmented by hawkers of fruit, fish, mint, potatoes, broad beans, nougat, brick-a-brac, etc. But, the Medina is also peopled by leisurely Tangerines who practise the healthy pastime of sitting at a terrace or in the bright interior salon of a café, and letting time go by.
2, 3 & 4. Tingis, Central and Fuentes… in the Warmth of the Petit Socco
The small but crowded Petit Socco square is ideal for observing one of the nerve centres of Tangier’s Medina. There are various options, but the most typical and recommendable ones include the airy salon and terrace of the Café Tingis, where the time-worn sign claims “everything always fast and fresh”. Similarly, the Café Central, located just opposite, or the balconies of the Café Fuentes, on the upper floor. To get there, your best reference point is the Petit Socco square – officially known as the 9 April 1947 – which is a two minutes’ walk along the Rue Siaghine. On your way, you will catch sight of the facade of the Spanish Catholic Mission, next to the Alcalá department store – “fabrics, novelties…”. This is followed by numerous money-changing booths, shop windows plastered with vintage cameras and a host of jewellery stores.
5. Café Ibn Batouta, in the Heart of the Medina
Somewhat more hidden, but more authentic, is the Café Ibn Batouta, located in the heart of the Medina. It takes up several floors, although regulars hang out on the first floor where they often watch football matches on the television. At the top of the narrow staircase you suddenly come onto a split-level terrace where the youngsters of Tangier meet to drink tea, chat and smoke, with the sky as their only witness. From here, the sea is not visible, but you do look out over a beehive of rooftops and roof terraces bedecked with satellite dishes and laundry hanging on the lines. Neither is it one of the city’s most comfortable joints, but indeed one of the most genuine. The affordable prices – a large glass of mint tea costs just 6 dh – draw many students to the city. Next to the small bar counter where the tea is made hangs a photo of the actor, Matt Damon, of The Bourne Ultimatum fame. Regulars enjoy telling new customers how the scenes where the star jumps between buildings, from one balcony to the next, was filmed here.
6. Café Hafa, Paul Bowles’ Favourite
The staggered terrace of the Café Hafa is unique. Overlooking the ocean, on the top of a cliff, it is absolutely always jam-packed with youngsters drinking tea, smoking and playing table games. Opened in 1921, it was the favourite of Paul Bowles, and the Rolling Stones also came here, among other celebrities. The tea is tasty and cheap – less than 1 euro – and, although the plastic furniture detracts from the café’s charm, it is ideal for having a restful break, reading, chatting and gazing out over the blue horizon.
Getting there is a cinch – you leave the Kasbah by the main gate next to La Maison Blanche and take the street that goes up to the Phoenician necropolis, a popular spot among Tangerines, who often spend the afternoon there. Just beyond it, a bright alleyway where young men mill around buying and selling loose cigarettes leads to the Café Hafa, where you can also grab a bite of one of the local snacks.
In the Coolth of the Kasbah
7. Morocco Café – Peace in the Shade of a Centenary Rubber Plant
Located just 20 metres from the main gate into the Kasbah, the quiet terrace of the Morocco Café is ideal for having some tea or any drink and even ordering the dish of the day, a salad, a quiche, etc. All the food is home made. The café is somewhat more upscale than average and prices are more like those on the opposite side of the Gibraltar Strait. For instance tea – served in a small teapot – costs 18 dh. It opens at 9 in the morning, except on Mondays, which is their day off. The building also houses the Morocco Club, a piano bar where by night you can enjoy good music and excellent cocktails in a pleasant atmosphere.more info
Morocco, a world of senses
The Caves of Hercules
The beauty of the place, their archaeological and mythological value make the caves of Hercules an unusual place to visit in Tangier. The mythological comes as it is here where it is said Hercules rested after performing one of his 12 labors, after separating Europe and Africa , and waiting to perform the next task assigned – pick the golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides .
You get there by a small road , 5 miles from Cape Spartel and 20 minutes from the city of Tangier . Although part of the cave has an artificial origin – rocks for making mill were extracted from here-, its origin is mainly due to the action of strong waves , which has shaped these caves in curious ways. For example , if you see the cave opening to the Atlantic, you will see drawn silhouette of African continenente flipped. Inside the cave , a handful of vendors and artisans offer their ceramic products , souvenirs and postcards with the image of this famous opening .
Picture: imad khleeh
A place well worth discovering! Check out our flights here.