Morocco Tour Guide: Tangier / Tanger / Tanja

Morocco Tour Guide: Tangier / Tanger / Tanja Last updated on Thursday 22nd April 2010

Population: 554,000 (est.)

Tangier has been called the Gateway to Morocco and has been designated as the country's summer capital by King Hassan II.

Overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar with a view of Spain's southern coast, Tangier is set upon a spectacular bay and has been a magnet for travellers for millennia.


According to Greek mythology Tangier, or Tingi, was founded by the giant Anteus. Tingi is mentioned by Carthagenian travellers as early as 500B.C. and is known to have been visited by Phoenician sailors earlier than that.

After the destruction of Carthage, Tingi was affiliated with the Berber kingdom of Mauretania. It then became an autonomous state under Roman protection, eventually becoming a Roman colony in the 3rd century A.D. during the reign of Diocletian, and ending as the capital of Mauretania Tingitana.

In the 5th century Vandals conquered and occupied Tingi and from here swept across North Africa. A century later Tingi became part of the Byzantine Empire and gradually fell into obscurity until the city's capture by Moussa bin Nasser during the first years of the 8th century.

The city's inhabitants were converted to Islam but many Berber tribes became disaffected and joined the schismatic Kharijite rebellion and seized the port city in 739.

When Moulay Idris I established his Kingdom at Volubilis in 788, Tangier became a focal point in the struggle between the Idrissid dynasty and the Umayyads. This struggle continued until the Fatimid dynasty from Tunisia assumed power in 958.

Tangier came under the successive sway of the Almoravides and Almohades, after which the city fell under the influence of the Tunisian Hafsid dynasty before passing into the hands of the Merinids.

By the 14th century Tangier became a major Mediterranean port frequented by European trading vessels bringing cloth, spices, metals and hunting birds in exchange for leather, wool, carpets, cereals and sugar.

After an unsuccessful attempt to seize Tangier in 1437 the Portuguese finally conquered and occupied the city in 1471, converting the great mosque into a cathedral.

For nearly three centuries the town was passed back and forth between the Spanish, Portuguese and finally the English, when it was given to Charles II as part of the dowry from Catherine of Braganza. The English granted Tangier a charter which made the city equal to English towns.

In 1679 Moulay Ismail made an unsuccessful attempt to seize the town but maintained a crippling blockade which ultimately led to a British retreat. However, the British destroyed the town and its port facilities prior to their departure. Under Moulay Ismail the city was reconstructed to some extent but the city gradually declined until by 1810 the population was no more than 5,000.

Tangier's revival

Ironically, Tangier began to revive from the mid-19th century when European colonial governments fought for influence over Morocco. France, Spain, England and Germany jockeyed for position in Tangier where most diplomatic missions were located.

In 1905 the German Emperor Wilhelm II arrived in Tangier to register his antipathy to French machinations, and the Algeciras Conference was called for the following year. Attended by all the European powers, this conference granted Tangier a special status as The Tangier Zone. This placed the town and its surrounding territory under the authority of an International Commission, with the Sultan of Morocco as nominal ruler.

A protocol signed in 1925 by Great Britain, France, and Spain provided for permanent security of the city. However, in 1929 Spain was given police powers and the city was placed under the legislative control of an international body.

During World War II Tangier was completely controlled by Spain, reverting to international authority in 1945. Tangier was thus powerfully Europeanized and still retains traces of the multiplicity of influences which permeated the city during that period. With independence in 1956 Tangier became a fully integrated part of the Kingdom of Morocco.

Today the city is primarily a shipping centre and tourist attraction, on the itinerary of day-tripping tourists on package tours of Spain.

Places of interest

The Grand Socco

The Petit Socco

The Harbour

The Kasbah

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