From matisse to the rolling stones
Tangier the city laden with fascination, history and art
Tangier like most of Morocco’s cities have plenty of history but not as surprising as the ancient port of tangier with its immoral past.
Tangier is a city shrouded in myth where Hercules marked the end of the known world or the sunken city of Atlantis, Tangier guards the narrow straits between Africa and Europe with close links between the two continents.
When Europe was dividing Africa into colonies they gave Tangier special treatment due to its strategic importance and made the city into a free port. Tangier was ruled over by Britain, France, America and a host of other countries each taking a rich slice of its income.
Tangier was a hotbed of spy networks spying on each other during the war and then mingling over evening cocktails. Many of the old spy haunts still exist and you can check them out, Caid's Bar at the Minzah Hotel was allegedly the original model for Rick's Bar in the movie Casablanca. and you can visit morocco tours
In the 1950’s Tangier became a melting pot for artists and writers which were attracted by the city's "anything goes" atmosphere. The art deco Gran Café de Paris on Place de France is a great place to grab a coffee relax and imagine yourself listening in on Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams or the author of The sheltering skies and long-term resident Paul Bowels. The Grand Hôtel Villa de France where the painter Matisse resided in his favourite room (number 35) which is still kept as it was when he was there however they have recently installed modern plumbing in the hotels recent refurbishment.
If the arts or espionage doesn’t fascinate you then throw yourself at the medina where you could find something grittier. Today tourists sit back and sip mint tea at the cafes that line the square of Petit Socco however 50 years ago it was a popular haunt of William Burroughs who would hang out here to score hard drugs and cheap sex and then return down the hill to the Muniria Hotel which is still open and was the place where he banged out his surreal masterpiece The Naked Lunch transforming the seedy side of Tangier into the even seedier fictional Interzone. Beat writers Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac visited Burroughs while he lived here and frequented the Le Tangerine bar which was one of their favourite drinking spots and now a place for local hipsters to hang out.
When Tangier joined Morocco in 1956 there was a moral clampdown however it still had quite a fascination amongst foreign visitors from international jet set stylish party hosts to gay Britons who would visit during the time homosexuality was illegal in Britain. The Rolling Stones were also fans Brian Jones the bands co-founder was a regular visitor they often recorded the entrancing musical rhythms of Moroccan music.
In the 1960’s the party atmosphere and immoral activities were ended in the “Great Scandal” which saw a crackdown on the gay scene and brothels and the arrest and expulsion of many foreigners with the sale of alcohol banned in the Medina with the Moroccan social morals eventually began to take hold in Tangier.
Tangier is today a modern port with the development of a high speed rail link to Casablanca modern shopping facilities, restaurants, hotels and cafes but if you scratch the surface you can still see the traces of this shady liberal past waiting to be discovered.