History of Tangiers: The Crossroads of Civilizations




History of Tangiers

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Tangiers, with its strategic location at the confluence of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, has always been more than just a Moroccan city. It’s a tapestry woven with threads from the Phoenicians, Romans, Berbers, Arabs, Spanish, Portuguese, and English, among others.

This unique blend of influences has given Tangiers a rich and diverse history, making it a focal point for trade, diplomacy, and cultural exchange for millennia.

As we delve into the annals of Tangiers’ past, we’ll uncover the stories of conquerors and the conquered, of bustling markets and secretive spies, and of a city that has always stood at the crossroads of the world.

Key Takeaways

  1. Ancient History: Tangier, originally known as Tingis, was an ancient Phoenician town. It later became a Roman colony in the province of Mauretania Tingitana in the fifth century BC.
  2. Medieval Period: After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Tangier was under Vandal, Byzantine, and then Visigothic rule. In the 8th century, it was conquered by the Arabs and became part of the Islamic world.
  3. Portuguese Control: In the 15th century, Tangier was captured by the Portuguese. It was then ceded to England in 1661 as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza when she married King Charles II.
  4. International Zone: In the 20th century, Tangier was declared an international zone and was administered by several European powers. This period was marked by a cosmopolitan flair, with many artists, writers, and spies flocking to the city.
  5. Reintegration into Morocco: In 1956, Tangier was reintegrated into the Kingdom of Morocco after the country gained independence from France.

Early History of Tangiers

Tangiers has a rich and varied history that dates back to ancient times. The city was founded as a Phoenician colony, possibly as early as the 10th century BCE and almost certainly by the 8th century BCE. The settlement was strategically located on the Strait of Gibraltar, which made it an important trading post and a gateway to the Mediterranean.

The majority of Berber tombs around Tangiers had Punic jewelry by the 6th century BCE, speaking to abundant trade by that time. The Carthaginians later took control of the city, followed by the Romans in the first century BCE. Tingis, as the city was then known, became the capital of the Roman province of Mauretania Tingitana in 42 CE.

Despite the city’s strategic location, it was often subject to attacks and invasions. The Berbers, Vandals, and Romans all fought for control of the city at various times. The city’s population grew and declined over the centuries as different powers came and went for this amazing city on the African continent.

Tangiers under European Influence

Tangiers has a long history of European influence, having been under the control of various European powers throughout the centuries. Portugal was the first European power to establish a presence in Tangiers, capturing the city in 1471. The city was lost to Spain in 1580, before being recovered by Portugal in 1656. In 1662, Tangiers passed into British possession as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza on her marriage to King Charles II.

English Tangier was the period in Moroccan history in which the city of Tangier fell to occupied by England as part of its colonial empire from 1661 to 1684. During this time, the English built a new city outside the walls of the old city, which became known as the “New City”. The English also built a new harbor and a number of public buildings, including a church and a hospital. The Moroccan sultan led and uprising which led to a surrender by the British in 1684.

The Moroccan Sultan Moulay Ismail ruled for 55 years, making his reign one of the longest in Moroccan history. During his rule, he managed to unify and stabilize the country after a period of turmoil.

The city was subsequently occupied by the French and the Dutch. The French occupied the city from 1684 to 1689, before it was returned to Moroccan control. The city was then occupied by the Dutch from 1699 to 1720, before being returned to Moroccan control once again.

The International Zone Era

During the International Zone Era, Tangiers was a free city and an international zone managed by several colonial powers. The zone was established in 1925 and lasted until its reintegration into independent Morocco in 1956, with interruptions during the Spanish occupation of Tangiers from 1940 to 1945.

Tangiers was not under the sovereignty of any nation, but rather was governed by a committee of representatives from various countries. The zone was divided into several districts, each with its own administrative council. It was a diplomatic capital, and consuls and diplomats from many countries were present in Tangiers.

It became a hub for espionage and spying during the second world war. With the presence of many foreign diplomats and spies, Tangiers became a hotbed of intrigue and espionage. A place where intelligence agencies from various countries could operate with relative freedom on the northern coast
of Morocco. Its strategically importance due to its direct lines to Europe and North africa. Many secret operations were conducted from Tangiers during this time and it remained as an international zone until World War II.

American Presence in Tangiers

Tangiers has a long history of American presence, dating back to 1777 when Morocco became one of the first countries to recognize American independence. The American Legation in Tangiers is a symbol of the historic cultural and diplomatic relations between the United States and the Kingdom of Morocco. Today, it is the only National Historic Landmark outside of the United States.

The American Legation complex in Tangiers dates from the mid-19th century through the 1930s. The original complex is thought to have been destroyed in the French bombardment of the city in 1844. Today, the 16,500-square-foot Moroccan Courtyard style complex bears a few battle scars of its own.

With the return of Tangiers native and Civil War veteran Felix Matthews, Tangiers’ status was raised to that of Consulate General in the 1870s. Then in 1905, after more than a century of consular relations, the United States and Morocco finally established diplomatic relations, and Samuel Gommere was named Minister, in charge of the American Legation which is a cultural center.

Moroccan Independence and Tangiers

Tangiers played a significant role in the struggle for Moroccan independence. In 1947, Sultan Muhammad V delivered his famous Tangier Speech, which appealed for the independence and territorial unity of Morocco.

The speech was delivered at the Mendoubia in what was then the Tangier International Zone, and it was complemented by another speech the next day at the Grand Mosque. Muhammad V’s speeches were instrumental in galvanizing support for the independence movement across Morocco.

The struggle for independence intensified in the 1950s, and Tangiers became a center of political activity. The city was a hub for nationalist groups, and its strategic location on the Strait of Gibraltar made it an important site for smuggling weapons and supplies. The French authorities responded with a harsh crackdown on political dissent, and many activists were imprisoned or exiled.

Despite these challenges, the independence movement continued to gain momentum, and in 1956, Morocco finally gained its independence from France. Tangiers played a key role in the celebrations, with massive crowds gathering in the city’s streets to celebrate the end of colonial rule.

Cultural and Artistic Influence

Tangier has been a melting pot of cultures for centuries, with influences from Berber, Arab, Andalusian, and European traditions. This rich cultural heritage has inspired many artists and writers throughout history.

One of the most notable cultural institutions in Tangier is the Tangier American Legation Museum. The museum showcases the history of the American presence in Morocco and its cultural impact. It also has a collection of Moroccan art and artifacts.

The medina of Tangier is another cultural gem. It is a maze-like old city with narrow streets and bustling markets. The medina is home to many traditional Moroccan crafts, such as pottery, textiles, and jewelry. It is also a popular spot for street performers and musicians.

Tangier has been a haven for writers and artists for many years. The American writer Paul Bowles lived in Tangier for over fifty years and wrote many of his famous works there. The Moroccan writer Mohamed Choukri also called Tangier home and wrote his famous memoir “For Bread Alone” about his experiences growing up in poverty in Tangier.

The artistic influence of Tangier is also evident in the paintings of Henri Matisse. The city’s vibrant colors and unique light inspired many of his works.

Tangier’s cultural influence is not limited to the arts. The city has a rich history that dates back to the Almoravids, who founded the city in the 11th century. The Berber and Arab cultures have also left their mark on the city’s architecture, cuisine, and traditions.

Sultan’s Palace

The Sultan’s Palace in Tangier, also known as Dar el Makhzen, is a historic palace located in the city of Tangier, Morocco. It was originally built in the 17th century and served as the residence of the Sultan of Morocco when he visited Tangier. The palace is situated in the Kasbah area of the city, which is the old fortified part of Tangier.

The palace complex includes several beautiful courtyards, gardens, and intricately decorated rooms. The architecture reflects the rich Moroccan style with its detailed mosaics, carved wooden ceilings, and ornate stucco work. Over the years, the palace has undergone several renovations, but it still retains its original charm and grandeur.

Today, Dar el Makhzen houses the Museum of Moroccan Arts and the Museum of Antiquities. These museums showcase a vast collection of Moroccan art, historical artifacts, and archaeological finds from the region. The palace and its museums are popular tourist attractions in Tangier, offering visitors a glimpse into the city’s rich history and cultural heritage.

Modern Tangiers

Tangiers has come a long way since its early days as a Phoenician colony. Today, it is a bustling city with a population of over one million people and is a very modern twentieth century city. The climate is mild, with warm summers and mild winters, making it an ideal destination for tourists year-round.

One of the main industries in Tangiers is fishing, with many locals making their living from the sea from tangier mediterranean port. The city is also home to an international airport, Ibn Batouta International Airport, making it easily accessible to visitors from around the world.

Tangiers is known for its beautiful beaches, with miles of pristine coastline to explore. Whether you’re looking to soak up the sun or take a dip in the crystal-clear waters of the Mediterranean, Tangiers has something for everyone. If you can make it go and visit the Hercules grotto, famed for its link to the Greek mythology tale of Hercules and his quest to retrieve the golden apples.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the significance of Tangier in Moroccan history?

Tangier has played a significant role in Moroccan history due to its strategic location at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea. The city has been a melting pot of different cultures and civilizations, including Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, and Europeans, which has shaped its unique identity.

How did Tangier become an important port city?

Tangier’s location at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea made it an important port city. The Phoenicians established a trading post in Tangier in the 12th century BC, and it became an important Roman port in the 1st century AD. During the Islamic period, Tangier became a major center of trade and commerce, connecting Africa with Europe and Asia.

What role did Tangier play in the history of the Mediterranean?

Tangier has played a significant role in the history of the Mediterranean due to its strategic location at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea. It has been a center of trade and commerce, connecting Africa with Europe and Asia. Tangier has also been a melting pot of different cultures and civilizations, which has contributed to the diversity of the Mediterranean region.

Who were some of the notable historical figures associated with Tangier?

Tangier has been associated with many notable historical figures throughout history, including Ibn Battuta, the famous 14th-century Moroccan traveler and explorer, and Samuel Pepys, the 17th-century English diarist. Tangier was also the site of the famous Tangier International Zone, which was governed by an international commission and attracted many expatriates, artists, and writers.

What are some of the key events that have shaped Tangier’s history?

Tangier has been shaped by many key events throughout history, including the Arab conquest in the 7th century, the Portuguese occupation in the 15th century, and the French and Spanish protectorates in the 20th century. Tangier was also the site of the famous Tangier International Zone, which was established in 1923 and lasted until 1956.

How has Tangier’s history influenced its culture and society today?

Tangier’s history has influenced its culture and society today by shaping its unique identity as a melting pot of different cultures and civilizations. Tangier’s diverse heritage is reflected in its architecture, cuisine, music, and art. The city’s strategic location at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea has also made it a hub of trade and commerce, connecting Africa with Europe and Asia.

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