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Tangiers, Morocco - Sunday 18 December 2016

This was our first visit to Tangier although we had visited other ports in Morocco. Overnight there was heavy rain but we had paid for a ship tour so were committed to going out. The ground was very wet and it was 300 metres to walk from the ship to the tour buses. We have good waterproof clothes and umbrellas but others were less sensibly dressed.

The Tangier City Tour began by driving around the New Town and pointing out mansions belonging to the rich and famous. Unfortunately there was too much rain to allow photos through the windows of the bus. We had already noticed the building of new marinas at the port, and were told these are funded by the UAE. The weather had recently been very wet and there was snow on the mountains, which pleased the local people because there had earlier been a drought. Historically French had been the second or third language of the country but there is the intentions, from 2025 or thereabouts, to replace it with English. Our guide said that the King of Morocco is loved by his people and has a modern and middle-class philosophy, encouraging housebuilding and for people to have mortgages, better education and hospitals, and there are many women in senior posts. The three main religions ( Muslim, Jewish and Christian ) exist together in harmony. It all seemed too good to be true.... and our guide was very enthusiastic about his country and for the future.

Our first call was at the Cap Spartel, the most northwesterly point of Africa, and 14kms west of Tangier. A row of Cunard tour buses arrived at a small car park with a restaurant and this encouraged the souvenir sellers to display their produce. The lighthouse, dating from 1865, can only be viewed from a distance. Because of the weather there was not good visibility but it is said that the coast from the Cape Trafalgar to Gibraltar can be seen on a clear day. The Mediterranean and Atlantic meet here.

Then it is only 5 kms further to the Grottes d'Hercules. The road runs along the coast and there were a lot of newbuild houses and apartments. Camels rested in lay-bys with their owners, waiting for tourists to want rides. Our bus stopped for a photo stop. The entrance to the Grottes d'Hercules has been refurbished and there are good information boards and well paved ramp to reach the cave. At the cave there is a steep descent, not a problem, and the marks on the roofs and walls show clearly that the rocks of these caves were quarried. There are stacks of millstones to illustrate the typical output. The opening to the sea is hole shaped like the map of Africa, reversed.

On our return we passed a busy market, where people, mostly Berbers, from the Rif mountains come only on Thursday and Sunday to sell fresh produce. Then we returned to Tangier and the bus left us near the Kasbah, which means fort, which is at the top of the hill leading down to the Medina. We entered through the Porte de la Kasbah gate then followed other groups along the narrow streets, following the arrows indicating the direction for a circuit.

The Kasbah Mosque was closed but there was a glimpse of the octagonal minaret clad in coloured tiles. Nearby the Musee Archaeologique is in the Dar el Makhzen. It was open but there was no time allowed to visit. Bab el-Assa (Gate of Bastinado) leads from the Place de la Kasbah to the Medina, loosely meaning market. There is a fountain, with its mosaic decoration and ornamental stucco-work and woodcarving.

We then followed our guide through narrow streets; one area was full of material and sewing shops. The street widened enough for cars and finally we reached the large open space of the Grand Socco, or Place du 9 Avril 1947. The minaret of the Mosque of Sidi Bou Abib overlooks the square. There is a double gateway, Bab Fahs, which leads into the Medina. Finally it was back into the narrow street, we guess into the Rue Es-Siaghine and then the Petit Socco, heading for our hotel for mint tea.

Signs pointed towards the Hotel Continental which is one of Tangier oldest hotels, and with a view from the terrace in spite of the rain of the port and the QV. The inside had typical and very ornate tiled walls and decorated ceilings. It is an old traditional hotel and we were very surprised later when we checked the prices for rooms and found it was very affordable for a major city.

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Content revised: 31s t December, 2016