Tangier’s medina, a micro-world with a life of its own
Intense blue plinths, doors and windows accompany visitors on their stroll through Tangier’s medina: the most picturesque and iconic of the city’s various quarters. If you’re of a curious disposition, let your intuition guide you through the network of narrow streets that make up the historic neighbourhood of this famous port city. Colourful staircases, vibrant bougainvillea hanging from the walls and fascinating artisan workshops will attract your attention as you make your way to the top of the medina. Take your time and try to find the inspiration that dozens of artists have found in this city in years gone by. In just a few minutes, you’ll realise what the medina is and what it has to offer.
You’ll find unusual sights around every corner. As you approach the highest point, which is where the kasbah is, you’ll start to see remains of ancient fortifications and improvised viewpoints that offer vistas of the surrounding areas. The viewpoint at the top of the hill is the best place for taking selfies, offering views across the port and the deep blue ocean, with the Spanish coastline visible in the distance. Once you reach the top of the medina, you’ll realise that the ascent through a network of steep streets was totally worth it.
- History of the ‘world’s biggest medina’
- What to see in the medina
- Where to stay in the Tangier Medina
History of the ‘world’s biggest medina’
Some people claim that Tanger’s medina is the largest of its kind on the planet. However, despite being one of the biggest in the country, it still stands some way off breaking the record, with the medina in Fez being considerably larger. However, when it comes to falling in love with a place, numbers aren’t the most important thing. As such, we recommend planning your stroll around the medina so that you can enjoy each of its landmarks at the best time of day.
During the walk you’ll learn all about the history of Tanger: a multicultural city that, over the years, has been home to the Phoenician, Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, Portuguese, British and Spanish civilisations. If you approach it from the port, you should know that this maritime facility is a legacy of English colonisation during the 17th century. Meanwhile, the walls surrounding its old town were originally built by the Portuguese (although subsequently reformed by the English and Alawites), and the 19th century Customs Building was built by Sultan Muley Hassan. The heart of the medina is also home to a wide selection of international structures, such as the Portuguese Borj Hajoui tower. Also, during the 1920s and 1930s, the countries that signed up to the Algeciras Conference agreement which declared Tangier an “International Area” were free to parade through its narrow streets.
What to see in the medina
The Tangier medina is of a manageable size that can be visited in a single morning. However, if you’re planning to visit one of its multiple museum or spend some time browsing its shops, it’s best to set aside a whole day so that you can do so at your own pace. It is also home to a plethora of delightful restaurants (some of which offer live music sessions) and bars where you can try Moroccan food or sample a refreshing mint tea.
Grand Socco and Petit Socco
As you’ll probably feel like a spot of shopping during your time in Tangier, we highly recommend visiting the Grand Socco and the Petit Socco. To get to the former, follow the signposts to 9 April 1947 Square. This is the former site of the city’s main gold market. Now, however, there are only a handful of jewellery shops that serve as reminders of the square’s past. Besides these shops, you will also find antiques and second-hand stores, stalls selling fresh produce (such as fruit, vegetables, fish and spices) and several handicraft shops.
However, if you’re interested in arts and crafts, you’re better off visiting the Petit Socco, which is just a couple of streets away from the larger one. The Petit Socco is located in a small square with a handful of terraces –such as that of the Gran Café Central– where you can take a seat and relax as you watch the world go by. Its small shops are renowned for their selection of accessories (jewellery, bags, etc.), slippers and rugs. Ornate lamps and tea sets are also popular purchases amongst holidaymakers.
9 April 1947 Square
Once you’ve got your shopping done, it’s time to explore the areas around the soccos. We recommend starting at 9 April 1947 Square, home to the Grand Socco, and exploring the different shops and restaurants around its perimeter. You’ll see the old art-nouveau Rif Cinema; the Sidi Bouabid mosque, with its high minaret (non-Muslims are unfortunately not allowed to visit); and the Bab El-Fahs gate, which marks the entrance to the medina. In the middle of the square there is a marble fountain and a public garden with slender palm trees, which lend it an exotic touch.
9 April 1947 Square commemorates the day on which Mohammed V announced the end of French rule and declared Tangier’s independence.
This landscaped garden is the perfect place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Tangier’s medina, free from the insistence of the vendors and the constant noise that emanates from the multitude of street stalls. There is also a children’s play area, which is the perfect place for your little ones to let off some steam after a morning of shopping and sightseeing. Mendoubia Gardens is a delightful place to walk during the summer months, where you can admire its range of exotic plants and trees as you escape the heat.
Dar Niaba Palace was the first residence of Sultan Mendub’s ambassador. This striking renaissance-style building is one of the oldest in the Tangier medina. When you pass through the monumental entrance gate, you will enter a large porticoed courtyard with a fountain in the middle. The orange trees that rise above the first floor (which is also porticoed) and the plants that grow around their trunks give the courtyard a certain vibrancy. This is another landmark that you must find time to visit in the Tangier medina.
Where to stay in the Tangier Medina
The Barceló Tánger is the perfect hotel if you’re looking for a base from which you can explore the city and its surrounding areas. This four-star hotel, located in the city centre and just a short two-minute walk from the beach, has 138 spacious rooms (and you can even reserve one with a sea view!). Given all of this, it is the perfect place to stay during your time in the city. After a long day of sightseeing, you can relax beside its large outdoor pool, eat in its international restaurant and enjoy a refreshing beverage in its on-site pub (which offers live concerts on certain days during the week). If you’re travelling for business, you might like to know that the hotel also has free Wi-Fi and various meeting rooms.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is there to see in the Tangier medina?
You could easily spend a whole day wandering through the streets of the Tangier medina, buying souvenirs in its different soccos and visiting famous landmarks such as 9 April 1947 Square, the Great Mosque, the Dar Niaba Palace and the Mendoubia Gardens.
Where to eat in the Tangier medina?
After a busy day exploring the Tangier medina, we recommend sampling the delicious local cuisine in restaurants such as Chez Hassan Bab Kasbah or Rif Kebdani. Le Salon Bleu in located in the Kasbah square, where you can enjoy some stunning views with your food or a cup of traditional tea.
Where to stay in the Tangier medina?
The best hotels are found in the tourist area, which are much more modern than those outside the medina and offer much better services. We highly recommend the four-star Barceló Tanger, which offers spacious rooms, a large outdoor pool and some fine eating options.