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Many first-time visitors may find the Tangier port such a rude awakening that they fail to see the beauty of the place. Mobs of bona fide hustlers greet the arriving ferries hungry for fresh greenhorns to fleece in any way they can. Simply walk quickly past these unsolicited assistants, pretend you know exactly where you're going, and show no sign that you're bewildered. Once you hit your stride and start going places with confidence, Tangier has a charm that this raucous undercurrent only enhances: crumbling Kasbah walls, intimate corners in the serpentine medina, piles of bougainvillea, French balconies, Spanish cafés, and other remnants of times gone by. Tangier is a melting pot—a place where it's not uncommon to see sophisticated Moroccans sharing sidewalks with rural Rifi Berbers. Travelers from around the world all converge on the African continent's nearest point eager for a look into a cultural potpourri that has taken thousands of years to blend.

Cruise Sights

Tangier. Like many North African cities, Tangier is comprised of a "medina"—the old walled-in city—and a "Ville Nouvelle," the newer area outside the original walls. Note that automobile traffic inside the medina is largely restricted.

American Legation. The Legation is housed in a typical Tangerine medina home with carved wooden doors, ornate plaster finishes, and high walls surrounding an outdoor courtyard. Preserved today as an American Historic Landmark, this property was given to the United States by the Moroccan sultan in 1821. Displays showcase Tangier's history, handwritten correspondence between the sultan and George Washington, and artwork. The library has a small but interesting collection of English-language books, augmented by photos and historical documents on the walls. To get here, follow Rue de Portugal as it climbs upward and look for a set of double stairs on the right, leading to an archway. When you find yourself under a balcony with a tile underside, walk up the stairs, go through the archway, and follow the winding street until you see the United States seal. 8, Zankat d'Amérique.

Grand Mosque. You can't miss the striking green-and-white-tile minaret of Tangier's Grand Mosque. Built in 1685 (on the site of a destroyed European-built church) by Moulay Ismail, the mosque was a tribute to and celebration of Morocco's return to Arab control. Although its entrances are blocked from view by wooden screens and entrance is strictly forbidden to non-Muslims, its bold colors make it one of the most recognizable of the medina's attractions. It's worth a look as you wander through the medina. Between Rue de la Marine and Rue des Postes in lower part of medina.

Grand Socco. Tangier's chief market area in times past, the Grand Socco (a combination of French and Spanish meaning "great souk") now serves as a local transportation hub. The markets were moved from the area in the 1970s to make room for buses and taxis to gather. Markets now line smaller medina streets, and the Grand Socco has dwindled to a collection of cafés and small stalls selling mismatched goods. The main attraction of the Grand Socco is the recently restored movie theater, which displays photographs and old movie posters highlighting Tangier's glamorous past. It's on Place du 9 Avril. At bottom of rue d'Italie, just south of Mendoubia Gardens.

Kasbah. Sprawling across the ancient medina's highest point, Tangier's Kasbah has been tinkered with since the Roman era. During early Arab rule it was the traditional residence of the sultan and his harem. Since then the Kasbah has become a fashionable residential area. You can reach the Kasbah by climbing Rue d'Italie to its top and entering the huge Kasbah gate, Bab El Kasbah, at the top or by winding up the medina's Rue des Chrétiens to the Kasbah area. Once up at the Kasbah, wander to the walled overlook off the main Kasbah square for wonderful views across the strait to Gibraltar and Spain's Costa del Sol, accompanied by the ocean's roar below.

Kasbah Museum. Constructed by the 17th-century sultan Moulay Ismail, this was the Kasbah's palace. The sultan's former apartments now house an interesting Moroccan-art museum, with mosaic floors, carpets, traditional Fez furniture, jewelry, ceramics, leather, daggers, illuminated manuscripts, textiles, and historic, finely crafted examples of carved and painted cedar ceilings. The marble columns in the courtyard were taken from the ancient Roman city of Volubilis. Don't miss the mosaic Voyage of Venus or the life-size Carthaginian tomb. Exit the palace via the former treasury of Moulay Ismail, the Bit el Mal; look for the giant wooden boxes that once held gold and precious gems.

Mendoubia Gardens. The former residence of the Mendoub—the sultan's representative on the governing commission during the international years—is now a quiet, shady park. To the right of the entrance is a large banyan tree that locals claim is more than 800 years old. Farther into the park is a small terrace with several bronze cannons from European warships and good sea views. Rue Bourrakia.

Place de la France. Famous for its café scene in the first half of the 20th century, Place de la France is Tangier's center. It fills up during the nightly promenade, after about 6 PM.

St. Andrew's Church. This 19th-century Anglican church is one of the purest vestiges of Tangier's international days. The architecture and interior are both Moorish in flavor (the Lord's Prayer and "Gloria" are inscribed in Arabic above the altar), while the cemetery, with graves of famous Britons who spent time in Morocco, recalls the English countryside. 50, rue d'Angleterre.

Tétouan. Andalusian flavor mingles with the strong Rifi Berber and traditional Arab identities of the majority of the populace to make Tétouan a uniquely Moroccan fusion of sights, sounds, and social mores. Nestled in a valley between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rif Mountains' backbone, the city of Tétouan was founded in the 3rd century BC by Berbers, who called it Tamuda. Romans destroyed the city in the 1st century AD and built their own in its place, the ruins of which you can still see on the town's edge. The Merenids built a city in the 13th century, which flourished for a century and was then destroyed by Spanish forces, who ruled intermittently from the 14th to the 17th century. The medina and Kasbah that you see today were built in the 15th and 16th centuries and improved upon in the centuries thereafter: Moulay Ismail took Tétouan back in the 17th century and the city traded with the Spanish throughout the 18th. Tétouan's proximity to Spain, and especially to the enclave of Ceuta, kept its Moroccan population in close contact with the Spanish throughout the 20th century. As the capital of the Spanish protectorate from 1913 to 1956, Tétouan harbored Spanish religious orders who set up schools here and established trading links between Tétouan, Ceuta, and mainland Spain. Their presence infused the city with Spanish architecture and culture.

Housed in a former sultan's fortress, the Museum of Moroccan Arts displays traditional Moroccan costumes, embroidery, weapons, and musical instruments.

A leisurely stroll through Tétouan begins most naturally in the Place Moulay el Mehdi, a large plaza ringed with cafés and aglow with strings of lights in the evening. Bd. Mohammed V at Blvd. de Mouquauama.

Follow Boulevard Mohammed V—past Spanish-style houses with wrought-iron balconies—to Place Hassan II, the open square near the Royal Palace. East end of Bd. Mohammed V.

The medina is one of Morocco's most active, and includes a rectilinear Jewish quarter, a Jewish cemetery, and 19th-century Spanish architecture from the period of the protectorate. Note the constantly flowing fountains, such as the one in the corner of Souk el Fouki; they are supplied by underground sources that have never failed and never been explained. Crafts, food, clothing, and housewares markets are scattered through the medina in charming little squares such as Souk el Houts and L'Ousaa. Rue Terrafin at Bab er-Rouah.

Cruise Shopping

Tangier can be an intense place to shop; proprietors are accustomed to inflicting their hard sell on overwhelmed day-trippers from Spain. Ville Nouvelle boutiques offer standard Moroccan items, such as carpets, brass, leather, ceramics, and clothing at higher—but fixed—prices. The more unusual and creative high-quality items, however, are mostly in the specialty shops throughout the medina. Don't be afraid to stop at small, unnamed stores, as these often stock real off-the-beaten-path treasures.

Antiques. One of the finest antiques shops in Morocco, Boutique Majid (66, rue des Chrétiens) has an amazing collection of antique textiles, silks, rich embroideries, rugs, and Berber jewelry (often silver with coral and amber), as well as wooden boxes, household items, copper, and brass collected from all over Africa on his yearly scouting trips. Prices are high, but the quality is indisputable. As proprietor Abdelmajid says, "It's an investment!" Galerie Tindouf (72, rue de la Liberté) is a pricey antiques shop specializing in clothing, home furnishings, and period pieces from old Tangier. The owners also run the Bazaar Tindouf, right down the street, which sells modern Moroccan crafts in ceramics, wood, iron, brass, and silver, plus embroidery and rugs. The staff here is relatively laid-back and has a large inventory of older rugs.

Crafts. The simple Boutique Marouaini (65, rue des Chrétiens) sells ceramics, wood, rugs, clothing, and metalware, as well as paintings by local artists at very reasonable prices. The extensive collection of rugs at Coin de l'Arts Berbères (66, rue des Chrétiens) includes samples from the Middle and High Atlas regions, made by Saharan and southern Berber tribes. Check out the collection of doors, locks, windows, and boxes from southern Morocco and the Sahara. You'll need to bargain here. The fixed-price, government-regulated Ensemble Artisanal (Rue de Belgique at Rue Ensallah, 3 blocks west of Pl. de la France) offers handicrafts from all over Morocco. The store is a little pricey, but it's a good place to develop an eye for quality items and their market prices before you hit the medina shops. Attached to the Tanjah Flandria hotel, the Tanjah Flandria art gallery (Rue Ibn Rochd) sells sculpture, paintings, and other works inspired by Tangier, featuring both Moroccan and expatriate artists. It's open later than most other shops: Monday through Saturday from 10 to 1 and 5 to 8.

Cruise Activities

New activities are popping up all the time—everything from quad riding to jet skiing to golf. There are also nature walks that take in the diverse fauna of the region. Though the majority of these are in French, more and more are offered in English.

Golf. Golf, the favorite sport of the late King Hassan II, has spread throughout Morocco. The 18-hole Royal Golf de Tánger (Rte. Boubana Tánger) is one of two premier courses in the north.

Sailing. Tangier Fishing Odyssey (Port) offers full- and half-day fishing trips, as well as dolphin-watching excursions.


Port Photo: Stanislav Paramonov/iStockphoto