The whole Mediterranean rim has a rich history. The Minoans, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and many others explored and settled these rocky coasts and islands. Tangier, just outside the Strait of Gibraltar and looking out onto the Atlantic Ocean, was considered the furthest point west by many civilizations. To the north, ancient travelers could see the Iberian Peninsula. South lay the coast of Africa, explored by some civilizations and unknown to others, and to the west stretched the seemingly endless expanse of the ocean.
Tangier became an important port early on. The Phoenicians built a trading post here in the middle of the first millennium B.C. and it was later taken over by the Carthaginians. At that time it was called Tingis, after a Berber goddess. Little is left from those days as the ancient city has been buried under many layers of later occupation.
The Casbah Museum in Tangier has a few artifacts from that time, and an easy walk to the western outskirts will take you to the plateau of Mershan and the necropolis of Al Hafa. Here, on an exposed rock with a sweeping view of the strait and the port, the Carthaginians, and later the Romans, buried their dead. You can see a couple of the lead caskets in the Casbah Museum.
All that’s left here are the graves cut into the rock, many of them now filled with rainwater and reflecting the blue sky above. Even those uninterested in archaeology will enjoy the walk through the quiet, prosperous suburb and the fine vista from the plateau. The dead got the best seafront view in Tangier.
%Gallery-175701%The value of traveling to another famous ancient landmark, the Grotto of Hercules, is more debatable. It was here that Hercules was said to have rested after his labors. This cave opens onto the Atlantic Ocean and the waves splash on the rock, swirling in and out and spraying the large number of foreign and Moroccan tourists who come here. Niches carved into the cave’s interior at some unrecorded time are now used by salesmen to hawk trinkets. Yes, this place is one big tourist trap, although an attractive one.
We had been told that the nearby Roman ruins of Cotta were open to the public but when we got there two soldiers and a cop told us politely yet firmly that this land was owned by the king and we couldn’t enter. They were very apologetic and somewhat confused as to why we thought the ruins were open. They’d been closed for five years.
A longer day trip can take you to the Roman city of Volubilis, five hours away between Fez and Rabat. One of its prized possessions, however, is housed in the Casbah Museum. A sumptuous mosaic from the town house of some wealthy Roman is now the centerpiece of the museum. Called “The Voyage of Venus,” it shows the sexy goddess sailing through the salty spray with her nymphs.
If you’re pressed for time I’d say hit the Casbah Museum first, try to go to Al Hafa if the weather is good, and skip the Grotto of Hercules.
Don’t miss our other posts on Tangier! Coming up next: St. Andrew’s in Tangier: A Church With Muslim Art!
[Top image by Almudena Alonso-Herrero. Bottom image by Sean McLachlan]