Spotted In Tangier: Sting And Bruce Springsteen Going Native

Tangier, Sting, Bruce Springsteen
This photo pretty much speaks for itself. I came across this interesting snapshot in a shop in Tangier, Morocco. Sting and Bruce Springsteen got to this shop before me and stopped for a photo with the owner.

I like what this image says about the three people. The owner is obviously pleased to have two music superstars in his shop, Sting is being his usual overly serious self and Bruce looks like he’s loving his trip.

Unfortunately the owner wasn’t around and his assistant didn’t know enough English to tell me more about this shot. To me the two stars look younger than they do now and my hunch is that this was taken in the ’90s. Can any fans out there enlighten us?

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]

Ibn Battuta: The Greatest Adventure Traveler Of All Time

Ibn Battuta, adventure traveler, Tangier
This humble little building in a back alley of Tangier is the final resting place of the greatest traveler in history.

Ibn Battuta was born in Tangier in 1304. In 1325 he left to go on the Hajj and ended up visiting not only Mecca, but crisscrossing much of the Middle East and sailing far down the east coast of Africa. Then he headed east, passing through central and Southern Asia and making it as far as Beijing before coming back and taking a jaunt through much of western Africa.

While I’m not too keen on citing Wikipedia as a source, it does have some detailed maps of Ibn Battuta’s journeys. In all, he traveled an estimated 75,000 miles, three times as much as Marco Polo, but is far less known in the West because Marco Polo was European and Ibn Battuta was Arab. So it goes.

Reading his accounts shows you that travel hasn’t really changed all that much: loneliness, illness, hospitality and fascinating sights were the hallmarks of adventure travel then as they are now. He had only made it as far as Tunis when he first became aware of the crushing loneliness travel can bring. He was with a group of fellow pilgrims who all had friends in the city. When they arrived everyone was greeted except poor Ibn Battuta. He started to cry and one of his fellow pilgrims took pity on him and talked with him to cheer him up. Again and again in his accounts, he talks about the hospitality and kindness he found on the road.

Later he visited Alexandria and was perhaps the last writer to describe the famous lighthouse, one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was already in bad shape when he first saw it, and when he saw it again in 1349 it had crumbled into total ruin.

Of course he had some troubles along the way. He mentions getting sick numerous times and was lucky not to catch the Black Death that was raging through the Middle East at the time. In Egypt he had a run-in with some hyenas that rummaged through his bags and stole his supply of dates! In Niger he had a more serious incident. He went down to the river to relieve himself and a local had to save him from a crocodile.Like any good traveler, Ibn Battuta was intensely curious and loved to see the sights. His description of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is especially moving for me, because it was that building that first turned me on to Islamic architecture. He also describes the Ummayed Mosque in Damascus as the “most magnificent mosque in the world.” I’d have to agree.

In the Maldives he learned to love coconuts (which he said “resembles a man’s head”) and lived on them during his year-and-a-half stay. Ibn Battuta understood some important things about travel: go slow and try the local food.

Ibn Battuta’s enthusiasm for travel is apparent even 700 years later. He talks of his amazement at seeing a meteorite, has the balls to ask the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos III to assign him a tour guide to show him Constantinople, and is shocked to see the Muslim women of Mali walking around naked.

There was no way I was going to visit Tangier and not pay my respects at the grave of one of my heroes, so one afternoon we headed out into the labyrinthine alleyways of the Old City. We finally found the tomb at the intersection of three lanes. There was a little historic marker on the outside, but otherwise nothing to mark the burial place of Tangier’s most famous native son.

This is typical in Muslim cultures. Most graves don’t even have an epitaph, and it takes someone pretty famous to have an identifiable tomb. Inside a caretaker was chanting in Arabic. He greeted us cordially and then went back to chanting.

As you can see from the photo below, there’s not much inside except the tomb draped with a carpet and some nice tiles on the interior. If my expression looks a little pained it’s because as we were taking photos, the caretaker let out a loud and quite toxic fart. It ruined the atmosphere of the place – literally.

Considering the dangers and hardships Ibn Battuta went through on his journeys, it was a small price to pay to see the tomb of the greatest traveler who ever lived.

Don’t miss our other articles about Tangier!

[Top photo by Sean McLachlan. Bottom photo by Almudena Alonso-Herrero]
Ibn Battuta, adventure traveler, Tangier

The Anatomy Of A Perfect Hotel (In Tangier)

hotel ,Tangier
A hotel can make or break your vacation. We’ve all heard stories about crappy dives ruining someone’s trip. Hey, we’ve written about plenty of them here on Gadling. But every once in a while we come across a hotel that exceeds our expectations.

Hoteliers, take note. This is how to do it right.

While fleeing the Spanish Christmas to Tangier, we took a relative’s recommendation and booked a room at La Tangerina Guest Home in the Casbah. The first good impression came before we got there with their detailed website where you can view all ten rooms – a big help in deciding which one to take. We selected Room 3 for 65 euros ($86), one of the cheapest. There is also a smaller, cheaper room, and some larger suites suitable for a whole family. The price includes breakfast.

Since we assumed there would be the usual hassle at the North African airport, we booked a taxi through the hotel. We later found out they didn’t overcharge us like a lot of hotels would – another point in their favor.

La Tangerina is located on the northern edge of the Casbah overlooking the protective wall facing north to the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s part of an old private residence. Only the Sultan’s family and hangers-on were allowed to live in the Casbah, so the building has a good pedigree. There are four floors built around an inner courtyard. The ground floor has a couple of lounges opening onto the courtyard and the dining room is also on this level.

%Gallery-175868%We got to sample the kitchen the first night. I had an excellent tagine. Breakfast the next day included bread, cake and msemen, a sweet flatbread popular here in Morocco that quickly became my favorite. Service was fast and the food consistently good.

The rooms are tastefully decorated with bright walls and old prints of Tangier and Morocco. Bathrooms are modern and everything was cleaned daily. In a cage outside our door was a happy little canary I nicknamed Parsley. That’s an inside joke between the Spanish and the Moroccans. They don’t think it’s funny; I think it’s hilarious.

We didn’t spend much time in the room, though, because the rooftop terrace was where we really wanted to be. The terrace offers sweeping views of the Strait of Gibraltar. There’s a covered divan if you want to take a nap, chairs and tables if you want to sit and read, and an upper sun deck for tanning. We spent a lot of time lazing around up there, drinking mint tea and eating amazing little Moroccan sweets. We had a nice surprise when we checked out and discovered they were free!

The terrace really makes this hotel and induces a certain laziness that cuts into sightseeing time. That was fine by us because we wanted a relaxed holiday. It also served well for a New Year’s Eve party with some of the other guests. While Spain is due north of Tangier, it’s in the next time zone and so we got to watch the distant flare of fireworks at 11 p.m., and then have a second celebration at midnight.

Luckily for us, this hotel serves alcohol, which isn’t always the case in this Muslim nation. The Moroccans make some fine white wine, although the red we tried was too young for our taste. There was also French champagne on hand for New Year’s Eve.

All in all, La Tangerina is one of the best hotel experiences I’ve had in 33 countries of travel. The management gets everything right, from the beautiful terrace to little touches such as the bowl of free tangerines in the courtyard. The one thing I didn’t try was the hammam and massage service. I suspect those are excellent as well.

Would you like to give a shout out to your favorite hotel? Tell us about it in the comments section!

For more on what goes on behind the scenes in a hotel, check out McLean Robbins’ series “The Birth of a Hotel.”

[Photo by Almudena Alonso-Herrero]

St. Andrew’s In Tangier: A Church With Muslim Art

Tangier
Being in Morocco, Tangier is a mostly Muslim city. Being a port, it’s also a mixed city with a long history of Christian and Jewish influence. That interesting blend comes out in the language, music, art and cooking. You can see Tangier’s mix of cultures everywhere.

Even in the churches.

The Church of St. Andrew is an Anglican congregation close to the Place du Grand Socco. The first thing you’ll notice is the church tower shaped like the square, Moorish-style minarets so common in the mosques here. The only difference is the English flag flying from the top and the lack of a loudspeaker to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer.

Entering the churchyard, you’ll find a shady oasis of trees, shrubs and a well-manicured garden. Cats lounge amid the headstones, which include several for the fallen from various Allied armies during World War II. This part of the property looks like a regular English churchyard except for the palm trees and lack of moss on the headstones. Go inside, however, and you’ll see something quite different.

The interior has several Islamic touches. The doors have rounded arches and elaborate carvings. The carved and painted wood ceiling looks like something from a Moorish palace. The arch just before the altar is the most elaborate and looks like it came from a Muslim palace. Arabic calligraphy spells out the words “bismi-llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm” (In the name of God, the most Gracious, the most Merciful), which is the first line of each Surah (chapter) of the Koran.

%Gallery-175720%So how did a verse from the Koran end up decorating an Anglican church in a Muslim country? The story starts in 1880, when the Sultan, Hassan I, gave land to the British expat community in Tangier so they could build a church. One was built but soon proved too small for the growing Christian community and so the present church was built in 1894. It was consecrated in 1905.

The design includes Islamic styles as a way of recognizing the friendly relations between the UK and Morocco and to honor the memory of the Sultan’s donation. The work was done by Moroccan craftsmen.

St. Andrew’s is by no means unique. During the height of Islamic civilization during the Middle Ages, European art and architecture borrowed frequently from Muslim styles. European artists copied Islamic styles and even included Arabic calligraphy in Christian works of art. Check out the gallery for a couple of surprising examples.

Don’t miss our other posts on Tangier! Coming up next: The Anatomy Of A Perfect Hotel!

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]

The Allure Of Ancient Tangier

Tangier
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]

Tangier