Thursday, 17 January 2013

A city between sea and sky

Tangier is blessed with two striking features: the sea and the hills from which to admire the sea.
In fact there are two seas that meet at Cape Spartel a few kilometres west of Tangier, the Mediterranean sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and the city is built on  a series of hills. 
The mediterranean, the "gentle" one, flirts with the boisterous Atlantic. Just behind this light house one can see where the two bodies of water meet and embrace. They are a different colour and when the sea is calm, they form a line in the sea where they come together.

Cape Spartel light house

"Everywhere in the city, the eye was drawn to the magnetic spectacle of the sea" (Villa Victoria)

The terrace of El Minzah Hotel below is a perfect place to watch the fishing boats and ferries cruising in and out of the port. The land you see beyond the blue is not Spain but cape Malabata at the east end of the bay of Tangier. 
View from El Minzah Hotel

"The sea was an integral part of the city and Anne could understand why its inhabitants were fascinated by it. It cajoled or rebuffed them depending on its mood. It could be a languid mistress or a cruel virago. They sat mesmerised on the stones of the Phoenician tombs or at the small metal tables of the Café Hafa gazing longingly at Spain." (Villa Victoria)

Spain is only sixteen kilometres away and can be seen clearly most days. That's Spain behind the long cargo boat. The white "line" at the foot of the hill is the town of Tarifa in southern Spain.
The stony lookout known as the Phoenician tombs facing Spain
The sea gently bathes the feet of the houses...
...or sparkles under an azure sky beyond the roof tops (and TV antennas!) as here from my upper terrace
It shines through the shutters of the Hotel de France.... painted by Matisse when he stayed there.
The sea is the setting and the city, the diamond. 
At the top of the hill in the middle of this photograph is the Kasbah, the ancient fortified area of the city. 
Matisse used his particular palette of colours for his renditions of Tangier. Notice the same minaret but seen from opposite angles at the centre of the photograph and of the painting.

But the sea has a more sombre side. In winter it brings rain and high winds that gnaw at the shore and weaken old structures like York Castle, a part of the XIIth century ramparts surrounding the Kasbah. The construction of a swimming pool in the courtyard decades earlier had weakened its foundation and the wet weather did the rest.
Four years ago the base of York Castle's north tower was starting to split.
In this photo of York Castle in the 60's, the tower is intact.
In this almost identical photo taken last summer, it has lost its base altogether and the outer wall is wide open. You can actually see a daring fool in white shirt and blue pants disregarding the sixty foot drop and climbing through the opening! That same palm tree is still peeking over the rampart after all those years.
Unless something is done very soon the tower will collapse altogether and come tumbling down the hill, perhaps taking the  ramparts with it.

You have not seen Tangier until you have sat high up on a hill or a terrace watching the sun's slow descent into the sea.
"The western sky slowly changed from pale blue to silvery pink, coating the bellies of the clouds with neon coloured paint. Then came the ultimate crimson burst of light announcing dusk and cooler temperatures." (Villa Victoria)

"Villa Victoria" is a novel set in Tangier that I wrote and hope to have published someday.

(Photos: Jeanne -Aelia Desparmet-Hart, Sylvie Pellet and Joelle Desparmet)


  1. I am completely mesmerized by these unbelievably gorgeous images. They are stunning. I could just stare at them all day from my desk here in Los Angeles and daydream. Thank you for making my day! :)

    1. I am so glad that you share my facination for Tangier. It is truly a special city in a spectacular setting.