A coastal region bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, Tangier-Tétouan is one of the rainiest parts of Morocco. Otherwise its climate is typically Mediterranean. Most of the region is urban, yet its main industries are agriculture, forestry, and fishing.
Tangier-Tetouan has served to bridge Europe with Asia through the ages, with its important ports. This region is believed to have been settled since Paleolithic times and its population is currently estimated at around 2 million. A number of its cities are built on the ruins of ancient settlements. Being a historic region, it features some fascinating medinas, surrounded by old ramparts. Some of its major port cities, Tetouan, Larache and Chefchaouen and Asilah, date back to the Spanish Protectorate period and have played a major role in war as well as in trade. Some of them were once occupied by European nations.
Established in 1471, Chefchaouen is a very green mountainous region with a large natural water supply and fertile lands. Much of the area is forested. Cork trees are plentiful here and the region’s natural parks cover an area of 170,000 hectares. Among these parks is Tallassemtane National Park, which includes a fir tree forest that is unique to Northern Africa. The climate of the region is characterized by a dry and hot season alternating with a cooler rainy season. Due to this kind of climate, gabled tile roofs are common here. The local architecture owes its uniqueness to the use of such roofs, along with yellowish walls and white-washed facades.
The region clearly has excellent potential for economic growth, especially regarding its food, agricultural and traditional handicrafts industries. Chefchaouen has long been famous for its local textiles and carpets.
The traditional houses here are distinctive, being washed with blue according to its former Jewish inhabitants’ customs. Bordering Spain and close to the city of Tangier, Chefchaouen attracts quite a number of tourists. Among its major attractions are the archaeological sites dotting the valleys. It is also known for its local products, including its main crop, marijuana, which is so much a part of the residents’ everyday life that it is sold alongside vegetables and spices.
Chefchaouen City is an idyllic place, with distinctive, blue-doored, whitewashed traditional houses in its medina. The tap water is pure and drinkable, coming right from the mountains. The city is quite safe, with friendly people. The locals are not that apt to embrace Western customs. But the city is growing more accommodating to Spanish tourists, who make up the bulk of visitors.
The city’s medieval Spanish influences are still evident in its architecture. The medina, where traditional craftsmen can be seen bent over their sewing and embroidery, is considered one of the loveliest in Morocco. A majestic 17th century Great Mosque can be found in Outa el-Hammam, a leafy square with plenty of delightful restaurants with authentic cuisine. Around the square are markets selling leather goods, ceramics, copperware, and carpets.
The kasbah of Chefchaouen is a simple settlement built in the 18th century. It is set among lush green surroundings.
Al-Makhzen is known for its traditional market, near one of the entrances to Chefchaouen and some modest hotels. Its display of ceramics is attractive, but tourist traps are rampant here.
The province of Larache is blessed with a Mediterranean climate. Its wetlands attract migratory birds and includes the agriculturally important Loukkos river plain.
The tranquil coastal town of Larache is considered one of the loveliest in Northern Morocco. It is a trade centre with an important port, but does not attract too many tourists yet. It has some historic attractions, having been a major harbour town since it was founded in the 7th century by Arabian soldiers. Also known as El Araich, its character is traditionally Arabic, but with some early 20th century Spanish influences. Its medina is surrounded by medieval fortresses and ramparts.
Tétouan is surrounded by groves of orange, pomegranate, almond, and cypress trees on the slope of the lush Martil Valley, by the Martil River. This prosperous city east of Tangier has an airport and Morocco’s only open Mediterranean seaport.
Tétouan has wide, straight roads lined with the homes of Arabian aristocrats, descended from those driven out of Spain during the Inquisition. Their elaborate homes are rich in Spanish-Moorish details and the famed local tilework. Many of the houses have marble fountains and orange orchards.
The streets are a delight to explore. Each is dominated by a particular craft guild in a fairly logical order, so that the street of leatherworkers’ shops is near the tanneries, while the weavers and dyers occupy streets close to each other.
The modern city is a centre of trade for local products. The charming Hassan II Square bridges the medina and the modern city. Andalusian in character, with its fountains, wrought-iron balconies, and flower-boxes, the square is a favourite meeting place, with its kiosks and shops. There is a large number of monuments throughout the city, including a fort, mosques, and a former royal palace.
Spanish and French languages are widely spoken here, especially by intellectuals and people of business. The official language is Arabic, but Moroccan Darija-Arabic and Berber-Tamazight are preferred by the locals in daily conversation. Muslims dominate the city’s population, but there are also some Jewish and Christian locals. The traditional mellah where Jews were once confined to living in is still here, with a gate separating it from the rest of the town.
Tangier-Assilah has an unusual climate: though principally Mediterranean, it is more humid, thanks to the influence of the Atlantic. This region is known for its wonderful sandy beaches. It is also a centre of arts and culture. With the importance of tourism in this region, the government has been developing its transport system, including its road network, regional airport, and Mediterranean port.
The regional terrain is characterized by plains and low hills with rivers flowing through. Around Assilah are the villages of al-Homer, Tlat-Rissana and Had al-Gharbiya, home to the archaeological site of Zilil.
Historic Tangier is the most popular tourist resort city in the region, with an amazing natural landscape and a wealth of historic and architectural attractions. Established prior to the Paleolithic Age, Tangier has grown into an important and prosperous centre of culture.
One of the impressive sights here is the Dar el Makhzen, the ornate former Sultan’s palace built in the 17th century. It houses a collection of Moroccan art. The fascinating 17th century kasbah offers delightful views of the medina and the bay. Its mosque has an unusual octagonal minaret. There is also the Sidi Bou Abid Mosque, which has a minaret exquisitely decorated with mosaics. The Sultan’s Gardens are pleasant grounds with a café and a good place to catch a glimpse of local craftsmen at work. There are also plenty of cafés at the Grand Socco, a former market square, which is now a popular meeting place full of local colour. The square, however, is also frequented by drug dealers and other criminals. In general, the city is not very safe after dark.
The picturesque fishing village of Assilah is famous for its lovely Paradise Beach, with its fine sands and rugged cliffs. Assilah is 10 metres above sea level and consequently exposed to ocean currents. It is quite rainy in winter and dry in summer.
This tranquil town is easy to explore on foot. There are some excellent seafood restaurants here. But most of its attractions are related to the arts. A colourful artists’ town with murals by contemporary Moroccan artists on some of its public buildings, Assilah has a cultural centre and has hosted an international cultural festival every summer for over 25 years. Thanks to this festival, the town was inspired to restore their medina.
Assilah has been in existence since at least medieval times. The town architecture is a showcase of the Moroccan military style: imposing gates are set in the Portuguese-erected ramparts that surround the whitewashed buildings. The 15th century Al Kamra tower, used as a prison by the Portuguese, can still be seen at the Place Ibn Khaldoun. On a more modern note, the high-tech Prince Bandar Ben Soltane Library, which has an Internet café, was built here recently.