Visitors are drawn to Tangier because of its literary and artistic past coupled with its mysterious reputation as an international haven for spies. Tangier became a mecca for French painters in the nineteenth century, but the most famous artist associated with Tangier is the American writer Paul Bowles, whose first novel, The Sheltering Sky, was turned into a film by Bernardo Bertolucci. However, Beat writer William Burroughs also lived in Tangier during the 1950s and penned his most famous work, Naked Lunch, in the Hotel el-Muniria. Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Brion Gysin and the Rolling Stones also called Tangier home for short spells.
After a stroll through the Grand Socco, the plaza that serves as the gateway to Tangier´s medina, you can start your homage to your favorite artists at the Gran Café de Paris in the old medina’s busy central square, the Petit Socco. Bowles, Burroughs and their Beat friends gathered here to discuss life and literature while mingling among double agents and expats during the notorious time of international rule. Here, Tennessee Williams met one of Morocco’s most famous writers, Mohamed Choukri, author of a memoir titled Tennessee Williams in Tangier. The café provides an ideal place to observe the chaotic rhythms of the Petit Socco, where you can find people from all walks of life, rich and poor, foreign and local, merchants and businessmen.
After you’ve had your fill of coffee or mint tea, you can stroll over to the nearby Musée de la Fondation Lorin, housed in a former synagogue. The museum showcases the history of Tangier through a collection of pictures, posters and other mementos from the 1940s to 1960s. Then, you can make the short walk over to the Tangier American Legation Museum. The Museum is housed in what was the first American public property outside of the United States, a gift from the Sultan of Morocco to the US in 1821. English-speaking guides provide free tours. The museum’s Paul Bowles Wing is filled with photos and portraits and contains copies of the traditional Moroccan music recorded by Bowles for the Library of Congress, along with Bowles’ own music. Although he is best known as a writer, Bowles was also a composer, and first came to Tangier with friend and fellow composer Aaron Copland. Scottish-born painter James McBey’s Zohra, often referred to as the “Moroccan Mona Lisa,” is on display here as well. McBey draws inspiration from Henri Matisse, who painted his celebrated paintings “Zohra in a yellow robe” and “Zohra standing,” while staying at the Grand Hotel Villa de France in 1912.
Now a seedy watering hole for locals, Dean’s Bar was famous for serving William Burroughs, while Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg frequented the bar at the Tanger Inn. The walls are crowded with black and white photographs, some labeled by Ginsberg himself. Café Hafa, which retains its 1920s décor to this day, was frequented by the Beats and the Rolling Stones. Movie buffs might be interested to see Caid’s Bar, allegedly the inspiration for Rick´s Café in the movie Casablanca.
Written by Silvia McCallister-Castillo.
Photo by Serenae.