In the 1950s, Tangier was a place for the beatnik set to escape to. It was close to Europe, but warmer and more relaxed, and the cafés of the northerly Moroccan city soon filled up with creative types, including the authors Tennessee Williams and William S Burroughs.
Today, you can still sense that spirit in some of Tangier's famous hangouts. Places like Café Hafa, with its network of balconies painted in fading white and blue, where there’s a cacophony of conversation and clicking dice games, wiry waiters hefting glasses of mint tea to ornately tiled tables, and glorious vistas out towards the outline of southern Spain, a mere 2km away.
Tangier’s reputation as a hub of social freedom and licentiousness can be traced back to its former life as an ‘international zone’. Between 1924 and 1956, it was controlled (and ‘controlled’ is a generous term here) not by the Moroccan government, but by a ragged consortium of foreign powers, including France, Spain and Britain.
Let freedom rein
This separation from some of the strictures of North African culture bred an anything-goes cosmopolitanism that attracted spies, smugglers and the West’s liberal-minded, sexually ambiguous artists, particularly since, at the time, homosexuality was still illegal in most nations.
“There’s a sense that this is where you would probably find William Burroughs or Jack Kerouac if they were alive today”
Soon everyone from Jean Genet and Joe Orton to Henri Matisse and heiress Barbara Hutton were pitching up, lured by tales of vibrant cafés, tolerant locals and a burgeoning artistic scene in a palm-fringed paradise.