Tangier, from the Pillars of Hercules to independence

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The history of Tangier, from the legendary origins at the hands of a demigod, until the conquest of independence in 1956

The mythical origins of Tangier

According to legend, the foundation of Tangier is closely linked to the myth of “The 12 labors of Hercules” and specifically to the 11th, which brought it right near this city. The task of the Greek hero was to steal the golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides, and to do so he exploited the ingenuity of the titan Atlas, the one who supports the celestial vault. The Theban promised him that he would replace him in his tiring task in exchange for the 3 apples he needed for the enterprise but, once the titan returned, Hercules managed with a stratagem to entrust him with the great weight, thus continuing towards his last enterprise: the capture of the cerberus. On the way back, however, he met the giant Antaeus, king of Libya and son of Gaea and Poseidon. The latter was considered an invincible warrior due to the fact that, when he touched the ground, his mother (Gaea in Greek mythology represents the “primordial earth”) restored his strength. However, the Greek managed to overwhelm him with his own cunning, lifting him from the ground and there suffocating him, thus preventing any divine intervention.

According to tradition, Atlas was also the first king of Mauritania

Killed the giant, Hercules had various relationships with the latter’s wife, Tinjis, from whom Sufax was born, destined to become the defender of these lands and the progenitor of many imazighen kings; it will be the latter to found Tangier, a place that he will dedicate to his mother.

Tingis, at the origins of Tangier

Leaving aside the legends, the city of Tangier should have been born between the 10th and 8th centuries BC. as a Phoenician colony, thus ensuring that its history was long connected with that of Carthage. It is no coincidence that this was one of the first stops on the journey of Annone the Navigator, a Carthaginian explorer who, in the 5th century BC, was the first to go to explore the coasts of West Africa, even reaching Mount Cameroon.


Following the Punic wars, the city lost more and more its independence in favor of Rome, while maintaining a great autonomy both political and of tradition and faith, which allowed it to become one of the largest and richest centers in all of North Africa, as well as capital of the Mauritania Tingitana. During the reign of Diocletian there were particularly ferocious persecutions against Christians, so much so that San Marcello and San Cassio originate from Tangier.

The arrival of the Arabs

With the fall of the Roman Empire, the city was occupied by Vandals, but their stay will be extremely limited as they were driven out first by the Byzantines and then by the Arabs, destined to become the new lords of these lands. Between 707 and 711 much of today’s Morocco will be conquered by Musa bin Nusayr and his general, Tariq ibn Ziyad, in 718 completed the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, which began in 711. However, the Arabs behaved badly towards the local Imazighen, demanding heavy taxes, mistreating their animals and, above all, not fully recognizing them as their equal even once the entire region was converted to Islam. This, also following some uprisings that animated the Umayyad Caliphate , caused many locals to rebel against the new power, to the point that, between 739 and 743, what was called the “Great Berber revolt” broke out, an event that will then lead to the birth of numerous local Imazighen principalities and the subsequent distance between the Berber-Maghrebi world compared to the Arab one; the birth of theEmirate of Cordoba, last power held by the Umayyads. Particularly significant for the city will be the so-called “Battle of the nobles” of 740, a battle that saw the Imazighen winners and in which many local Arab notals were massacred.


Tangier, like much of northern Morocco, then passed under the Hydrysid dynasty, which was followed by a very complicated period for the city. With the appearance of the Fatimid Caliphate and the birth of numerous Imazighen principalities increasingly rich and ambitious, Tangier found itself involved in a long series of liberations and conquests, so much so that it found political stability only with the definitive capture of the city by the Merinids in 1274. Ibn Battuta was born here in 1304 and again from here in 1325 he embarked on his journey.

Modern Tangier

With the Portuguese conquest of Ceuta, Tangier became an increasingly sought after prey by the Lusitanian throne which, starting from 1437, tried 4 times to conquer the city, but only succeeded in 1471. From that moment on it remained for a long time dominated by the European powers, starting from Spain, which it appropriated from 1580 but left a Portuguese garrison there. In 1661 it was donated as part of the wedding dowry to England, which dominated it until 1684, when it was definitively liberated by the Alawid army of Moulay Ismail.


From the 18th century it became the most important diplomatic center ever in Morocco, so much so that not only was the first American building abroad bought here, but it was also the protagonist of the “Tangier Crisis” of 1905, a key moment in the clashes between France and Germany before the First World War. In fact, Paris dreamed of incorporating the Kingdom of Morocco among its domains, but Berlin strenuously opposed it, so much so that it risked unleashing war several times. Precisely to resolve the tension between the two countries, the Algeciras Conference was convened the following year, which decreed the loss of sovereignty of Morocco in favor of France and Spain, which from that moment had control of: borders, finance, the tax system, customs, services and Moroccan public works. This conference will then lead to an increasingly evident Germanic isolation, which will then fuel the outbreak of the great world conflict. From 1912 this area became part of Spanish Morocco, but the status of the city changed in 1923, when it was declared an “international zone”; however, this was interrupted in 1940 with the arrival of Franco’s soldiers, only being resumed in 1945. From 1956 it definitively lost its status but finally became part of independent Morocco.

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