Tetouan — The Secret Of Northern Morocco
Back on the road after visiting the beautiful blue Chefchaouen, for a 1h30 ride to Tetouan. The name was familiar to me, but I had no picture of this place in my head.
We see endless photographs of Marrakesh or even of Fez, but Tetouan seems to have passed under the radars all these years.
Such media quietness is incomprehensive. The medina is considered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 1991, and the proximity to the Mediterranean and even Europe could expose the city to more tourism.
I arrive by van to Moulay el Mehdi Square, right in front of a large church that is distinguished by its yellow-strong color. I confess I have a strange feeling when I see a Catholic temple in countries that are mostly Muslim. It’s almost like seeing something forbidden. Perhaps the same impression of someone who goes into Portugal and encounters a Catholic church at every corner and only a few hidden mosques.
But the Nuestra Señora de la Victoria Church, also known as Iglesia de Bacturia, is part of Tetouan’s history and marks the passage of the Spaniards through the territory. Built in 1926, during the Protectorate of Spain, it now has a social role, serving as a cultural center or supporting the immigrant community.
As I travel the aisles of this cathedral, which they were kind enough to open for a visit, I note that, despite the Catholic figures, some Moroccan details have also gained their space in here. Indeed, religion can be of contrasts but must be most of all about union.
On the way to the Medina of Tetouan
In the streets of Tétouan, outside the medina, I could almost feel like I was walking through a European city. The inhabitants dressed in djellaba are now rare, and the car traffic is back. I sure didn’t miss this part.
Despite this, I arrive at the Feddan Park, and I’m back to the Moroccan feeling. The view is towards a beautiful hillside designed with white houses. In fact, if there’s a color that distinguishes Tetouan, that color is white.
From there it was a 10-minute walk to Hassan II Square and the Royal Palace. This is just one of the many palaces that the king has in the main Moroccan cities.
The police lines and protective barriers could make you believe that the ruler was at home, but I quickly realize that the security structure is permanently mounted like that.
Humbly, I reach the protection barrier and make a signal with my camera to the police officers, asking permission to photograph. “No problem” one of them nods, without the need for a word to be exchanged.
Going around the square, I finally enter the medina, through the Bab Ruah door. There are people everywhere. It’s Monday morning, and everything is open for business. The shops follow each other, first the goldsmiths, then the clothes and food stalls. From knives to pots, replicas of famous brands tennis shoes. Vendors claims are made in Arabic. Cheap for you!
From the tanneries to the Jewish quarter
The medina is enormous and holds beautiful secrets. Starting with the tanneries. Unlike Fez, the place where the leather is prepared in Tetouan is much smaller. We’re not given any mint leaf upon arrival, nor there are vendors around us trying to do business.
There’s no refinement here, but, rather, a more crude notion of work and we can even walk through the stone tubs where the skins are worked.
Contrary to Fez, where I found leather at an increased price, in Tetouan, I managed to buy much more affordable articles… this after negotiating, of course. Always.
After peering into the nooks and crannies of this grand souk, I head towards the Jewish Quarter, the last stop in this city.
Also known as Mellah, they tell me that few Jewish families still live around here. The population spread to all the medina, to all the neighborhoods. It’s now everyone’s home, regardless of their religious beliefs. Or so it seems.
I wasn’t able to go very far inside the Jewish quarter, as I had so little time and also because works were being done to improve the pavement. But even between buckets of cement, the rhythm is still frantic, especially on the tightest streets.
I peer into a carpentry shop and am soon greeted with a smile. The carpenter takes special effort showing me his art, as he accepts to take a photograph. The old salesman laughs at me as well, and the owner of the nuts stall proudly passes me a walnut-filled date, with the certainty that it’s the best (and cheapest) I’ll ever eat.
My trip to northern Morocco was about to end, but there was still one last stop in this tour: Tangier.
So I bid farewell to Tetouan, leaving behind a city that I believe that every traveler should visit on a trip to Morocco.
Places to visit in Tétouan
- Iglesia de Bacturia
- Feddan Park
- Hassan II Square and the Royal Palace
- The tannery area and the leather shops
- Jewish Quarter
LUNCH / SLEEP
Close to Hassan II Square, this riad hides behind its doors a beautiful, relaxed space. Choose to have lunch on the patio and order one of the traditional Moroccan cuisine dishes, such as the beef tajine or the vegetable couscous. I didn’t sleep here, but the staff is very friendly, and the pictures I saw of the rooms look very nice. It may be an option.
What about you? Have you ever been to Tetouan? What do you think of this medina, a World Heritage Site? Never been here, but would like to visit one day? Share your opinion in the comments box below.
Get to know Tetouan
I traveled at the invitation of the Moroccan Tourism Office to visit some of the main cities in the north of the country. However, all the descriptions and opinions reported in this article are independent and the result of my own experience.