Lat: 35.788956999898000, Long: -5.810044444444400
North Africa, Marocco
Historical Background and Urbanism
The first attempt by the Portuguese to conquer Tangier dates back to 1437, 22 years after the taking of Ceuta. The assault resulted in disaster and the capture of Prince Fernando, but the magnificence and population density of the city were confirmed. This was followed by three failed assaults between 1462 and 1464 and finally the definitive takeover in 1471. On 28th August, King Afonso V entered the unoccupied city for the first time, after the conquest of Asilah had led to the fleeing of the population of Tangier.
The city’s main structures during the attempts at conquest during the 1400s can be identified: the alcáçova, already called “castle” after the most recent Portuguese assault, and the mosque, with which it was one of the two most permanent buildings of the city. There was also a wider perimeter than that now is seen in the line of the curtain wall that descends from the door of the kasbah to the Grand Zocco square.
Islamic Tangier seems to have been what Arab geographers would have considered a large city. Its walled perimeter at the time of the conquest would have been significantly larger than the wall that surrounds the present day medina and, therefore, Tangier was too large for the Portuguese to maintain in a sustainable way. The original perimeter wall would unite the highest parts in a route somehow identical to the one that nowadays is defined by Avenue Hassan II, Place de France, Rue de Belgique and Rue Khalid Ibn Oualid.
The city remained under Portuguese possession for nearly two centuries, until the third quarter of the 17th century, including during the period of Philippine rule. In 1643, Tangier would be returned to the crown of King João IV. It was then under Portuguese control only for a short period as after a serious dispute over the city it was included in the dowry of Catherine of Braganza when she married Charles II of England, it was not long before it was retaken by the Arabs in 1684.
After the conquest, King Afonso V pondered a while and decided to reduce the size of the city, considering it too vast for the purposes of military sustainability. The reduction consisted of the maintenance of approximately a quarter of the existing city, narrowing it down to one hillside near the sea. The Portuguese operation required the destruction of long stretches of Islamic wall with its turrets and the construction of two main new segments which formed a right angle in the southwestern corner, now known as Tour des Irlandais (Tower of the Irish).
The reduction of the area available imposed the Portuguese led to a deep change in the sense and direction of the city, pushing Tangier towards the sea for reasons of defence and access. The contraction also resulted in a process of geometrization of the city, now regular in the whole of its land front. The Castle Gate maintained direct access from the castle to the exterior, supported by a Traitor’s Gate. The Land Gate was directly connected to the Sea Gate which was also maintained, with which it would form the main urban road axis.
The overseas policy of King Manuel I consolidated the idea of the city. Its first major public area, although slightly off centre, was the main market square now known as Petit Socco. As a meeting point of people and commerce it cut through the urban fabric with a widening of the main street, Rua Direita, and the convergence of other arteries, although its original size has now been reduced with the advance of the buildings to the north. The two extremities of Rua Direita connected the Land or Valley Gate with Sea or River Gate, the pressure of traffic being relieved by a number of small squares. At present, the regular road network that follows the contour of the former Rua Direita (present day Rue des Siaghins and Rue de la Marine) to the kasbah is still the basis of the communication system, although it was somewhat changed in the time of Moulay Ismail. The labyrinth returned, blocking off alleys and cutting through city blocks.
Nonetheless, the image of the city of Tangier is still deeply marked by the Portuguese occupation despite the change in the symbols of power and creed – the palace of Moulay Ismail replacing the Portuguese castle and a new mosque the cathedral. The shape of the reduced city can be seen in spite of the expansion outside the walls and the growth of the port.