Tétouan, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and at the foot of the Rif Mountains, is the only city in the north of Morocco that is part of the UNESCO World Heritage and also the only UNESCO site we visited during our 1st and so far last visit to Morocco.
How to get to Tétouan?
Tétouan (63 km/1hour 20 minutes drive southeast of Tangier, which was our starting point) is located in northern Morocco.
What to do, see and visit in Tétouan?
Tétouan‚s medina, originally known as Titawin, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List in 1997.
In the Islamic period from the 8th century onwards, Tétouan was of special importance as it was located on an important road that connected Andalusia in Spain with the interior of Morocco. In addition to 2 regions, the city thus also connected 2 cultures – Spanish and Arab and 2 parts of the world – European and African.
The bus dropped us off in the Ensanche district (west of the medina). During the Spanish protectorate (1912-1956), the city was rebuilt by refugees who were expelled by the Spanish. This Andalusian influence was manifested in urbanism, architecture and monumental art. Even today, the School of Arts and Crafts (Dar Sanaa) and the National Institute of Fine Arts (Institute National Des Beaux Arts) operate in the city.
Archaeological Museum of Tétouan
The axis of the district is the wide Avenue Mohamed V, which connects Plaza Muley El Mehdi (Primo Rivera) and Place El Mechouar. On the street you will find hotels, shops and restaurants. If you take a short detour north from the boulevard, you will arrive at the Archaeological Museum of Tétouan (Musée Archeologique De Tétouan; 240 meters/3 minutes walk west of Place El Mechouar). Most of the exhibits come from excavations that took place in the 1930s. Here you will find finds from the archaeological site of Lixus near the city of Larache. Explanations are in Arabic, French and Spanish. The ticket costs 10 mad/1 euro/person.
Royal Palace at Place El Mechouar
The dominant feature of Place El Mechouar is the royal palace in its eastern part. Although part of the square around the palace and the palace itself are closed to the public, there is still a very good view of the palace and the city offers plenty of other places where you can wander. There are 4 pillars in front of the palace. These are light columns in Art Nouveau style, which we assume were designed by Enrique Nieto, a student of Antoni Gaudí.
Opposite the palace there are 2 springs where you can get water. You can recognize the springs thanks to the numerous Moroccan flags that fly in front of them and the carved decorations around them. These represent the Hands of Fatima to ward off the evil eye.
Old Town (Medina)
You enter the old town from the square through the Bab rouah gate. Although the medina is one of the smallest in Morocco, it has been preserved in an almost unchanged form until now. Even today, the Medina is protected by 5 km long walls with 7 gates and fortified towers, the so-called borj, which arose in the 18th century. The strict layout of the medina is characterized by the main and smaller side streets. Main streets connect gates and public buildings, giving access to squares, craft and commercial districts. Smaller streets lead to passageways and semi-private residential areas.
Museum of Religious Heritage
After wandering the medina’s regular network of alleyways, we visited the Museum of Religious Heritage (Musée du patrimoine religieux; 280 meters/4 minutes walk northeast of Place El Mechouar). The four wings of the museum connect around the so-called Moroccan garden. There is a garden inside the building (atrium). In the wings around the garden, you will learn about the religious history of Morocco. In addition to Arabic and French, the explanations were also in English. After the tour, I recommend a glass of mint tea in the square in front of the museum.
Lebbadi House or Lebbadi Palace
The Lebbadi House or Lebbadi Palace (450 meters/5 minutes walk east of Place El Mechouar) was built in 1903. The palace is a typical example of Andalusian-style residential architecture with a central courtyard, columns and arches. They provide temporary accommodation in the house. Upstairs I saw probably the most carpets in one place, while downstairs they sold Moroccan handicrafts.
The owner or operator of the house did not forget to ask me for a tip in the cash register on one floor, and on the next one he asked me just to be sure if I had really contributed.
Dar El Oddi
The old family house Dar El Oddi (400 meters/5 minutes walk east of Place El Mechouar) from the 1920s, which fell into disrepair, was converted into a cultural space and inaugurated in 2018. Another house they built in the Andalusian style. You will find a tile with a different pattern on almost every square meter. After the reconstruction, they preserved the original kitchen on the ground floor. The center exhibits maps, pictures, stamps and postcards of Tétouan in the years 1525-1955. The tour allows you to go up to the roof of the house with a large terrace, from which it is just one jump to any other roof of the medina. There is a café and a souvenir shop on the ground floor. The ticket costs 25 mad/2.50 euros/person.
Bab Okla Ethnographic Museum
The Bab Okla Ethnographic Museum (Musée Ethnographique Bab Okla; 550 meters/6 minutes walk east of Place El Mechouar) gets its name from the gate through which you enter the medina from the east. Although the museum was founded in 1928, it is located in the historical fortress, which was built a century earlier (1830-1831). During the tour, you will get to know the city’s history and cultural specifics. The exposition consists of 3 parts:
- the geography and history of Tétouan from the 15th century through the period of prosperity from the end of the 16th to the beginning of the 18th century, the decline in the 18th century to the Spanish period and the modern age in the 19th and 20th centuries,
- urban planning of the medina and its architectural elements,
- the arts and crafts of the medina.
Although in Dar el Oddi we were welcomed on the roof with a terrace, in the ethnographic museum entry to the roof was strictly prohibited. And it’s such a shame when from the roof you can see the Mediterranean Sea on one side and the mighty peaks of the Rif Mountains on the other. The ticket costs 20 mad/2 euros/person.
When you hear Morocco, (almost) everyone immediately thinks of Fez and its square full of vats filled to the top with water, each a different color. Tétouan also has its own „tannery“ (450 meters/6 minutes walk north of Place El Mechouar). It is smaller, but still. Unfortunately, we did not visit the tannery, but I heard that the stench that reigns there during the processing of leather, I cannot even imagine. There is a market near the tannery where you can buy these leather products.
After visiting the city of Tétouan …
I confess that after visiting Tétouan I had to google why it is in UNESCO. No one told us this during the tour of the city and its museums. Tétouan is not an ugly city and neither is its medina. In Morocco, however, we visited the medinas, which I personally liked much more. The Andalusian style and Moroccan enclosed gardens were amazing and I would definitely visit the site again for them.
The article was created in cooperation with FIJET and FIJET Slovakia.
© Ing. Adam Vanečko