"The Continental Hotel, alone in Tangier stands both witness and heiress to that age of soignée aristocratic refinement which, for a half a century, made the White City a very real rival to Monte Carlo and Nice, and a mecca for Princes and Potentates, Lords and loafers, artists and officers, couriters and courtesans. It is a vanished world, a social Atlantis, drowned in a sea of blood of two World Wars, a civilisation we glimpse in faded sepia photographs…"
So writes Dr. Terence MacCarthy in his latest in a series of social histories of Tangier's Grand Hotels, who saw their heyday in the late 19th through mid twentieth century.
MacCarthy finds his raw material largely in period publications, primarily our collection of the Tangier Gazette, or as it was known earlier, Al-Moghreb Al-Aksa. If there is a discipline of the archeology of guest registers, Terence MacCarthy should be considered its professor emeritus.
The Continental's friendly staff and setting continue to leave favorable impressions on the many travelers who choose it over more luxurious or modern hotels in Tangier, perhaps agreeing with American travel writer Burton Holmes, who wrote of the Continental in 1901: "It appears like a huge grin upon the frowning face of the walled city…"
With his ear for gossip, MacCarthy's latest book is again replete with anecdotes, nicely put in their historical context. So we have a nephew of President Theodore Roosevelt at the hotel, in the wake of the Perdicaris affair (where TR exercised some of his trademark sabre rattling), on a goodwill mission to smooth ruffled feathers.
Here's how Adrian Mourby described the hotel a few years ago in The Independent:
The Hotel Continental above the harbour looked exactly the same as when Bertolucci used it. The fireplace was smoke-stained, a wind-up gramophone sat in the dining room next to a 1930s telephone switchboard, and a note in reception advised customers that no credit cards would be accepted for payment of bills. Of course not – it is still the 1930s inside the Continental.
Though it might be frustrating if you're trying to get calls through, there's something utterly captivating about a 1930 vintage switchboard still in use. It's part of what MacCarthy calls "the singular charm of the Continental, the first, last, and grandest of Tangier's Grand Hotels!"