The festive music wafting up the hill to the medina was a giveaway: it was either a wedding (unlikely in that it was midday) or His Majesty was in town. Yesterday, Morocco's King Mohammed VI was in Tangier to be briefed on the multimillion dollar plans to convert the port.
For centuries, fishing boats, ferries, cargo ships, warships, and cruise liners have pulled into this protected bay on the Strait of Gibraltar. The 17th century British rulers of Tangier started to build a mole, then destroyed it when they left town. In the heydays of the Tangier International Zone, the port took its current shape, and generations of voyagers described the spell that was cast on travelers arriving at the foot of the old medina by sea.
With the advent of the new port of Tanger-Med, some 40 kilometers to the east of the city, the future of the old port has been a matter of great interest to those who have a vested interest in the downtown port. What will become of the fishing boats whose skippers sell their catch in the new purpose-built fish market? How about the women (many of whom have attended TALIM's literacy classes) who live in the medina to be close to their work at factories at the port? And will tourists who increasingly debark at Tanger-Med come to souvenir shops in the medina, 40 kilometers away?
Yesterday's royal presentation goes a long way to answering these questions. The plans should reassure those who saw Tangier being eclipsed by its Tanger-Med cousin. Especially in matters of tourism, the development plan is very ambitious, calling for the creation of a marina, but also an entire port complex with hotels, commercial and cultural facilities, but not forgetting the economically important fishing port.
The timing of His Majesty's visit, and the attention focused on ports old and new, couldn't be more propitious for TALIM's plans for the April 2011 "April Seminar," which will be devoted to the impact of port development on Tangier and its hinterland.
Maybe it was prophetic, but the 2007 April Seminar was devoted to The Port of Tangier in the 21st Century: Projects and Perspectives. Now we have some of the answers.