A seaport city in northern Morocco, Tangier has acted as Europe's African gateway for many centuries. This beautiful city is a rich blend of many cultures, making it unique in every way. Its governance has traded hands many times throughout its history, very little of it being under the control of Morocco itself. With each shift of power came a different era for the city, and it earned many reputations over the years — ranging from a paradisal port to a seedy refuge for criminals. No matter its reputation before, however, it has emerged into the 21st century with much more contemporary and upstanding respectability.

Now just as famous as its infamous past, the city has undergone many changes in recent years to appeal to tourists and businessmen alike. One of the most frequently asked questions about visiting Morocco is whether it is family-friendly, and the answer to this is yes, as Tangier has something to awe and inspire all ages. It is always a busy and fascinating place to go, as it still functions as a port and trade center between Morocco and the rest of the world. Many artists and writers have lived and visited it since the 1950s, and it has been the inspiration and setting for many works and projects in pop culture.

11 A Complex Past

After standing for over 2,500 years, it isn't much of a surprise that the city has had its ups and downs throughout history. Initially founded in the fifth century BC by Carthaginian settlers, the city has changed hands with all kinds of empires and countries. From Greece to Rome and from Portugal to England, there have been an endless amount of varying influences on its culture and people. The city has gone to great lengths to preserve and restore many of the monuments and historical sites that have shaped its identity for generations to come.

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10 Tangerines

As the similar spelling between the fruit and the city would suggest, the delicious tangerine got its name from the city. The mandarin varietal first made its way to Europe in the 1800s, exported through the port city of Tangier. The city was so well-known for the fruit that the people of Tangier were even referred to as Tangerines for a time. While many around the world enjoy this small citrus, the city does not export its homegrown crop, so only locals or lucky tourists can taste the fruit grown in and around the city.

9 Moroccan Mint Tea

8 While in Morocco, many enjoy this delicious beverage while seeing some of the best sights around Morocco, like the Blue City of Chefchaouen. Moroccan Mint Tea is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike everywhere in the city — especially in Petit Socco (the "small market") inside Medina. While green tea is native to China, the Moroccan twist of adding a healthy amount of spearmints to the pot originated in Tangier and has become a Moroccan symbol of their hospitality and culture.

7 Hercules Cave

Located just west of Tangier is the popular attraction known as Hercules Cave. The cave opens on land via a hole carved out by local Berbers and the other end leads out to the sea, where the Phoenicians are rumored to have carved it into the shape of Africa. The caves are part of many myths and legends, but the one that earned its name is based on the legend of Hercules, who was rumored to have rested in the caves during the 11th of his 12 labors.

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6 The Wedding Gift

Over its history, Tangier has been raided and traded among many countries, but none of these changes were as strange as when it was gifted as part of a dowry to Charles II of England when he married Catherine of Braganza. It stayed in England's control for just over 20 years, when it was decided that the cost of upkeep and risk of "Popery" was too high. Before evacuating English troops and their families, they blew up all of the improvements and fortifications that they had made, leaving the town in ruins.

5 Spy Haven

Tangier was a safe zone for spies and smugglers in the 19th and 20th centuries, although the earliest records of spy activity in the area date back to the 17th century. Spies would call the city home throughout its time as the "International Zone", though the city has since made big strides in cleaning up its reputation. Pop culture, however, still uses it as a location and inspiration for its stories, like My Favorite Spy and The Bourne Ultimatum.

4 International Zone

Managed by the Moroccan Sultan, Tangier was an International Zone from the 1920s through 1956 and was governed by a complex system of 30 countries. At the time, it was known for being a safe haven for many who didn't fit into society, from spies and smugglers to openly gay men. Today, it is still a relatively free and relaxed place to be. Even so, because it is part of a Muslim country and has a lot of unique customs, travelers will want to learn some etiquette tips for Morocco before planning their trip.

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3 American Property

Although the United States won its independence in 1783, no one officially recognized it as an independent government until the Sultan of Morocco became the first in 1821. As a gift, the Sultan gifted the American Legation building in Tangier to them for use as a diplomatic post, and it became the first American property outside of the USA. This created a lasting bond between the two countries and the building, which no longer houses diplomats, has since been turned into a museum that visitors can tour.

2 Famous Author

Many writers and artists have called Tangier home and inspiration over the centuries, but the best known was perhaps Morocco's beloved Mohamed Choukri. From humble and poor beginnings, he rose to popularity and would work with and befriend many literary greats, including Paul Bowles and Jean Genet. His feats were made all the more astounding by the fact that, due to an abusive and neglected childhood, he didn't learn to read and write until he was twenty years old.

1 City Rebranding

Due to the bad reputation that Tangier gained during its time as an International Zone, even the Kings of Morocco didn't want to be responsible for it. All of that changed, however, in 1999, when King Mohammed VI took the throne. He saw the potential in the seaport and set to work making it into the crowning jewel it is today. Since then, it has seen a lot of restorations of its historical landmarks, as well as a jump into the 21st century that has encouraged tourism over the last few decades.