“To have known Tangier under the Condominium with its French and Spanish sectors, its British post office, its Moroccan souks and brothels and Berber vegetable markets, its atmosphere of fiscal, sexual and political freedom, its easy society and douceur de vivre – based on excellent servants – was one of the charms of the old Europe. The Arab medina was one of the loveliest of medieval towns, to which the confluence of Atlantic and Mediterranean climate lent a permanent seduction. Months of Mediterranean summer gave way to autumn mists, Atlantic gales, even fog. In spring the breeze sang in the palm trees of the Villa de France, the rain dripped in the eucalyptus woods by the Glaoui’s palace, clouds formed over the Rîf or sun sparkled on the great yellow dune by the Punta de Tarifa; flowers covered the green downs by the airport road to Tetuan, Atlantic breakers shimmered along the Larache beaches. In the town were French restaurants like the Pavilion and pâtisseries, English groceries, cafés with Arab music, American bars with good sandwiches and rye, cocktail parties in converted native houses, night-clubs with equivocal floor-shows, all-night bars like the desultory Mar Chico, ultimate station of the lost, with its atmosphere of the Spanish Foreign Legion. And the British stronghold – Dean’s Bar. ‘Dean’ was a dark-coloured Egyptian said to be the offspring of an English lady and her dragoman. He had beautiful manners and an Oxford accent of the old school with a Firbankian vein of humour. More impressive than ‘Wayne’, he had worked for our Intelligence throughout the war. How pleasant it was to sit in his bar of a morning and read the papers or one’s mail, fresh from the British Post Office across the way, while some of the older residents dropped in, sent out their invitations or discussed the previous evening. Ewing Baird may have been there plotting his human chess-game; I remember only Dean’s delicate Negroid face, sun and sea-breeze outside, his barman within, polishing glasses, pleasure and expectancy.”
Cyril Connolly, Preface to the first UK edition of Robin Maugham, The Wrong People, Heinemann, 1970. (Wayne and Ewing Baird are characters in the novel. … Dean’s Hotel in Peshawar, incidentally, has unfortunately closed; Green’s remains.)
Morocco was formally partitioned into French and Spanish Protectorates in 1912. The Alawi sultans continued to reign. The division lasted until independence was restored in 1956. (The sultans elevated themselves to kings in the following year.)
You can see from the map that the Spanish Protectorate was much smaller than the French, and was in the far north, including the Rif mountains, and in the south in an area called Cap Juby. Within the French zone was a Spanish enclave called Sidi Ifni. Below Cap Juby was a separate area called Spanish Sahara.
At first the status of Tangier, a centre of spying and smuggling, was uncertain. Then, in 1923, it was made into a free port under the joint administration of France, Spain and Britain; Italy joined in 1928. Spain took control of Tangier, using Moroccan troops, in 1940, on the pretext that an Italian invasion was imminent. From 1945 to 1956 it was again under international control, this time that of Britain, France, the US and the USSR. What years was Connolly remembering? I’ve guessed circa 1950.
The Berbers of the Rif mountains rebelled against the Spanish Protectorate in 1921, and threatened the French. In 1923 they proclaimed an independent republic. The Republic of the Rif was dissolved in 1926 by combined Spanish and French forces.
The Mediterranean cities of Melilla and Ceuta had been Spanish since the fifteenth and sixteenth century respectively. They remained so after 1956 and are Spanish today. As old Spanish territory, they were technically not part of the protectorate. Sidi Ifni, the Atlantic enclave in the southwest, was Spanish between 1476 and 1524 and then again from 1860 until 1969. (Spain had fought a war with Morocco in 1859, mainly over the borders of Ceuta.)
The area in the far south, Spanish Sahara, was claimed as a protectorate in 1884. (Villa Cisneros, now Dakhla, shown on the map, had been Spanish since the sixteenth century.) It was not part of, and was administered separately from, the protectorate formed in 1912. It had two parts: Saguia el-Hamra in the north and Río de Oro in the south. Spain retained it even after surrendering Sidi Ifni.
Immediately before the death of Franco, in the winter of 1975, Spain was confronted with an intensive campaign of territorial demands from Morocco, and to a lesser extent from Mauritania, over Spanish Sahara, culminating in the Moroccan “Green March” into the area. Spain withdrew its forces and settlers. But another part of the resistance was led by Polisario, an Algeria-backed movement which wanted the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco as well as from Spain. Mauritania surrendered its claim after fighting an unsuccessful war against Polisario. Morocco engaged in its own war with Polisario; a ceasefire came into effect in 1991, but the Western Sahara question remains unresolved.
Shanghai, another divided city, had an atmosphere in some ways like the one Connolly describes until it was occupied by Japan. So did old Saigon, before the French left it in 1954. So did Beirut before 1975. So did Lourenço Marques, where South Africans found sexual freedom in the days of apartheid.
So perhaps, nearly, even did Trieste, for some years another city of unreality and zones. Trieste had been Austrian since the fourteenth century, but had a majority of Italians. At the end of the First World War it went to Italy. In 1943 the Germans seized it, for an outlet to the sea. In 1945 Tito’s troops claimed it. In 1947 it was made into a Free Territory guaranteed by the UN Security Council. Zone A was controlled by the British and Americans and Zone B by Yugoslavia. The arrangement was dissolved in 1954. The Yugoslav zone and part of the British-US zone passed to Yugoslavia and the remainder of the British-US zone, including the city of Trieste, to Italy. In 1975 Italy relinquished its claims to Zone B.
Algiers attracted many louche travellers, but the pieds-noirs had the attachment of settlers.
Durrell’s Alexandria was a variation on the theme. Were Salonika and Smyrna also?
No city attracted loucher than Tangier. There is something hallucinogenic in the Moroccan air, but much of its expatriate society must have been dull. As Connolly says, Tangier had no culture. See the Independent’s obituary of David Herbert.
Tangier has been declining since the ’60s. Now the king, Mohammed VI, wants to clean it up – with the help of real estate developers from the Gulf.