“Hello my princess, we meet again!” I turn around and stare right into the eyes of the man I have been trying to avoid all day.
I met Abderrahmid the day before and as helpful and friendly as he may be, there was something too eager and slightly disturbing about him. My polite refusal for dinner was met with the prophetic words “I hope your government won’t be punished for that” and before I could even react, he put on his biggest smile and offered me a bar of chocolate, leaving me behind puzzled and utterly confused…
Not all my encounters in Tetouan have been that weird though. In fact, most people didn’t even notice me! You see, Tetouan is not on the main tourist trail, most people prefer to visit cities like Fez and Marrakech. Hard to understand why: the city is said to have one of the most untouched medina’s of Morocco and is THE centre for artisan crafts!
Early morning I start my journey in the “Ensemble Artisanal”. At first sight it is just a shop selling local crafts, but the main interest is to be found on the first floor where carpet weavers, leather artisans and woodworkers create a hive of activity. I walk around, feeling a bit out of place, until a nice gentleman invites me over to sit down and watch. He speaks perfect French and explains me how he creates the beautifully crafted leather boxes from scratch. It looks like very precise work and it’s great to hear him talk so passionately about it!
The “Ensemble Artisanal” is not the only place to see local crafts in Tetouan. The medina is home to quite a few workshops and craft souks. As usual I end up getting totally lost, but finally stumble upon a little square surrounded by local artisans. Once again I am called over to watch, this time by a tailor sewing djellaba’s
A few streets further, a pungent smell attracts my attention. Following the nauseating whiff I find myself in the middle of the city’s tanneries! Only a handful of people are working at the moment. They seem surprised to see me there, but as often in Morocco, I am greeted with a welcoming smile!
How I love roaming around the medina of hassle-free Tetouan! Apart from the craftsmen, the medina is also home to all sorts of commercial souks. Starting from the main square, Place Hassan II, I take a right into the Mellah ( the old Jewish district) with its range of nuts, dates, herbs and juices. Sitting down on a ramshackle little chair, I enjoy an avocado juice, watching the hustle and bustle of the street vendors. I stumble upon the local baker using a century-old oven, have a quick peek into the open doors of the numerous mosques and gawk at the jewellery shops of the Rue Terrafin.
In stark contrast with the medina is the El Ensanche district, the architectural legacy the Spanish left behind. Wide avenues, home to a lot of the city’s cafés, roundabouts with churches instead of mosques and an overall Spanish architecture: only a mile away from the old town, but it feels like a world apart!
I truly don’t understand why the city is bypassed by the majority of tourists. There are plenty of things to do in Tetouan and I found it to be one of the most pure and interesting places I visited in northern Morocco! If only I could get rid of Abderrahmid now…
Have you been to Tetouan? Or some other place in Morocco? As always, looking forward to read it in the comments!