A photo tour of the colorful Tetouan Medina in Morocco

In CULTURE by Janice and George7 Comments

Cones of orange- and gold-colored spices. Squawking chickens. Mounds of aubergine and tomatoes and lemons. And uh oh, what’s that over there? Sheep and goat heads!

It’s market day in Tetouan, and we’re strolling the get-lost labyrinth of narrow alleys and streets in the Tetouan Medina (also known as the Antigua Medina).

We’ve been cruising the Canary Islands and Morocco on the deluxe Seabourn Odyssey; today our ship has docked in Tangier about an hour’s drive away. When we looked at what to do in Tangier on a shore excursion, we picked this day trip to Tetouan.

Tetouan Medina

The Tetouan Medina

Tetouan is one of the oldest cities in Morocco, found at the base of the Rif Mountains.

The Medina of Tetouan (medina means the old part of a city) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most Arabic medinas are surrounded by a wall; the Tetouan Medina is encircled by a thick stone wall accessed through seven gates.

Tetouan Medina wall

A wall, three miles long, encircles the Tetouan Medina



Originally settled by the Romans way back when, Tetouan was resettled by Andalusian refugees around 1492, and has been continuously lived in ever since. Today it’s home to about 321,000 inhabitants from a melange of races and religions – Spanish, Jewish, Arabic.

What makes the Medina of Tetouan special is that unlike, say, Marrakesh (where honeymooners lounge by deluxe riad pools before strolling its medina at night with its snake charmers and souvenirs), Tetouan sees very few international visitors.

As we gawk and gape, we don’t notice any other Western faces. (How rare is that when you travel now!)

Tetouan Medina

The faithfully preserved medina is dominated by mostly white buildings

Morocco old woman

An old woman walks slowly through the medina

The Tetouan Medina feels very authentic and real – a place where locals live and mingle and bargain, not a contrived attraction trying to look exotic for tourists.

Shopping in Morocco!

Stuffed with some 40,000 shops (so our guide tells us), the Tetouan Medina is one of the oldest soukhs in the world.

As it’s market day, workers from nearby farms are in town; Berber women wear big hats, like Mexican sombreros, decorated with flowers and pom-poms.

Tetouan medina

A Berber farm woman wears a traditional hat

With instructions to follow our guide one-after-the-other so we don’t get lost, we squeeze through jostling shoppers, past a scrolling filmstrip of traditional scenes – carpet sellers, a cobbler hammering a shoe, stalls with leather bags and ladies’ long dresses, weavers, sardines and other silvery fish displayed on ice, spice merchants.

Cats slink around our feet.

A butcher shouts at us for trying to take his picture, but a tailor calls out “Welcome! Welcome!”

Tetouan Medina chickens

These chickens aren’t long for this world

Tetouan Medina vegetables

So many fresh and healthy veggies!

Tetouan medina henna powder

Henna powder is used for tattoos and to dye hair and clothing red

Tetouan Medina pharmacy

A sign for the local pharmacy

Tetouan Medina textiles

A woman tries to sell us textiles

Medina of Tetouan fish

Guess what’s for dinner tonight?

Alleys, arches and surprising angles

Every which way we turn, the crumbling white buildings of the medina yield a different Instagram-worthy view – an alley here, an archway there.

Tetouan Medina

It may be one of the smallest medinas in Morocco, but it’s certainly one of the most interesting!

Tetouan Medina

The kitty-cat seems to know where he (she?) is going :-)

Tetouan Medina

A jumble of wires, a wrought iron lamp, a minaret; it’s worth looking up!

Tetouan Medina

Where does this alley lead? We’re not going to find out, or we’ll get lost!

There doesn’t seem to be any prescribed “route.” It’s all about soaking up the atmosphere.

Dar Sana: The school of arts and crafts

Outside the medina, we visit Dar Sana, the area’s renowned school of arts and crafts, which teaches and preserves the traditional Moorish arts of wood carving, painting, copper work, embroidery, etc.

Tetouan Dar Sana

Dar Sana: What a beautiful place to learn the traditional artisan skills!

Pots of paint wait for their magic to be revealed

A pattern for wood carving

Tetouan Medina Dar Sana

Master artisans at Dar Sana teach age-old techniques for woodwork, carving, tile-making, ceramics, painting and copper work

Exploring this Morocco medina (with a side-visit to Dar Sana) is definitely one of the best things to do in Tetouan – and perhaps our favorite experience in Morocco.

Admittedly, our Morocco visit is short (two days) – but we’re grateful we get a “taste” of Morocco on our Seabourn cruise!

Tetouan hotels

Blanco Riad:

If your Tetouan visit is longer than ours, and you’re researching Tetouan hotels, check out the Blanco Riad. It’s a small, 18th century riad (house with a garden courtyard in the middle) with eight clean and attractive rooms – we know because we peeked into some of them! (We suspect Blanco Riad is the best hotel in Tetouan; it’s rated the best Tetouan accommodation on TripAdvisor.)

This is where our shore excursion group ate a delightful lunch, starting with an array of healthy salads, then lamb tagine with apricots and couscous, followed by traditional sweet pastries and Moroccan mint tea. And the proprietor was very friendly and welcoming.

Rates and booking information:

You can check rates and book Blanco Riad on Booking.com.

More fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Curious about some other “old city” UNESCO World Heritage Sites we’ve written about around the world? Dive into these stories…

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All photos are © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase.


This post contains an affiliate link; if you book on Booking.com (our affiliate), we earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.


Are you planning a Morocco trip? Will you visit Tetouan?


Comments

  1. I really like this post Janice / George!

    I’ve been to Egypt many times, and Tunisia. I haven’t yet been to Morocco, but certainly want to! I like the pots of paints! They actually remind me of these pots of sauces that you see in the night market in Taiwan. Even then, I thought it was paint.

    It wasn’t! :D

    1. Author

      LOL! You wouldn’t want to be eating paint :-). Egypt is a seriously fascinating country — Luxor especially, with all those fabulous temples and underground tombs…

  2. Awesome photos. Thanks for these impressions of a colorful place in Morocco. I like the alley where the houses are painted in violet. Is the color an indicator for not to get lost, or just decoration?

    1. Author

      Interesting point about the color… While white is the predominant color, some of the walls are partly painted in green, violet (as you noticed), pink, yellow and blue — probably just for decoration? But the Jewish quarter is more colorfully painted than the rest of the medina. (While there was a very strong Jewish influence in the past, there are apparently only a dozen or so Jews still living there now.)

    2. Morocco is definitely very high on the must see places to visit, and I am now even more inspired to go there after reading this post! Wow, very colorful photos, and I must ask Janice: did you happen to get one of those amazing sombrero hats on your 2 day visit? I sure would love one of those:)

      1. Author

        Huh! No, how on earth would I (Janice) stuff a big sombrero in my suitcase? I try not to lug too many souvenirs home these days :-). Glad you like the post and photos…

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