Inducement for the Journey - Arrive at Tangiers - Its History - Situation - Inhabitants - Military - Governor - Fortifications - Subterraneous Passage - Socco, or Market - Adjacent Villas - Invited to Larache.

Tangiers, January 12th, 1806.

I have long felt very desirous to visit a country, which, notwithstanding the many revolutions it has undergone, and the enlightened characters of its conquerors, is regarded as still immersed in a degree of barbarism almost unparalleled. It appeared to me next to impossible that a nation so contiguous to Europe, with which it has for centuries maintained a constant intercourse, could have remained in a state of such profound ignorance.

Impressed with these ideas, I readily embraced the offer of a friend to accompany him from Gibraltar to this place, intending to travel further up the country, should I meet with sufficient inducement from the result of my observations here. We landed on the first of this month, and the intermediate time I have employed in obtaining information relative to the town of Tangiers from the earliest tradition to the present time. As the particulars I have collected do not appear devoid of Interest, I flatter myself, you will be gratified that I should have made them the subject of a letter.

This town, which by the ancients was called Tingis, or Tingir, and appears to have been the metropolis of the Western Mauritania, or Tingitania, as it was named, to distinguish it from Mauritania Caesariensis; according to Pliny and others, was first founded ed fay Antaeus (about a thousand years before Christ), the same who was afterwards conquered and slain by Hercules. The giant is supposed to have been buried here: and the report of Plutarch, that his tomb was opened by Sertorius, and a corpse sixty cubits or more in length, taken out of it, confirms the idea. But according to others, Tingis, or the present Tangiers, lays claim to a more ancient founder than Antaeus. Procopius mentions, that in his time were standing two pillars of white stone, upon which were inscribed in the Phoenician characters the following words: "We are the Canaanites who fed from Joshua, the son of Nun."

A colony of Carthaginians settled here, and it is most probable that a flourishing trade was carried on by them, as the situation of Tangiers is extremely well adapted for that purpose. Indeed the name Tingis, in the language of the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, signifies an emporium. When the Mauritaniae became subject to the Romans, in the reign of Julius Caesar, Bocchus, the son-in-law of Jugurtha, having defeated Bogud, the king of Mauritania Tingitania, he became possessed of that country, and Augustus, or, as some say, Octavius, confirmed this acquisition to him; and the inhabitants of Tingis were allowed the privileges of Roman citizens.

I cannot discover any thing further remarkable of Tangiers from the time it became a Roman colony, and during the period it was possessed by the Saracens, till the latter end of the fourteenth century, when it was taken by the Portuguese, who erected fortifications and other public works. It continued in their possession for nearly two centuries; and was at length given to our King, Charles the Second, as part of the dowry of his consort Catharine, We did not keep it long; for, owing to the little harmony that subsisted between that Monarch and his Parliament, it was ceded to the Moors in 1684, after we had blown up all the fortifications, and utterly destroyed the harbour. Since that event, it seems to have been gradually dwindling into its present insignificance.

I have before observed, that the situation of Tangiers is well adapted to the purposes of commerce, being about two miles within the Straits of Gibraltar (or Hercules); but the ruins of the fortifications and harbour have rendered the anchorage in the bay of Tangiers very unsafe. This is a great obstacle to trade; very little is carried on there at present, and that little is by a few Jews, and lately, by a Spanish merchant of the name of Don Pedro.

The town being built on the declivity of that high tract of land called Cape Spartel (the Cape Cottes or Ampelusian of the ancients), it is seen at a great distance; but on entering the bay, it appears to the best advantage. It is defended by two martello towers, a castle, and a large battery; but I am confident that it could not withstand the attack of a few English frigates, and that such a force from the bay might destroy the town in the space of a few hours. Notwithstanding the vicissitudes to which this place has been exposed, it still possesses a superiority over the other towns in the empire of Morocco; it is the capital of the kingdom, and the residence of the Consuls General of the powers in amity with his Imperial Majesty. The houses of these foreign residents are constructed with great taste in the European style; the habitations of the Moors are neat; the air is pure and salubrious; the supply of excellent water, abundant; and the market cheap and plentiful. This combination of advantages renders Tangiers, in many points of view, an eligible residence. The European society, which consists almost solely of the families of the foreign consuls, is pleasant and agreable, The adjacent country is beautifully romantic; and the opposite coast and bay present a most delightful prospect. The Moorish inhabitants are all soldiers, very poor, and entirely subject to the arbitrary will of the Emperor. It is capable of furnishing, at a moment's warning, three thousand cavalry, and two thousand infantry and artillery-men; but these troops are badly trained, and without order or discipline: I attended their evening parade yesterday, and was truly diverted with the sorry appearance of their best militia-men, who were to mount guard for the night. These Moorish soldiers are remarkably addicted to cheating. It is probably owing to their excessive indolence, which prevents them from making the usual exertions for obtaining a livelihood, and induces them to adopt the more expeditious mode of extorting from strangers the means of subsistence; but as they are not often presented with an object of prey, they continually labour against the pressure of extreme poverty. Tangiers is under the government of Sidy Ash-Ash; who resides at Tetuan. He is by no means partial to the English, but devoted to France; influenced by French principles, and French interest. Excepting a few small armed vessels, fitted out for piracy, there is no shipping in the harbour. I have observed none for the purpose of commerce; all their goods are exported in foreign bottoms; and when they bring in a prize, the vessel remains unsold for a considerable length of time, and it is always disposed of to a foreign merchant.

Several remains of the European fortifications are yet visible; the Moors have repaired some, among which the western bastions still form a principal part of the strength of the place. The castle, which appears to have been built before the time of the Portuguese, stands in a commanding position upon one of the most prominent rocks of this coast. By an order of the Emperor, all the civil and military officers of this town are obliged to reside in it.

From this castle is a subterraneous passage containing many curious remnants of antiquity. On each side of the passage are ruinous apartments, which we may readily suppose to have been designed as places for the concealment of treasures, or receptacles for the dead. From the fragments of some urns I have collected, upon which are to be traced parts of inscriptions in the Punic character, I imagine this subterraneous place to have been built by the Carthaginians, for one or both of those purposes. It extends from the castle to several miles without the gates of the town; whence we may likewise infer, that it served as a means of escape in case of a sudden insurrection, or siege. Here are several superb mosques and commodious public baths.

The Socco, or market, is held twice a week (on Sunday and Wednesday), in a spacious sandy square, outside of the western gate, whereto the peasants bring all kinds of provisions, and other necessaries, which are sold at very low rates. Fish and every sort of wild fowl are brought in daily, and sold very cheap. Among the Consuls' villas, some of which are built near the spot where the Socco is held, that of the Swedish Consul is the most worthy of notice. The pleasure-ground is laid out with great taste in orange groves; the gardens abound in fruit-trees, and the Consul has made a curious botanical collection.

I have just been interrupted by Mr. Matra, our Consul. He called to request me to go up to Larache, to attend the Governor, who is dangerously ill, and has sent here for an English physician. I intended to have continued a brief account of this empire, from the time it became a Roman province to the introduction of Mahometanism; also by what means the Moors became mixed with Arabs: but I must reserve this for the next opportunity.