Culture

Tangier, no longer the city it used to be

HISTORY Robert Chastel, a doctor from Rabat and passionate historian, studied the events taking place in Tangier at the beginning of the 20th century, and the representation of these two events in the primary newspapers of the time, the Petit Journal and the Petit Parisen. The result is his unique book, Le Vieux Maroc.

Made in Tanger: Your book covers Morocco between 1891 and 1907. What role did Tangier play during this time?

Robert Chastel: In my opinion, Tanger was the capital of Europe, or at least the diplomatic capital. The country has a strategic position geographically speaking. It's the door, the window, to the Mediterranean, and Tangier is the entryway to Gibraltar. We believed that those who held Tangier, held the Mediterranean as well.

Made in Tanger : Nevertheless, the Makhzen (Palace) was based in Fès during this period.
Robert Chastel: Yes, but the King had a representative in Tangier, who for that matter passed along as much information so that they didn't need to disturb even Fes. There were 12 European ambassadors, plus an American ambassador, in the northern captial. And when information wasn't relayed, they consulted one another. It was a true spies' nest. Plus, there were four sub-marine cables, two French, one English, and a Spanish. So In a few short hours Europe knew everything that was happening, just by a simple telegraph.

Made in Tanger : You studied two newspapers. How did they portray the reality of Tangier?
Robert Chastel: There were only texts and drawings, but they were realistic. You could say that they were coloured photos. Sometimes they even drew the photos. Inevitably they were an interpretation, but always a quality interpretation. And for the texts, they were also well transcribed. But, keep in mind that they defended the interests of the French before anyone else. Realizing that they were doing this in Morocco, it had a huge impact on Europe. It was a magnifying glass effect.