Tetouan… The name may not be familiar if you are planning a trip to Morocco, but I’ve had it at the back of my mind for a long time. I remember it from an epic road trip with my father in the early 1980s. We drove from Portugal to Morocco in an old-style red Toyota and went through Tangier and the Rif Mountains. I don’t remember much from Tetouan, only that I had been there. And since, the name intrigued me and I had to go back. I only took an overnight stop in Tetouan on my road trip from Tangier to Chefchaouen but that was enough to charm me. Tetouan has been described as a “jewel of a town at the foot of the Rif Mountains” and I couldn’t put it better myself… Now, Tetouan is where you can create the most interesting street photography in Morocco.
First, A Little History
The North of Morocco still has the remnants of Spanish influence, which came as somewhat of a surprise to me. In Tangier and Chefchaouen, both the architecture and the language are strong testimonies of the past Spanish domination. True enough, my connection to Morocco is more around Casablanca and Marrakech and the North was more a childhood memory.
Tetouan is only 40 km from Ceuta, one of Spanish Enclaves and the controversial Spanish Islands are visible from the Mediterranean Coast. In the 8th Century, Tetouan became the main point of contact between Andalucia and Morocco. Then, in the 14th Century, the Merenids established a base in the town in order to control the rebelling tribes from the Rif Mountains. The town was destroyed by Henry III of Castille in 1399 and at the completion of the Reconquista in 1492, Jewish and Muslim refugees settled in Tetouan. From that point on, the town was rebuilt and prospered.
In the early 20th Century, Spain expanded its occupation of the North of Morocco and Tetouan became the capital of the Spanish Protectorate in 1913. It was so until 1956, at the independence of Morocco.
In the 1990s and 2000s, after years of neglect, Tetouan was pretty run down and had lost its tourist appeal.
Why Visit Tetouan?
Today, Tetouan is enjoying a sort of rebirth, with some large renovation projects funded by the Province of Andalucia. The Ancient Medina is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and makes for a really interesting day of discovery. I didn’t find many major historical points of interest in Tetouan and for a little while, I wondered what was the attraction… For me, it was a convenient stop between Tangier and Chefchaouen, and after a long day’s drive, I needed a good meal and a bed…
Tetouan revealed itself quietly, street corner after medina alleyway, in friendly conversation with locals. I entered the medina from the north, through Bab-Al-Okla, and progressed through the narrow lanes towards the Royal Palace.
There are several “souks” in the Tetouan Medina, but the shopping is certainly not as spectacular as it is in Marrakech. If you do shop, you still have to haggle, of course. But shopping is not the main purpose if you are a tourist. In the medina, and on Place Hassan II, where the Royal Palace stands, the wares for sale are mostly home stuff, and of no particular interest to visitors.
The laneways of the medina are full of food and carts carrying piles of greenery and other foodstuffs. Watching cats watching the fish or the chickens is worth a few minutes of your time!
The ancient medina is supposedly small, but I think you can still spend a fair few hours wandering around. However, the good thing about it is that it feels very authentic and intact. And that’s the secret of enjoying Tetouan: it offers some great opportunities for genuine street photography.
The Ancient Medina
The medina has white walls and narrow laneways. Some of the laneways have a roof, as you find in Marrakech and Taroudant. Also, a local artist has adorned the walls with paintings, which was actually a handy help in finding my way around.
The streets are quite clean and very peaceful in the morning. The commercial activity doesn’t start until later in the morning and it’s a great way to start the day.
Most of the stalls and shops near Bab-Al-Okla sell food. As you progress uphill past the jewellery souk and the tanneries, you get a few more places selling souvenirs and tourist wares, but also a lot more of the day to day items. I love to photograph shops just for themselves but Tetouan offers more to the lens in terms of people going about their day.
View from the Casbah
Tetouan’s casbah is an impressive building overlooking the city and facing the Rif Mountains. It looks quite rundown and I don’t know that you can visit it at the moment. But it’s definitely worth climbing the hill to enjoy the view. From there, you can take some detailed photos of the infinity of white houses and roof terraces. The authenticity and character of Tetouan comes alive… you could almost be somewhere in Spain or Greece. The multitude of white houses and its life within is what the UNESCO values…
Tetouan and its charm came to me at that point… The crammed houses, the lively laneways almost devoid of tourists, and the majestic Rif Mountains as a backdrop made a perfect ensemble.
Further on from the Casbah lies the cemetery and its access is open to the public. Whilst I’m not a fan of cemeteries, it’s often a good insight into the local culture. This one has some good views over the city and plenty of cats…
The Spanish Town
When I asked for directions in the street, I occasionally had to make my best effort to understand Spanish… The language of Cervantes is still very much in use in Tetouan and the modern city, known as the Ensanche, has some strong Spanish influences as well. Coming down from the Casbah through Lovers Park, I recommend you have a stroll along the wide avenues and admire some of the Spanish architecture. This part of town is in stark contrast with the ancient medina but this dichotomy exists in most Moroccan cities. Indeed, people sitting in cafes also make an interesting photography subject.
The Doors and Archways
Moroccan doors are a street photography subject on their own. They hold so much history and character… Whilst not as plentiful as they are in Essaouira, the doors in Tetouan combine well with the archways.
I could spend hours snapping cats in Morocco, a little obsession of mine. Tetouan seems to have a relatively large population of those guards and observers. Because the laneways are relatively quiet in the morning, they have plenty of room to wander around and own the place. And they make a great street photography topic!
I know, Arabian Nights are set in the Ottoman Empire… but the night I arrived in Tetouan, that was the evening sky… This is why I travel to Morocco… The magic of the night falling peacefully on the mountain and the colours gradually dimming away was a fabulous instant. I didn’t stay in too many riads on my last trip to Morocco but this was by far my favourite part, watching the golden hour… And never mind the TV aerials!
Don’t Leave Tetouan out of your Itinerary
Whether you are driving or part of a tour, Tetouan is worth 24 hours at least and you can combine with a day or two in Chefchaouen or Fès. It may not be the main reason to visit Morocco but if it’s on your way, give it some time and imagine what it was like 500 years ago… maybe not that different! Considering that the vast majority of Moroccan towns have a medina, don’t worry about being bored with this one. If you treat it as the most interesting street photography in Morocco, it will stand out in your memory…
If you are planning a trip to Morocco, don’t forget to review my list of 20 things to know before travelling. And if you need to know what to wear in Morocco, don’t miss my Morocco packing list.
Chefchaouen, the Blue Pearl of Morocco
Things to do in Tangier
Most Dangerous Roads in Morocco
What’s your favourite street photography subject? Tell me in the comments below!
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27 thoughts on “Tetouan: the Most Interesting Street Photography in Morocco”
I loved Morocco when I was there (more than ten years ago, now), and I love photography, too. I’m sad I missed Tetouan in my travels there! Great images, and a fun write-up, as well.
Hi Jess, I’m guessing that ten years ago the Tetouan medina would have been still pretty run down… It’s much better now. If you get a chance to visit the north of Morocco on your next trip, be sure to include it, it’s awesome for street photography!
Morocco has been my dream destination. All your pictures are so beautiful and really make me want to go even more. Thanks for sharing!
Hi Liz, thank you, I’m very pleased you like the photos, my father took most of them when we visited last year. Watching the night fall on the old medina and the mountains was really special!
I recently visited Chefchaouen and I loved photographing the streets there (even though it was pouring with rain throughout my whole visit!). This place looks nice and relaxed like Chefchaouen was 🙂
Hi Kiara, Chefchaouen must have been incredible under the rain! I’m thinking the blue of the streets would have been so bright! Tetouan is not too far from Chefchaouen and worth stopping by for a few hours!
I saw your tweet about animals and thought I will check your website. I like it!
I love pets. I have two beautiful thai cats called Tammy(female) and Yommo(male). Yommo is 1 year older than Tommy. He acts like a bigger brother for her. 🙂
I have subscribed to your newsletter. 🙂
Keep up the good work on your blog.
Tetouan really sounds like the type of little town where you just wander and observe. I’m fascinated with watching people going about their daily business, especially in new locations.
Hi Emma, it’s true that the best part of visiting Tetouan was the people watching. Morocco is a great country for that, and as the streets are fairly quiet in the morning, we also had some good “quiet” photos. Another favourite of mine were the numerous cats!
I love doing street photography in Morocco but I never been to Tetouan. However I am hoping to be back there very soon and I think I will add Tetouan to the list. This place looks amazing to get snap happy.
Hi Danik, it’s fantastic that you are going to Morocco soon! Don’t forget that people can be quite camera shy so you have to be discreet. Still, Tetouan is nowhere near as touristy as Marrakech so street photography is easier.
I’d so love to visit Morocco! Although I hadn’t heard of it before reading your article, Tetouan sounds like a place I’d love to visit in addition to the bigger, more well-known cities so I have a chance to experience more of this fascinating country.
Hi Sage, Tetouan is not as touristy as other places like Marrakech, Fes or Chefchaouen. I really enjoyed it though, it’s the former capital of Spanish Morocco. It’s worth visiting for a day and enjoying some Spanish food. And the views from the Kasbah are stunning!
Our trip to Morocco a few years ago was too quick although we just loved it. I cant say Tetouan was on my list either then or since but it sounds like I might need to rethink that! It certainly looks to very interesting and very authentic too.
Hi Sandy, not many people visit Tetouan when there are other places with a higher profile, like Chefchaouen. It’s worth a day or so, but it is very much about people watching and observing Moroccan life. I would definitely go back but would hope for slightly better weather!
I haven’t been to Morocco and after reading your post I feel like I’m missing out. Tetouan looks quite appealing, with its white buildings and Spanish influence. Some lovely photos here of the alleys and archways, and people going about their daily business is always fascinating. But photos of an evening sunset are simply stunning.
Hi Tania, Morocco is a wonderful country to visit. It’s exotic and beautiful and there are lots to learn about its culture and people. Tetouan was the perfect place to discover more about Moroccan life. And you’re right, the sunset was stunning!
We have yet to visit Morocco but Tetouan is what I am imagining it will be like! I also prefer a smaller medina but something authentic and alive. Some places that are bigger or more popular with tourists tend to lose their local life towards more souvenir shops. And cats, well, they are a feature in some many cities but indeed, always good photographic subjects!
Hi Patricia, it’s true that the medina in Tetouan is smaller than other places like Marrakech or Fes. It’s very authentic and not very touristy, which was fantastic. I have so many pictures of cats I should write a special blog post about it!
Never occurred to me that I can drive to Morocco from Portugal ! I have Morocco on my list for the longest time ! Will consider Tetouan in my planning if it is on the way. Love the white washed buildings =)
Hi Jeremy, yes indeed you can drive from Portugal into Morocco, with a ferry in between. I actually did that with my father in a Toyota cruiser when I was a child! It was such an epic trip! Then later I drove from Paris to Casablanca with friends, in just 2 days, it was intense, but I have some great memories!
I love street photography. It’s one of the things I look forward to when I travel. I haven’t been anywhere with so many street cats; however, Havana, Cuba had a lot of stray dogs. I’ve been wanting to visit Morocco as it’s so vibrant and colorful. Will put this on my list of places to visit in Morocco.
Hi Candy, Morocco is a fantastic destination if you’re into photography, as I imagine Havana would be. I would love to go to Cuba and photograph the old cars! In Morocco, you have to be very discreet when you photograph people on the street though!
We didn’t visit Tetouan when we went to Morocco, but I think I would have liked it because of all the Spanish influence. The view from the kasbah was amazing! Made me think I was looking down on a Spanish town with a plaza and everything! Cats are definite plentiful and watching them watch the fish is entertaining. I also agree that Moroccan doors are a thing all on their own!
Hi Heather, Tetouan used to be the capital of Spanish Morocco. The plaza with the church looks so Spanish and a lot of restaurants serve Spanish food. Coming from France, I wasn’t used to that but it shows how diverse Morocco really is!
I have not yet been to Morocco but it is in the plans for 2020. I love the photos you and your father have taken of Tetouan – they create a wonderful sense of the city and I will definitely need to add it to the itinerary! Pinned your article for future reference!
Hi Alison, thank you for your kind message, it’s nice that my photos inspire you to visit Morocco. I do hope you make time to visit Tetouan if you visit Morocco but don’t miss other cool places nearby like Fes and Chefchaouen.