For the first half of this century TANGIER was one of the stylish resorts of the Mediterranean - an "International City" with its own laws and administration, plus an eclectic community of exiles, expatriates and refugees. It was home , at various times, to Spanish and Central European refugees; to Moroccan nationalists; and - drawn by loose tax laws and free-port status -to over seventy banks and 4000 companies, many of them dealing in currency transactions forbidden in their own countries. Writers also were attracted to the city : the American novelist Paul Bowles has lived in Tangier since the war, William Burroughs spent most of the 1950s here, and most of the Beats - Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Brion Gysin and the rest -passed through. Tangier was also the world's first and most famous gay resort, a role it maintains to a smaller degree.
When Moroccan independence was gained in 1956, however, Tangier's special status was removed. Almost overnight, the finance and banking businesses shifted their operations to Spain and Switzerland. The expatriate communities dwindled, too, as the new national government imposed bureaucratic controls and instituted a "clean-up" of the city. Brothels -previously numbering almost a hundred-were banned, and in the early 1960s "The Great Scandal" erupted, sparked by a handful of pedophile convictions and escalating into a wholesale closure of the once outrageous gay bars.
These ghosts have left a slight air of decay about the city, still tangible in the older hotels and bars, despite a recent flurry of development and, especially, apartment building. There seems, too, a somewhat uncertain overall identity; a city that seems halfway to becoming a mainstream tourist resort - and an increasingly popular destination for holidaying Moroccans - yet which still retains hints of its dubious past amid the shambling 1930s architecture and style. It is, as already noted, a tricky place for first-time arrivals -hustling and mugging stories here should not be underestimated and the characters you run into at the port are as objectionable as any you'll find in Morocco but once you get the hang of it, Tangier is lively and very likeable, highly individual and with an enduring eccentricity.