Africa Defense Forum
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Residents Bring Colorful New Life to Old Tangiers


Wall paintings, colorful facades and flowery alleys are brightening up the centuries-old Tangiers medina as residents bring new life to the neglected streets of the Moroccan port city.

Standing on a hill overlooking the port and the Strait of Gibraltar — one of the world’s most strategically vital waterways — the old city of Tangiers has few green spaces. But residents of 13 neighborhoods have launched a campaign to spruce it up.

“The initiative came from the residents, without any intervention from political parties or associations,” said Rafih al-Kanfaoui, 33, of the city’s Ibn Battouta neighborhood. “The neighborhood has taken on a beauty that nobody imagined.”

Along the city’s winding alleys, house fronts are decked out in different colors, and pots of flowers sit outside doors and in windows.

The walls of Ibn Battouta — named after the 14th century explorer who was the city’s most famous son — have been daubed green and purple, and residents fitted a wheelchair ramp.

“We all worked together, men and women, children, young people, old people, to make the neighborhood beautiful,” said Soufyane Abdel-Mottalib, 30.

Residents funded the operation themselves, and now four neighborhoods in Tangiers have won awards from Morocco’s Observatory for Environmental and Historical Monuments.

Mohammed Salmoun, a local civil society activist, said the project has changed the face of several marginalized parts of the city. “This kind of initiative has shown its potential to make districts stand out both locally and nationally,” he said.

Inspired by pictures of the project on Facebook, inhabitants of other Moroccan cities, including Casablanca, have launched similar projects.

Tangiers residents are proud of their city’s long history, particularly the story of Ibn Battouta, who left the city in 1325 at age 21. He crossed North Africa and traveled as far east as China. Defying distance, hardship and the Black Death, he returned to his home city and wrote a book about his travels.

The city has experienced a revival since King Mohammed VI launched an ambitious four-year, $1 billion redevelopment plan in September 2013. The waterfront now shines with new buildings, and the city center has been transformed, with wide avenues and white painted sidewalks.

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