Look out Tangier!

Dossier ~ Thursday 7th May 2009
The Crab with the Golden Clas (1941) - Page 39]

Long considered a city with a dangerous streak, and an essential destination for artists, Tangier continues to exude mystery. We come across the town, thinly disguised under the name "Bagghar", in The Crab with the Golden Claws, one of the three adventures (along with The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure) inspiring the film currently in production by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson.

Bagghar = Tangier?

On page 39 of The Crab with the Golden Claws, Tintin, Snowy and Captain Haddock arrive at Bagghar, "a large Moroccan port". "Bagghar" ("fight" in French) is an apt name, perfectly summing up the reputation of this port town, which is clearly based on Tangier. We can see proof of this in the view of Bagghar from the sea (fifth frame on page 39), which appears to have been drawn from a sketch made from Cape Malabata, which is opposite Tangier. The curves of the hill surrounding the casbah, the medina and the port mirror the layout of Tangier./p>

From the Pillars of Hercules to Hergé’s Bagghar

We can assume that Bagghar, a large port set in a bay on the Moroccan coast, is really Tangier, a town located on the western tip of the Rif, in northern Morocco. The town is situated at the gates to the Mediterranean, opposite the famous Rock of Gibraltar and the straits which go by the same name. In ancient times the Greeks named these straits the "Pillars of Hercules", after the myth which recounted the tale of Hercules smashing his way through the Atlas Mountains, thereby creating the straits and joining the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean. Tangier has always been a coveted prize. Following the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians established the town as a trading centre (Tingis) in the fourth century B.C.  It then came under Roman rule during the second century B.C., later being occupied by the Byzantines, Arabs and Europeans (Portugal, Britain, Spain and France).

Crabmeat with peppers

Throughout its history, Tangier has remained a highly desirable strategic location. From 1923 to 1956, the city was given international status (with one interruption due to Spanish occupation from 1940 to 1945), before being declared a ‘free port’ in 1962, meaning free of customs duties. The Crab with the Golden Claws was written at the time when it was an international city. Tangier was flourishing, culturally and commercially. It was fertile ground for sleazy activities, including all sorts of smuggling and trafficking. It is hardly surprising that Hergé chose to develop a plot involving opium trafficking in this environment, as he only had to look to real life events for his inspiration. To the present day, Tangier remains a magnet for this kind of activity: "On Saturday, Moroccan authorities announced the seizure, in the port of Tangier in the north of the country, of more than four tons of cannabis hidden in a cargo of peppers destined for Spain." (Jeune Afrique, December 2008)

Drugs and the drama of illegal immigration

The illegal cargo trafficked through Tangier can’t always be hidden inside a tin of crabmeat. Many see Tangier as a gateway to the "paradise" of Europe. They manage to get past immigration controls to climb aboard trucks heading for Spain. The question of migration is a contentious subject in Tangier, as the port is at the centre of increasingly bold attempts to get people through. Some recent news: "On Thursday afternoon, the criminal court of first instance, near the court of appeal in Tangier, passed judgement in the case of fifty illegal immigrants who were intercepted at the port of Barcelona last October as they disembarked from the "Fantastic" car ferry operating on the Tangier-Genoa line via Catalonia. The main defendant in the smuggling ring, Soad F., a naturalised Spaniard, was given the maximum sentence possible of ten years of imprisonment, and his bank accounts were seized. Abdellah Y. and Naïma J. were sentenced to four and three years of imprisonment respectively, and given fines of 500,000 dh [dirhams, Moroccan currency – editor]." ( source: http://www.lejournaldetanger.com/article.php?a=2671)

Tracing Tintin’s footsteps...

Despite all this interesting information, why choose Tangier as the subject of this journal? We have already announced the series of documentaries co-produced by Moulinsart, Arte and Gédéon, which will be released on television, DVD and tintin.com. Our Tintin reporters travelled to Tangier to establish links between the work of Hergé and the real-life cosmopolitan town. They described their experiences: "During our visit to Tangier, we met port officials who told us about recent measures taken by the authorities to contain the problem of various kinds of trafficking: the port has a new scanner which scans all lorries embarking onto car ferries. All trucks are scanned without exception. The beeping of the scanner resounds constantly on the approach to the harbour."

Tangier; artists’ port of call

Make sure you watch Arte (date to be announced on tintin.com) for a new perspective on Tangier, its casbah and its medina, spread over an area of 26 hectares, where visitors can easily get lost in the maze of narrow lanes. Going down an alleyway, we half expect to come across Tintin, Captain Haddock and Omar Ben Salaad, the biggest merchant in Bagghar! Tangier continues to attract artists. Here in the nineteenth century, the painter Eugène Delacroix made over 100 paintings and drawings in the romantic style. A century later and Henri Matisse would fall under Tangier’s spell. Writers such as André Gide, Paul Bowles (Tea in the Saraha) and Arturo Perez Reverde (The Queen of the South) found Tangier a wonderful backdrop for their stories. More recently, the spy-thriller The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), in which the leading role is played by the actor Matt Damon, features several spectacular action scenes shot in the heart of Tangier. And let’s not forget that Gad Elmaleh will play Omar Ben Salaad in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming film. But in this case Tangier is called Bagghar.

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