Al Hoceima

The Mercure Hotel
The Mercure Hotel

Sometimes, after roughing it in the desert, a guy just needs to get away and be spoiled. What better way to do that than cheaply, during off-season at a almost empty, but swanky hotel? Especially, when the weather has been unseasonably warm and lovely.

When I checked in to the Mercure Hotel in Al Hoceima. I was the only tenant in the entire hotel. In fact, the lights on my floor were off until, unable to make my way effectively, I returned to the lobby to have them turn them on. It’s a nice place and relatively new. The staff were all wonderful. Several of the staff were from the local vocational program learning on-the-job skills. I even had an inexpensive, but wonderful massage in their empty spa. During my stay, breakfast was included and it was fantastic. It’s even delivered to the room at no extra cost.

The city itself is nearly spotless. I can safely say it’s one of the cleanest I’ve seen. Perhaps only Ifrane and Ouarzazate come close. Much of the city sits atop cliffs that jut out into the sea making it wonderfully picturesque, though admittedly somewhat difficult to walk. It lies at the junction where the Rif Mountains meet the sea.

Abd El-Karim El-Khattabi
Abd El-Karim El-Khattabi

A Rebellious History

But, Al Hoceima is more than a beach resort. I’ve been reading a fascinating book by David S. Woolman called Rebels in the Rif: Abd El Krim and the Rif Rebellion which details the ongoing struggle of the Rif peoples. The city and the surrounding area is, from what I can surmise, nearly entirely native Amazigh (Berber) and damn proud of it. They have a long-standing reputation for being fiercely independent and excellent fighters. It’s also historically been the epicenter of centuries of Amazigh rebellions, including several devastating campaigns against the Spanish and French during the colonial period and some later during the reign of King Hassan II. The leader of the colonial Rif Rebellion, Abd El-Karim Khattabi, “was a Riffian political and military leader. He and his brother Mhemmed led a large-scale revolt by a coalition of Berber-speaking Rif tribes against French and Spanish colonization of the Rif, a large area of northern Morocco. The revolt included the establishment of the short-lived Republic of the Rif. Abd el-Krim’s guerrilla tactics influenced Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, and Che Guevara.”.[3][4] (Wikipedia)

Flag of the Republic of the Rif
Flag of the breakaway Republic of the Rif

Khattabi was leader of the numerous and powerful Ait Waryagher tribe that lived in the areas in and around the Al Hoceima..He initially worked with the Spanish supervisors overseeing the area, but eventually came to resent colonization and turned to dissident publications to voice his concerns. In August 1925, he was on the cover of Time Magazine.

After the insurrection, Khattabi was exiled to the small French Island of Réunion, though he was eventually given sanctuary by the Sultan of Egypt where he spent the rest of his days writing in opposition to colonialism.

Spanish islands just a few hundred meters off the coast of Morocco
Spanish islands just a few hundred meters off the coast of Morocco

The city and most of the north was eventually returned to Morocco in 1956 after gaining its independence with the exception of two enclaves and littoral traces along the coast. Just off the coast of Adjir, a smaller village near Al Hoceima, there remains three small Spanish islands. The largest is the location of a Spanish military base.

During the reign of King Hassan II, there was periodic, but violent strife between the crown and the Rifis leading some historians to call his reign the Years of Lead. While many appreciated his ability to unite and strengthen Morocco, he was not without his detractors. According to Wikipedia, “During the Years of Lead, dissidents were arrested, executed or “disappeared“, newspapers were closed and books were banned. There are few reliable lists of victims for the time, but there were hundreds of political killings and forced disappearances. Arbitrary arrests and torture affected many, including some of those outside the usual opposition networks.”

Earthquake

More recently, in 2004, the city of Al Hoceima was the also the epicenter of a serious earthquake that damaged some of the city and, by some accounts, led to the death toll of between 500-700 people. Much of the city that was damaged has been rebuilt or demolished, so that now it is a shining example of modern Morocco.


All told, it’s a lovely little city with great history and a beautiful coastline. Every morning, fishermen go out into the bay as they have for millenia. It’s tranquil and a sight to behold. Below are some photos of my brief time there.

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