Cape Spartel Lighthouse stands at the lower part of a high cliff some eight miles away from Tangier city center.
As you drive westwards along the greenly hills past lofty palaces and villas concealed behind thick walls and tall trees towards the bushy cliffs which form the most pointed part of Africa on the north west side, there suddenly unfolds a mesmerizing view of the sea below, stretching as far the eye can see; the Atlantic Ocean on the south and west and the Mediterranean on the east. The beauty of the scene is uplifting and were it not for the strong cold wind blowing on your face, you would surely love to stay longer. On a summer’s day, the place is swarmed by visitors from the city and far beyond.
Cape Spartel is an attractive spot also because of its lighthouse– a landmark of highly interesting historical nature. 150 years ago, precisely on 15 October 1864, the Lighthouse, a brand new building, was illuminated for the first time.
Its inauguration was the culmination of four years of hard work and negotiations among representatives of nine European powers, USA and the Moroccan government. Tangier, which for decades had become home of European diplomatic service in the country, was slowly stepping into modern age; though twenty years earlier its ramparts were shelled by the French navy as part of punitive campaign against Moroccan support for Algerian rebel, Emir Abdelkader.
In his informed study of the evolution of Tangier into an international city, Graham Stuart set down the circumstances of the building of lighthouse. In Article 43 of the Spanish-Moroccan Treaty of Commerce signed in Madrid in 1861, quoted in Stuart book, it was stated that
Experience having shown that the lack of a light on the Northern coasts of Africa exposes navigation and commerce to great risks and losses, and His Shereefian Majesty, desirous of contributing as far as possible to the security and development of the aforesaid commerce and navigation, pledges himself to construct a lighthouse on Cape Spartel and to take charge of its lighting and upkeep. (G.H. Stuart, p. 42)
Construction of the said lighthouse began immediately by Moroccan workers under the supervision of a French engineer, M. L, Jacquet and was concluded three years later. It remained for the consular bodies representing foreign powers and the Moroccan authorities to draft and agree to a formal convention for the better management of the lighthouse. Thus the representatives of the United States, Austria, Belgium, Spain, France, Great Britain, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and Morocco met in the house of the Belgian consul on May 31 1865 and concluded a seven-article convention regarding “the administration and upholding of the Light-House at Cape Spartel”.
The Convention states that the signatories, “moved by a like desire to assure the safety of navigation along the coasts of Morocco, and desirous to provide, of common accord, the measures most proper to attain this end,” had decided to share the costs of running the lighthouse evenly through annual contributions, exempting the Moroccan authorities from the same as the country had no navy. The Moroccan government, in return, would ensure the security of the lighthouse through a “guard, composed of a Kaid and four soldiers.” The sovereignty of Morocco over the lighthouse was undisputed and only the Moroccan flag would be hoisted on the tower.
Despite the increasing rivalries of European powers, particularly France, Britain, Spain and Germany to secure their various commercial and political interests in Morocco, there appeared to be good understanding and cooperation concerning the collective administration of the affairs of the lighthouse until the time of Tangier Statute in 1923. The efficiency of the lighthouse service increased in subsequent years. As Graham Stuart points out, “by an accord arrived at in 1892 the service was improved by the installation of a semaphore by Lloyds and in 1905 by the addition of a fog signal”. (G.H. Stuart, p. 44)
Today, after 150 years on its inception, the lighthouse is still operational and provides aid for navigation in the Strait, sending four white flashes every 20 seconds to a range of 30 nautical miles.
“Cape Spartel Lighthouse : May 31, 18657”, The Avalon Project, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/usmu009.asp
Graham H. Stuart, The International City of Tangier (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1955).