The Kingdom of the West: In the land of the giants

In ancient mythology, the land of Libya (North Africa) was ruled over by the giant Antaeus, son of the sea god Poseidon and the earth goddess Gaia.

This giant would challenge all-comers to a wrestling match to the death, and was never bested until he met the demi-god Hercules, stopping off in Africa to complete his 11th Labour. His remains, we are told, could be found under a hill near the location of modern Tangier, ancient Tingis.


There’s no sign, that I can see, of Antaeus but Tangier remains one of those places where worlds collide. Close enough to Europe for day-trippers to cross over on the ferry from Spain but still resolutely North African and, even more resolutely, Moroccan.


I wanted to try and see what bits of ancient North Africa I could find amongst the levels and levels of the later city; the modern harbour; 19th and 20th century colonial architecture; the apparently ageless kasbah so beloved of international spies and intriguers, the  English; the Spanish; the Portuguese. Where are the ancients?

Well, inevitably, some of them are in the the local museum. At the start of Twitter’s @MuseumWeek, what could be better than a visit to the Kasbah Museum?

I made my way through the winding streets and alleyways of the kasbah until I reached the gate nearest to the museum but, as seems to have happened so many (blasted) times before, the (bloody) museum was (bloody well) shut.  Since November. Not a word on the (flipping bloody blasted) websites (which I always check before I travel) (damn, blast and curse them).


Aaaand breathe.

Not one to be so easily dissuaded, I  continued upwards looking for the (flipping) ancients (blast them), until I reached these:


In the rocks, way up high on the cliffs overlooking the coast, is a cluster of graves, cut into the rocks by the Phoenicians.

This is clearly a popular tourist attraction, as there were loads of people there, milling around, taking selfies, that sort of thing.


This area is basically a cliff edge, so it’s the sort of visitor attraction that would make any right thinking Health & Safety Officer break out in a cold sweat.



Still, it’s well worth a look, if only to have a think about the relative positions of the living Phoenicians; down on the coast, bustling about and doing business, and the dead; high up on the cliffs, removed from the living but looking out over the sea that sustained them in life.


A short taxi journey from town is the Atlantic coast.


Here tourists, including me, flock to Cap Spartel, and the coast to the south of it, for the beaches, and to the Cave of Hercules for this shot.


It’s Africa! Do you see?

Actually, to me it looks like a person in a hat, shouting but, hey ho.


While on his way to carry out his 11th Labour, to steal the apples of the Hesperides, and after killing Antaeus, Hercules sheltered for the night in this cave.  Some Roman sources say that rather than climbing over the mountain that was nearby, he smashed through, joining the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and creating the Strait of Gibraltar and the Pillars of Hercules.


The cave is partially natural and partially man-made. The Berber people used to cut their mill-stones out of the walls of the cave, enlarging the inside in the process. You can see the marks left by this process all around the cave.


More recently, Def Leppard played a gig in the cave cos, you know, rrrrrock!


My attempts to get to the nearby Roman site of Cotta were foiled by the combined efforts of a disgruntled taxi driver and the Moroccan army. Bah.


3 thoughts on “The Kingdom of the West: In the land of the giants

  1. Can you elaborate on your problems getting into Cotta? I’m planning a research trip but I can’t find any concrete, up-to-date info on whether the site is open to the public.

    • Hi Chris,

      I had some difficulties getting my driver to attempt it. When we did, I spoke with a guard (military, I think) who seemed to think that the site was accessible but when we drove down the road, a huge wall has been built all the way along it, apparently cutting off access to Cotta. I had GPS on my phone and was trying to work out exactly how far along the road it was and the wall was built right across the point where we should have been able to turn towards the site. It looks like a large complex is being built on the other (seaward) side of the wall and I just couldn’t see how to get to the other side.

      If I’d had a more co-operative driver, I might have been able to investigate further but he was very grumpy so I couldn’t.
      It might be possible to get to the site, but I can’t confirm one way or the other I’m afraid.

  2. Pingback: The Kingdom of the West: Hercules at Volubilis | moose and hobbes

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