The layout within Tangier’s Medina, like most throughout Morocco, was never planned in advance. As the need arose, a labyrinth of streets and small squares emerged that eventually became the various quarters there today.
Looking at it today, the Petit Socco, or Zoco Chico (Little Market), seems too small ever to have served such a purpose, though up until the nineteenth century the square was almost twice its present size, and it was only at the beginning of the twentieth century that the hotels and cafés were built. Up until the 1930s, when the focus moved to the Ville Nouvelle, this was the true heart of Tangier, and a broad mix of people – Christians, Jews and Muslims, Moroccans, Europeans and Americans – would gather here daily.
In the heyday of the “International City”, with easily exploited Arab and Spanish sexuality a major attraction, it was in the alleys behind the Socco that the straight and gay brothels were concentrated. William Burroughs used to hang out around the square: “I get averages of ten very attractive propositions a day”, he wrote to Allen Ginsberg. The Socco cafés lost much of their appeal at independence, when the sale of alcohol was banned in the Medina, but they remain diverting places to sit around, people-watch, talk and get some measure of the Medina.