ALGECIRAS occupies the far side of the bay from Gibraltar, spewing out smoke and pollution in the direction of the Rock. The last town of the Spanish Mediterranean, it must once have been an elegant resort; today, it’s unabashedly a port and industrial centre, its suburbs extending on all sides. When Franco closed the border with Gibraltar at La Línea it was Algeciras that he decided to develop to absorb the Spanish workers formerly employed in the British naval dockyards, thus breaking the area’s dependence on the Rock.
Most travellers are scathing about the city’s ugliness, and unless you’re waiting for a bus or train, or heading for Morocco, there’s admittedly little reason to stop. Yet some touch of colour is added by the groups of Moroccans in transit, dressed in flowing jallabahs and slippers, and lugging unbelievable amounts of possessions. Algeciras has a real port atmosphere, and even passing through it’s hard to resist the urge to get on a boat south, if only for a couple of days in Tangier. Once you start to explore, you’ll also discover that the old town has some very attractive corners that seem barely to have changed in fifty years, especially around Plaza Alta.