Andalusian flavor mingles with the strong Rifi Berber and traditional Arab identities of the majority of the populace to make Tetouan a uniquely Moroccan fusion of sights, sounds, and social mores. Tetouan's medina, which was classed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997, remains basically untouched by tourism and retains its quotidian life and authenticity. The name Tetouan itself comes from the Tarifit (Rifi) Berber word for "the springs," to which the city owes its numerous fountains and gardens.
Nestled in a valley between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rif Mountains' backbone, the city of Tetouan was founded in the 3rd century BC by Berbers, who called it Tamuda. Romans destroyed the city in the 1st century AD and built their own in its place, the ruins of which you can still see on the town's edge. The Merenids built a city in the 13th century, which flourished for a century and was then destroyed by Spanish forces, which ruled intermittently from the 14th to the 17th century. The medina and kasbah that you see today were built in the 15th and 16th centuries and improved upon thereafter: Moulay Ismail took Tetouan back in the 17th century, and the city traded with the Spanish throughout the 18th. Tetouan's proximity to Spain, and especially to the enclave of Ceuta, kept its Moroccan population in close contact with the Spanish throughout the 20th century. As the capital of the Spanish protectorate from 1913 to 1956, Tetouan harbored Spanish religious orders that set up schools here and established trading links between Tetouan, Ceuta, and mainland Spain. Their presence infused the city with Spanish architecture and culture. Peek into the vintage cinemas you see along the way, such as the Spanish-built Teatro Espagnol just off of Place Feddane, for a hint at the opulence of a bygone era. At this writing, a museum of contemporary art is under construction and was expected to open in late 2011.