The Punic-Roman Necropolis of Hafa, Tangier’s Hilltop Phoenician Tombs

Dozens of empty Punic tombs on the backdrop of Tangier’s coastline

photography by: Omri Westmark

Despite its history spanning across more than 3 millennia, Modern-day Tangier lacks any mounting evidence of its ancient past. Nevertheless, a series of empty tombs atop a seaside cliff stand out as one of the city’s sole vestiges of its first days as a Phoenician colony. Overlooking the strait of Gibraltar, the Marchan Necropolis doesn’t only boast an exceptional historic merit, but also serves as a pubic balcony, bestowed with breathtaking vistas.

Established by the Phoenicians somewhere between 800BC to 1000BC, Tangier has very few physical remnants of its founders. While most of the Punic relics were either looted and destroyed by their successors or succumbed to the elements, dozens of Phoenician Tombs atop a sea facing bluff managed to survive against all odds centuries of brutal forces.

 

Nestled on the tip of the Marshan Plateau, a flat hilly area named after the nearby Marshan neighborhood, the Hafa necropolis is home to 98 graves, almost all of which are carved out of the cliff’s rocky surface. Originally dug by the Phoenicians, each of the 3,000-year-old tombs measure around 70 centimeters in depth, 1.80 meter in length and 60 centimeters in width.

 

Whereas nowadays, the graves are roughly 500 meters from the Tangier’s fortified old town, in ancient times, the necropolis was adjacent to the city’s main gates, marking its boundaries. Following the conquest of the region by the Romans, the necropolis was plundered and nearly all of its content was removed to make place for new burial grounds.

 

Several excavations at the site between 1910 to 1960 unearthed the 98 tombs, of which only slightly more than 20 are currently visible. As the place is unregulated in any form, most of the graves are constantly inundated with rainwater or trash. While the poor maintenance of the necropolis has its drawbacks, the lack of admission fee and regulations helps keep the place authentic, with locals always outnumbering tourists at a high ratio.

 

In addition to its historic significance, the Phoenician graveyard boasts incredible panoramic views thanks to its scenic location, facing the Strait of Gibraltar and the Spanish city of Tarifa which is clearly visible from the cliff. Besides attracting visitors who sit and meditate in front of the sea, the necropolis recently also became a popular backdrop for enthusiastic Instagrammers, longing for a perfect shot. If you wish to complement your visit with a stroll along the sea, a set of narrow steps connects the site with the close-by esplanade, albeit caution is needed while descending.

A couple of Ionic columns marks the entrance to the premises

photography by: Omri Westmark


The water-filled graves, carved out of the soft rock

photography by: Omri Westmark


The necropolis facing the Strait of Gibraltar

photography by: Omri Westmark


Measuring approximately 70 cm in depth, the graves date back to 800BC-1000BC

photography by: Omri Westmark


The necropolis borders a nearby private residential complex as well as being close to the popular Café Hafa, renowned for its spectacular porch

photography by: Omri Westmark


Only about 25 out of the necropolis’ total 98 tombs can be found at the current site

photography by: Omri Westmark


A sole boat alongside a distance view of the Spanish coastline

photography by: Omri Westmark


Most of the visitors who come to the place simply sit and meditate in front of the stunning vista

photography by: Omri Westmark


The narrow and gritty streets of Tangier surround much of the site

photography by: Omri Westmark


In some cases, two graves are interconnected, indicating a possible family link between its former occupants

photography by: Omri Westmark


The backside of the residential complex, slightly north of the Punic Necropolis

photography by: Omri Westmark


The aforementioned walled house lies next to a series of small steps which lead downwards

photography by: Omri Westmark


Due to their narrow proportions, extra-caution is needed on the way down

photography by: Omri Westmark


The nearby coastal promenade

photography by: Omri Westmark