The Caves of Hercules, Tangier’s Mystical Grottoes

The cave's Africa-shaped fissure

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Throughout history, local fables have triggered a great deal of hype around certain places. In rare instances, the fame coincides with actual beauty to marvel at. Tucked away on the northwestern tip of the African continent, next to Tangier’s Cape Spartel, the Caves of Hercules are not only associated with several tales, but also boast some unique features that make them a far worthier site to explore.

Located about 15 kilometers away from Tangier downtown area, slightly south of Cape Spartel, the Caves of Hercules is a set of interconnected grottos facing the Atlantic Ocean. In first glance, this small-sized cave complex might seem somewhat uninspiring. However, as you delve deeper, both literally and metaphorically, you’ll come across its interesting facets.


As its name suggests, the cave has inspired a local myth involving the Greek god of Heracles (the Greek equivalent of Hercules). Legend has it that the almighty god was tasked by King Eurystheus with 12 labours as an atonement for slaughtering his beloved wife and children under the spell of Hera, the queen of the gods. As Heracles completed ten of his initial labours, he was given additional two tasks, the first of which, the 11th labour, was to infiltrate into the Garden of the Hesperides and steal three golden apples. Since the cave was in close proximity to the garden, which according to historians was in Lixus (the modern-day town of Larache), Heracles used the secluded cavern as a place to hide and sleep before embarking on his risky mission.


Another outlandish tale states that the cave is actually part of a massive 24-kilometer-long tunnel that straddles the Strait of Gibraltar, lying far beneath the Mediterranean Sea. With its other end located in Gibraltar’s St. Michael’s Cave, the fictious tunnel was speculated to be the main culprit behind the presence of the Barbary macaques (native to Morocco) in the British Overseas Territory.


Interestingly, the cave has two openings, one of which is linked to the nearby land while the other overlooks the ocean. The land-facing opening, better known as the cave’s main entrance, was carved out by the Berbers, who made use of the rocks to construct millstones. The sea-facing fissure is situated within the cave, with its shape being reminiscent of a silhouette of Africa. While it was determined that the void is naturally formed with a great degree of certainty, some have argued that the African-shaped hole is in fact the work of the Phoenicians.


Alongside the grotto’s main part, which is free of charge, is another section that entails admission fee of 5 dirhams. The small chamber is not particularly interesting, but it does house a hodgepodge of Greek-style sculptures, knickknacks and murals at the backdrop of an artificially made waterfall. The bottom floor is home to an outdated souvenir shop and a frenzy macaque monkey, a reference to the site’s legendary stories.The complex is located next to a cluster of restaurants and cafés, greeting visitors on their way in and out of the cave.


Whether Heracles or Gibraltar’s famed monkeys have actually been here is up for you to decide, one thing is sure though, the cave is an intriguing place to explore for travelers visiting the close-by Cape Spartel.