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The Moorish city gate, Puerta Jerez, is one of Tarifa's emblems.
The Moorish city gate, Puerta Jerez, is one of Tarifa's emblems. / M. Wörner.

Europe’s southernmost town has much to offer

  • Tarifa is very popular with watersports enthusiasts and sunbathers. A walk through the historic old town is also worthwhile

Tarifa, in the province of Cadiz, is the southernmost town of the European continent. It is located at the narrowest point of the Strait of Gibraltar, at the southern tip of the Costa de la Luz. Europe and Africa do not come so close together anywhere else. Morocco is only 14 kilometres away and can be

Africa, close enough to touch.

Africa, close enough to touch. / M. Wörner.

reached by ferry several times a day from Tarifa. To this day, Tarifa is one of the most important links between Europe and Africa. On clear days, the Mirador El Estrecho, a car park with a kiosk located on the N-340 between Algeciras and Tarifa, offers spectacular views of the African coast and the Rif mountains.

Historical background

According to archaeological finds in the area, we know that Tarifa was founded by the Phoenicians at the beginning of the first millennium BC. The city was settled by the Romans from the 1st century BC, and was then called Tingentera. In 710, it was conquered under the leadership of the Berber Tarifa Ibn Malik, to which its name is probably due. The castle was built by its Moorish rulers around 960. It is interesting to note that the word ‘tariff’ was derived from Tarifa, as the town on the waterway raised tariffs from the passing ships. It was not until 1292 that Tarifa was taken from the Moors by the Catholic King Sancho IV of Castile and León; battles were fought over it until 1344.

A surfer's paradise

Tarifa is an internationally known and popular mecca for wind and kite surfers, similar to Hawaii or the Canary Islands. In the evenings, the suntanned watersports enthusiasts meet in the pubs and tapas bars, and later on they move on to the beach clubs. Diving is also a popular sport in Tarifa and the rocks of San Bartolo attract many climbers.

Tarifa is interesting not only for athletes, but also because of its location and surroundings. With its maze of narrow streets and romantic squares, the Moorish-influenced town is already an attraction in itself. Tarifa’s old town was declared a protected cultural space in 2003, as large parts of the original structure and medieval walls are preserved. The town is dotted with historical sites. Coming from the N-340, head straight to the only entrance to the old town - the Puerta de Jérez. The Mudejar-style gate is marked with the date of the re-conquest of the city: 21 September, 1292.

The well-preserved castle Castillo de Guzmán, built by the Moors, has survived several battles. A visit is worthwhile if only for the views of the harbour, the sea and the old town. The castle also has a church, the Iglesia de Santa María which dates from the 14th century. The lighthouse of Tarifa and Santa Catalina Castle are located on the small island of Isla de las Palomas, which is accessible by road.

Breathtaking sunsets, extensive sandy beaches and dunes are the essence of the Spanish Atlantic coast. One of the several beaches in Tarifa, known as Playa Chica, stretches in front of the Isla de las Palomas, right along the western part of the old town. To the north, you can find the Playa de los Lances, and when you follow the N-340 westwards, you will find the beautiful beaches of Torre de la Peña, Valdevaqueros and Bolonia.

Dolphina and whales

The Strait of Gibraltar, where the waters of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic meet, has developed a unique eco-system. Up to seven different species of marine mammal can be found here which is why a trip on board of one of the whale watching companies’ boats is highly recommended. You can observe dolphins, pilot whales, fin whales and sperm whales, and also tuna fish and turtles.

Plaza La Paz in the old part of Tarifa.

Plaza La Paz in the old part of Tarifa. / M. W

From July to the beginning of September you may even be lucky enough to come across killer whales, which enter the Strait of Gibraltar in search of tuna. The fascinating environment of the Strait of Gibraltar, where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic flow together and two continents meet, makes such a trip a special experience.

Bolonia and Baelo Claudia

About 17 kilometres northwest of Tarifa lies the charming village of Bolonia, located in the bay of the same name. The bay of Bolonia has an almost four kilometre long, fairly broad and sandy beach and is also known for its 30-metre-high and 200-metre-wide sand dune, which is located at the farthest end of the beach. The outstanding scenery offers a great environment for walking along the beach.

Since 2001, the Bolonia dune has been a protected natural monument because of its ecological importance. Due to the strong wind of the Levant, however, the dune continues to migrate into the interior of the country, displacing the pine trees growing there.

On your way towards the dune and already on the outskirts of the village, you will come across on your right hand side the ruins of the Roman town of Baelo Claudia - one of the best-preserved Roman settlements in Spain. It has been excavated with the help of the European Union. Since 1917 excavations have been carried out here. The visitors’ centre will give you detailed information about the finds from the site. The settlement was founded in the 2nd century BC and the Roman’s built up a large industry to process all the fish they caught, mostly tuna, and developed the famous garum sauce which recently has been recreated by some gourmet restaurants. The whole Roman Empire was supplied with fish products that came from Baelo Claudia.

In addition to the remains of the garum factory on the beach, you can also visit the well preserved Roman theatre, one of the original three aqueducts and the basilica, which houses a statue of Emperor Trajan. Don’t miss the thermal baths with their sophisticated heating system and the temple of Isis.

Historians are of the opinion that the greater part of Baelo Claudia is still hiding under the surface of the large hill which rises from the back of the site.

After numerous earthquakes in the region at the end of the second century, the Romans left the city. It was taken by the Moors in 711 when they started to conquer the Iberian Peninsula.