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All lighthouses have a story

The lighthouse makes this site a must-visit for any visitor to Tangier. In addition to its importance for international maritime trade and its geographical location making it the closest point in Africa to Europe, it holds historical significance, where myth and reality merge in the imagination of generations.

The Spartel Lighthouse is a national heritage site of international interest that the Moroccan authorities are committed to preserving. On its walls are inscriptions with letters visible only to the eye of researchers, detailing the history of Morocco's relations with colonial powers, the history of the development of maritime trade and navigation with its tragedies and successes.




Battle during the War of the Spanish Succession.


Battle between British ships and Franco-Spanish ships


Sinking of the Brazilian frigate (Dona Isabella)


Launch of work on the Cap Spartel Lighthouse


End of the works


Lighting with oil lamps


Conclusion of an agreement with 10 countries for the PEC of the operating and maintenance costs of the lighthouse


Creation of a semaphore station at the lighthouse, which sent visual signals for boats during the day


Petroleum ignition and creation of the famous Cap Spartel diaphone (fog siren)


Sinking of the SS Delhi


Increased lighthouse power from 6000 to 20000 candles


Building restoration


Increased lighthouse power to 300,000 candles


Battle of Cape Spartel


A beacon added to allow the determination of the position of ships


Use of electric power at the lighthouse


Installation of a transmitter transmission radio


Installation of a sound system, useful in foggy weather

Battles and shipwrecks

Cape Spartel, steeply cut on all sides and surrounded by rocks, was a dangerous place for navigation. How many ships had run aground in its waters? And how many others were saved thanks to its signaling? Only history can tell. The ancients had every reason to consider it "the cemetery" of ships.

Cape Spartel has witnessed shipwrecks and battles, including:

War of the Spanish Succession 1704

During the War of Spanish Succession, two Spanish 60-gun ships, the Porta Coeli and the Santa Teresa, were intercepted off Cape Spartel on March 23, 1704, by an English squadron commanded by Vice Admiral Thomas Dilkes. The two Spanish warships were loaded with ammunition and military supplies and were accompanied by a 24-gun merchant ship, the San Nicolas. After a seven-hour battle, the two warships were captured, and while being taken to Lisbon, the Santa Teresa sank en route.

Battles between British ships and Franco-Spanish ships

During the American War of Independence on October 20, 1782, there was an inconclusive battle about 28 km off the coast between the British and Franco-Spanish fleets under the respective command of Admirals Richard Howe and Luis de Córdova y Córdova.

For the British, the objective of the battle was to maintain supplies to the besieged Rock of Gibraltar; while the Spanish hoped to recover Gibraltar and Minorca from the British, who had held them since 1704.

Sinking of the frigate “Dona Isabella”

In November 1860, the Cap Spartel site witnessed the most tragic shipwreck: that of the Brazilian frigate named after a Portuguese princess, Dona Isabelle (1503-1539) of the Aviz dynasty.

This shipwreck caused the death of about 250 Brazilian naval officer cadets.

Sinking of the SS DELHI

In December 1911, the SS Delhi, a British steamship of the Peninsular & Orient Line (P&O), ran aground south of Cap Spartel. The ship, carrying around a hundred passengers, got lost in the fog, and its lifeboats were destroyed by the violent waves.

Among the passengers were Alexander Duff, 1st Duke of Fife, who died in Egypt sometime later from illnesses caused by the shipwreck, his wife Duchess Louise, and their daughters Princesses Alexandra and Maud. In addition to the passengers, the ship was carrying merchandise valued at around one million pounds sterling. All passengers were rescued by British and French warships, except for three French people who perished at sea.


On February 23, 1912, an investigation was conducted by the Board of Trade into the shipwreck. The investigation revealed that the ship had not been navigated correctly and that the charts provided were five years old, and the navigation directions were ten years out of date.

Battle of Cape Spartel

The Battle of Cap Spartel took place on September 29, 1936, during the Spanish Civil War. This naval confrontation pitted two nationalist warships against two others from the Republican camp. A few days before the battle, the government ordered the bulk of the Mediterranean fleet to head for the Cantabrian Sea to provide assistance to the Republican forces who had just been defeated at St-Sébastien, Irun, and Fontarrabie, leaving only the destroyers Almirante Ferrandiz and Gravina to ensure the protection of the Strait of Gibraltar.

The architecture of the lighthouse

In 1861, the French architect François Léonce Reynaud, designer of the lighthouse, gave it an impressive Moorish silhouette with its height and sharp verticality with the horizontality of the sea. Workers from the Barges shipyard, skilled in the construction of lighthouses, including a fitter, Charlot, and a stonecutter Merian, allowed the side of a local workforce to this building to see the light of day despite the perilous conditions.

The building thus designed is in the form of a square minaret with a fairly wide base. Its height exceeds 30m, with a crenellated gallery and a 24m high lantern.

It has a spiral staircase of 101 steps, with mahogany banisters, giving access to the lighthouse lantern, which houses the optical system. On October 15, 1864 the light of the Cap Spartel lighthouse illuminated the way of the boats and the Tangier coast

The Lighthouse Keepers

It is certain that the lighthouse keeper is responsible for maintaining the lighthouse, lighting and extinguishing the fire, watching the horizon and constantly scanning it. If visibility is poor, he sounds the fog horn. A profession that seems simple, but which is in fact important and difficult and exercising it requires special personal skills.


Important because it provides security to all ships that sail past the lighthouse, and saves passengers and sailors regardless of their Nation, color or religion. Difficult, because a lighthouse keeper lives in total isolation, disregarding, like the lighthouse itself, the weather and the vagaries of the weather.

These “watchmen of infinity”, the centerpiece of the lighthouse's history, must have steely morale, great courage, knowledge of the sea and a taste for solitude.

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