Saturday, March 03, 2012

The American Legation in Tangier - Visitors Welcome

Visitors to Morocco often bypass Tangier. Yet, in doing so, they miss out on a real gem. For years Tangier got very bad press ~ it was "dangerous", "louche", "full of hassles" and hardly worth visiting. But, as we have reported in the past, Tangier has changed and should be high on the agenda of any visit to Morocco. As we discovered, a visit to Tangier is worth it if even if only for two reasons - the great restaurants and the remarkable American Legation.

The Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies, TALIM, is a museum, cultural and conference centre, and the only US National Historic Landmark outside of the United States. TALIM is the research centre in Morocco of the American Institute for Maghrib Studies - AIMS. TALIM and AIMS, in cooperation with the American School of Tangier, administer the State Department's CLS Arabic language scholarship program in Morocco for US university students on behalf of CAORC, the Council of American Overseas Research Centers. The director is former diplomat, Gerald Loftus, who is credited with significantly raising the profile of the legation in the last few years.

The building, gardens and library are superb. Entry is free to this beautiful Moorish building that houses maps of Morocco, a room devoted to Tangier resident Paul Bowles and fine art by various artists including James McBey: the famous portrait of his servant has earned the title of "Morocco's Mona Lisa".

US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new American Embassy in Rabat, on February 26th this year, made mention of the fascinating history of the Legation.

Our relationship stretches back more than two centuries. Sultan Mohammad III became the first world leader to recognise America’s independence. We entered into a treaty of friendship that has stood the test of time. And in 1820, Morocco presented the United States with a gift, a legation building in Tangier, our very first diplomatic property anywhere in the world. I don’t know how far along we would have made it without Moroccan help, so you’ve been thanked before, but let me thank you again. This is our only national landmark outside our own borders, so the connection between Morocco and the United States is deep and personal.

Now, of course, the way we conduct foreign policy has changed a great deal since those days, and I think it’s fair to say the challenges we face are far more complex, but the opportunities are greater, and the world seems smaller. But that legation building in Tangier stands as a testament to the continuity of our relationship. It has lasted through wars and upheaval. It has remained steadfast in times of crisis. Today, it is a museum and a cultural center that focuses on the rich history between our countries. But what that building in Tangier preserves and symbolises is the past. What we’re doing here today represents the future. And we are committed to renewing, in a profound way, our commitment in this new chapter of our long relationship.

A luggage label from the Hotel Cecil (1920s)

Another person who speaks highly of the Legation and in particular of the American Legation's research library is social historian, Dr Terence MacCarthy, who rates it as one of the most congenial reading rooms this side of the Strait of Gibraltar and an "invaluable research library". Dr MacCarthy should know as he has spent a considerable amount of time working on a fascinating project to record the history of the famous hotels of Tangier during the "Golden Age". His latest work is "No Better Address!" A Brief Social History of the Hotel Cecil, Tangier.

As the part of the introduction to his book on the Cecil says - The "Golden Age" of Tangier as a social Mecca, when it was almost as fashionable as Monte Carlo or Nice, the preferred resort of European Royalty, Pig-sticking British Officers, Diplomats and Dowager Duchesses, painters and writers of international importance, rather than mere self-importance, corresponded exactly to the "Golden Age" of the Hotel Cecil. Indeed, the Cecil was for three decades the most fashionable hotel in Morocco, and one of the great hotels of the Mediterranean.

Unfortunately time has not been gracious to the Cecil. The hotel has been all but demolished, her priceless Guest Registers long since lost, stolen by autograph hunters, or destroyed, and her valuable furnishings and paintings dispersed. And yet, her legend lives on! Perhaps it is not too much to hope that just as the Hotel Villa de France is being restored and rebuilt, after more than two decades of dereliction, the Hotel Cecil too may yet have a future and not merely a past!

In the future Dr MacCarthy plans to publish books on other historic Tangier hotels, the Continental and the El Minzah.  

The American Legation has its own blog - find it here: TALIM

See our Postcard From Tangier


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