Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Cervantes Theatre in Tangiers ~ Can it be Restored?

The Cervantes Theatre in Tangier is considered to be a masterpiece of Spanish architecture - sadly, a hundred years after it was built it is in danger of crumbling into nothing.

The cost of restoration and the question of who should pay for it has left the building in limbo. Nearby the port of Tanger is getting a facelift and a new marina, but the historical building seems forgotten.

The theatre is accessible via the Avenue Pasteur and Rue du Prince Moulay Abdallah

Yet, there are those who value its history. According to historian Bernabe Lopez Garcia the city was very different back in 1919. "The population was around 40,000," he says, "with around 7,000 Spaniards, 5000 Jews and 26,000 Muslims."

The history of the building dates back to 1911, when a rich Spanish merchant, Manuel Pena, decided to erect the theatre and dedicate it to his wife Esperanza Orellana, who was a passionate theatre lover.

The theatre opened in December 1913 and its history is closely linked to the Spanish Tangier.  During the Second World War, Franco's troops who occupied the city considered the building to be too modernist and wanted to convert the theatre in the neoclassical style fascist. The building was saved that fate. "Fortunately, the fascists did not have the money," said Mr. Lopez Garcia.

In December 2013, Lopez Garcia staged a major exhibition devoted to the centenary of the theatre. A celebration was subdued because as observers commented, a monument, reduced to a wreck, is painful to see.

Photo credit: Fadel Senna

Outside the yellow and blue ceramic decorating its facade is fading. And the inside, that once saw magnificent performances, is a wreck beneath a dilapidated ceiling - the remaining seats are covered with dust.

"Its current state is a bit pathetic, to be honest," admits Cecilia Fernandez Suzor, director of the Cervantes Institute in Tangier. "It looks like a shadow of a theater " sighs the writer Rachid Taferssiti, president of the Al Boughaz Association for the Safeguarding of Tangier. "I find it sad that a multicultural space like that is degraded as it is."

The theatre was the venue for the famous tenor Antonio Caruso, singer Patti Adeline and many Flamenco performances early last century. "My father played roles there," Rachid Taferssiti says, "The Al Hilal troupe, composed of Moroccans from Tangier, gave a noted performance of Othello in the theatre in 1929."

Closed since 1974, the Cervantes Theatre has long been praised as symbolic of Morocco, while remaining the property of Spain. The two countries still do not reach an agreement for its restoration.

" I think that the Spanish government would like nothing better than to restore it, but with the current crisis it is impossible to approach the subject ," says Ms. Fernandez Suzor, who said that" if we want to do it it would costs 1913 million - hello!"

Besides the cost, estimated at €4-5 million, the location in a run down neighbourhood is a weak point. "But there are some examples everywhere, where with the restoration of a cultural site, the environment transforms itself," argues the director of the Cervantes Institute, suggesting that the theatre could be reborn" as training center for crafts scene . "

"The city has a lot of changes to make, but should advance its share of the cost," Mr. Taferssiti claims. "We have our role to play, but the solution belongs to the Spanish and Moroccan governments."

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