Defenders of historical preservation in Morocco were honored to attend ceremonies last week showcasing US Embassy support to restore the archaeological site at Ksar Sghir, a fortress that was built under the Marinid Sultan Abou Youssef Yacoub in the 13th century. We urge you to visit the site and its wonderful new museum.
Below are are the texts and photographs from a Facebook post from the Embassy of the United States in Rabat about the event, first in Arabic, then in English.
Continue reading “Showcasing US Embassy Support for the Restoration of Ksar Sghir”
Section II, “Architectural and Historical Context and Significance” of the of the Historic Structure Report on the American Legation in Tangier, Morocco is now available on Archnet. You can find it by going to the the page for TALIM and selecting the link above the description labeled “Publication.”
This section of the report explains the historical and architectural significance of the structure, beginning with a general diplomatic history of Tangier. It then provides a functional and architectural history of the Legation building, including the modifications to the building, starting when the United States and Morocco first began negotiations, through the acquisition of Legation in 1821, damage to the property during bombardments of Tangier, expansions by the consul in the 1920s, the role of the Legation during World War II, and finally the conversion into a museum in 1975-1976. Finally it ends with an assessment of the current condition of the property. It is illustrated with historic images and plans.
Thirty-one years ago last month, a group of sixty-plus Peace Corps trainees arrived in Rabat, following a nearly 24-hour trip from Philadelphia via Paris. It was already night as we drove in from the airport, and it was Ramadan. The streets were packed, but our bus eventually made its way to the Bulima Hotel in the center of Rabat. Unable to sleep, I wandered down Blvd Mohammed V to the medina, and entered a new world of sights, sounds and smells. Thus began my own “beautiful friendship” with Morocco.
After spending two years teaching English at Lycée Laymoune in Berkane (and also visiting the American Legation in 1984), I began a diplomatic career that took me from Guinea-Bissau to Singapore, Madagascar to Tunisia, Cairo to New York City, and finally Niger and New Delhi. Working subsequently for the United Nations also allowed me to work in lovely, lyrical Cape Verde. Now I’ve come full circle and will begin a new adventure as Director of the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies. Continue reading “Circles: Meet the New Director”
This is a “guest post” by Ambassador Edward Peck, who returned to Tangier on May 1 on board a cruise ship, and had been hoping to show Mrs. Peck the place where he and several other future US ambassadors had studied Arabic over fifty years ago.
He found our doors closed. Disappointment all around – we were so looking forward, as the Pecks were, to a trip down memory lane. Since the visit unfortunately didn’t happen, here’s a virtual tour of the Legation in photos (featuring some Legation exhibits that have just been opened), along with Ambassador Peck’s narrative of his return to Tangier.
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One of the first six students who attended FSI’s Arabic Language School in the old Legation building when it opened in 1961, I was both pleasantly surprised and extremely impressed by the view of Tangier from the sea as our ship arrived on May Day 2014. Continue reading “A Virtual Tour for Ambassador Peck”
Dr. Carol Malt, museologist and longtime friend of the Legation, has published the following article in ICOM News, the magazine of the International Council of Museums. We are thrilled that Carol has brought our modest efforts to the attention of museum professionals worldwide, especially timely on the eve of International Museum Day.
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The Tangier American Legation Museum (TALIM*) represents more than bricks and mortar, beauty and craftsmanship. Its multi-media, multidisciplinary collections focus on the history of the relationship between the United States and Morocco. Its collections visually reinforce the historical relationship between these two nations and reflect the history of Tangier, while its library holds important political, social and historical documents from both countries.
In 1777, Morocco was the first foreign country to recognise the US when it declared independence. The Legation building that houses the museum was a gift from Moroccan Sultan Moulay Suleiman in 1821. Located in the old medina of Tangier, Morocco, it is the first diplomatic mission acquired by the US, the oldest continually occupied American diplomatic property and the only US National Historic Landmark located outside the country.
The building housed US diplomats for 140 years. By 1976, however, the legation had fallen into disrepair and a group of former diplomats, Peace Corps volunteers, US ambassadors to Morocco, historians and academics formed the Tangier American Legation Society to restore it. The Tangier American Museum opened its doors on 4 July, 1976 and now serves as a museum, historic house, research library, art gallery, classroom and conference centre.
The collection of paintings, drawings, graphics, maps, rare books and other artefacts focuses on artists who worked in or depicted Morocco and historical documents of Tangier. Over the years, many artists who lived in Tangier, including James and Marguerite McBey (Scotland and US, respectively), Claudio Bravo (Chile) and Elena Prentice (US) have added to Donald Angus’ (US) initial gift of over 300 maps, paintings, carpets, furniture and Moroccan memorabilia to TALIM’s permanent collection.
Connecting through art
The permanent collection is used in many ways. Tours are tailored to audiences of tourists, school children, residents, historians and special interest groups. Local women who participate in TALIM’s free literacy classes also benefit from it, as objects from the collection can be integrated into their lesson plans. The reference library, which contains approximately 8,000 volumes of literature, history and statistics about the region, is another major asset to the community.
Every work of art contains an interesting story, but among the hundreds of paintings in the collection, one by Ion Perdicaris reflects dramatic international connections. "Arab Groom and Horse" might be just another massive, competent genre painting were it not for the history of the artist. Perdicaris came to Tangier in 1872, having had some formal artistic training in Paris, when he was kidnapped by the Berber bandit Raisuli in 1904 and held ransom for USD 70,000. American president Theodore Roosevelt sent US battleships and the Marines into the Tangier harbour to secure his release, wrongly assuming that he was still an American citizen. A romantic version of this story was made into the 1975 film The Wind and the Lion. Thus, this 19th century painting, like many others in the collection, engages different audiences including contemporary movie-goers, art connoisseurs and historians.
Describing his efforts to enhance the museum’s programming and collections in a recent correspondence, TALIM Director Jerry Loftus wrote: “I have created crossovers from our collections and stories and images from the research library that feed museum exhibits and blog articles. Those in turn spark interest among researchers to delve further into our archives. We have amazing maps and works of art, so we find themes and bring them together on our walls, providing texts to explain the historical context.”
Through its collections and programmes, TALIM aims to connect with an array of different visitors, helping them gain insight into the historical, political and cultural relationship between the US and Morocco. In a 2013 interview, Associate Director Ytimad Bouziane said of this challenge: “ I want TALIM to be a light, a beacon of knowledge for the entire region. I want it not only for the intellectuals but also for everyone, and it should portray the real American culture, not the superficial one.”
* The museum recently changed its name to the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies (TALIM) because of its association with the American Institute for Maghrib Studies (AIMS). The acronym TALIM also means ‘education’ in Arabic.
Thanks to the State Department's Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations – OBO, our landlord – we bring you this nice link where you can download the PDF of the glossy brochure illustrating the Secretary of State's Register of Culturally Significant Properties.
The Tangier American Legation is the first property on the Register, by virtue of our status as the first American diplomatic property, thanks to the gift of the Sultan of Morocco in 1821.
It's a story that we never tire of telling, for it strikes us as particularly significant – culturally, but also strategically and symbolically – that America's oldest and first diplomatic property is located smack in the middle of an ancient medina.
A medina in an Arab, Muslim, African country – Morocco – whose Sultan in 1777 was the first foreign head of state to recognize "the Americans." George Washington – at the time hunkering down for the winter with his troops in Valley Forge – was later, as the first American President, to write to his "Great and Magnanimous Friend," the Sultan of Morocco.
In the above page and in the table of contents of the OBO brochure, we're listed as "Tangier Old Legation," a nomenclature that we're trying to edge away from. "Old American Legation," and its French equivalent "Ancienne Légation Américaine" which we still see on maps published for visitors, connotes "former," "relic," or "moribund."
Wow, moribund We Are Not. Just come and see. This place is hopping. Culturally, academically, and as a force in the community.
As Aretha Franklin said, give us a little respect. Our "propers" include not just getting financial help from generous donors, but deserving attention for what we symbolize.
Over the past almost four years, one historic building has been an obsession: the Tangier American Legation. My wife and I live there, and spend our working days and weekends there. Even during trips away from Morocco, like now, I find myself writing about it.
Its story is one that I never tire of telling: America's first diplomatic property, which happens to be on the African continent, at the Western edge of the Arab world, and in a country which practices a tolerant interpretation of Islam. It's a big story, and it began in 1777. And it's why the Tangier American Legation is the only US National Historic Landmark located in a foreign country.
Yesterday I received a message in my email inbox from the Washington-based private American heritage group, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, about another endangered edifice:
Last week, we shared the great news that the Astrodome was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The designation speaks volumes about the Dome’s significance — but it does not protect it from demolition.
We need your help to keep the iconic stadium standing. So, we’re asking [readers to contact local authorities in Houston]. It’s one click, one minute, one action that can make a world of difference for this striking part of America’s cultural history.
I have nothing against football, and I don't begrudge adding to the National Register of Historic Places a 1965 building that gave the world Astroturf® and other icons of commercial culture.
But in the struggle to keep historic buildings not only standing but thriving, we need perhaps a bit of prioritization. I have no dog in the fight over the Astrodome. But I do know this: the Legation, with its door open to showcase more than two centuries of American engagement with Morocco, is a powerful symbol at a time when American diplomacy is increasingly required to wall itself behind security barriers.
The Tangier American Legation deserves preservation, yes. Public money for a government-owned building, yes, and private philanthropy too.
But it also deserves publicity, getting coverage for a story that begins with an 18th century Sultan reaching out to a new country fighting its Revolution. And a Sultan who gives the US a building in the twisting streets of Tangier's medina, when American diplomacy was still exclusively in temporary rental quarters everywhere else.
And now, permit me a brief digression into the world of film review.
In Washington for meetings (and my ceaseless lobbying-for-the-Legation), we took a break to see George Clooney's directorial effort, The Monuments Men. Having read Robert Edsel's excellent book about Allied soldiers and civilians who risked their lives to save and retrieve European art stolen on a massive scale by the Nazis, I looked forward to seeing the film treatment. Luckily, I hadn't read Philip Kennicott's Washington Post review, or I might have stayed home. The film does have some redeeming qualities, and the rough outlines of the historical story are there. Roughly.
Unfortunately, I have to report that the film is to World War II art rescue what The Wind and the Lion is to the 1904 Perdicaris kidnapping in Tangier that triggered Teddy Roosevelt's gunboat diplomacy. In other words: history, mangled. Both cases involve Hollywood casting a beautiful blond actress where none existed in the historical incident: Cate Blanchett's "Claire Simone," despite the little wire-rim glasses, is still a glamorous Parisienne. The real-life Rose Valland, who didn't look much like Cate Blanchett but whose efforts to save the masterpieces led her to join the French army and made her France's most decorated woman, is reduced to trying to vamp the Matt Damon character…
Back to our endangered monument, the Tangier American Legation. Endangered? Just check out the structural cracks in the above photo. We're resting on rickety foundations, and though help appears to be on the way to shore up the structure, we will need resources to restore the Maghrebi artisanry that has suffered from years of exposure to shifting foundations, leaking roofs, and extreme humidity.
Want to help? Contributions are always welcome (Download TALIM Fundraiser sheet), and our US-based 501(c)(3) charitable foundation will provide an IRS tax-deduction letter.
Speaking of letters, writing to your Congressional representatives or even to the National Trust would be helpful. We need the recognition in historic preservation circles.
And those of you who are writers and perhaps already know the Legation and its unique place in American history might try your hand at getting our story in the media. No American visitor to Morocco (or for that matter, to southern Spain) should miss seeing the Legation.
We can all be Monuments Men – and women.
There was the King of Sweden, and then there was Madison Cox.
Both men had the same great idea, some years apart, of hosting a private event at the Legation. We weren't there but we're certain the Swedish dinner party was a royal affair, but we can assure you that Madison Cox, American landscape architect and designer of exquisite gardens around the world, transformed the Legation with a few elegant touches. Madison Cox was recently profiled by his longtime friend and fellow designer Marian McEvoy in the Wall Street Journal. McEvoy had earlier written about his Tangier home in the New York Times.
The Legation's many cracks are all still there, and the moldy walls haven't disappeared. But for a few hours on Friday night, all that mattered was that guests from the world over were enchanted by this venerable building, one that most of them never knew existed.
A few well-placed lanterns, flowers by Isabelle Bosquet-Morra of "Fleurisa" in New York, and of course Madison Cox's understated but elegant touch in everything from table coverings to lighting were enough to transform our sometimes dowdy US-Government-surplus-look historic building.
Perhaps I'm too harsh on our look, which – as the photos in this post show – can indeed be magical. One guest, taking in the eclectic mix of medina-Moroccan walls, 19th century Spanish architectural touches, and Federal period interior volumes, said that he was reminded somehow of the White House.
Now, we have in common two things with the White House: ownership by the USG, and designation as National Historic Landmarks.
Very flattering, though we'd like to have a 100th of the White House budget for furnishings and maintenance.
But there is another legation museum – one that also comes up on Page 1 of the Google search – and it's located in the United States: The French Legation Museum in Austin, Texas.
With its setting in the heart of Texas, Austin's oldest building is a "historic house museum" in the former French diplomatic representation to the Republic of Texas (1836 – 1846). The charming building, pictured above, was originally the home of the French chargé d'affaires of the Legation, and today is owned by the state of Texas, and administered by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
I remember "the Texas Embassy" in our neighborhood of Algiers in the early '90s, but that was a temporary phenomenon, basically the work of a proud Texas oilman – his excuse to throw a costume party with the Lone Star flag flying over his villa. But I digress.
We understand that the Austin French Legation Museum is "covetous" of our website's URL, but hey, we registered "legation.org" first! Seriously, we encourage readers who might have the opportunity to travel to Austin to visit the French Legation Museum.
The only other legation still in the register of historic US diplomatic properties is a lovely building, the old Legation in Seoul, Korea, now used as a guest house on the property of the US Ambassador's residence. In Beijing, you can visit the Legation Quarter, the former home of the American Legation, converted by the Chinese into a home for upscale restaurants.
Since the term "legation" is new to most of our visitors to our museum, this is what we provide in answer to the inevitable question, "What is a legation?"
Originally, an embassy
was often a temporary mission, a diplomatic delegation under an ambassador on a trip to a foreign
country. Countries would establish legations as permanent diplomatic
missions, under the leadership of a minister,
a diplomatic rank. Legations largely
disappeared after World War II, with most countries establishing permanent embassies,
headed by ambassadors.
And here, a definition from a dictionary published when legations were still in vogue.
I remember reading somewhere that the US and other countries used to prefer legations because they could pay ministers less than ambassadors. In these days of austerity and the sequester, maybe it is time to bring back this budget way of diplomacy. May be a way of clawing back posts for professional diplomats. After all, what political campaign donor would go to the trouble of bundling millions of dollars for the title of "minister" at a "legation?"