On a hot August Saturday night at the Legation, Bjoern Dahlstroem, Director of the Musée Berbère Jardin Majorelle and the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech –mYSLm-, and Madison Cox, Vice-President of the Fondation Jardin Majorelle, discussed preparations for the October inauguration of the mYSLm. The audience were captivated to learn details of both the architecture and programming plans for the mYSLm, which promises to be a new landmark on Morocco’s cultural landscape.

The Architecture of the Legation #architectureMW

View of the stairs at the north end of the east courtyard.

For Wednesday of Museum Week 2016, we focus on the architecture of TALIM.

The Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies (TALIM), straddling both sides of rue d’Amerique ( زنقة اةمريكا ) approximately 20 m (75 feet) past the southernmost gate in the wall of the old medina, is a very interesting structure from an architectural perspective. It is a multifunctional structure composed of several buildings built at different times and in different architectural styles. Yet the structure as it exists today is remarkably unified.

TALIM, or the Old American Legation as it is commonly known in Morocco, turns 40 this year, but is housed on the site of the building given to the United States by Sultan Moulay Suleyman in 1821. For approximately 140 years the site served as the American diplomatic presence in the city, until 1961 when a new consular complex was built outside the wall of the old medina. The museum, library and cultural center that make up TALIM are housed in a historically significant structure, but it bears little resemblance to the original, single story building. It was badly damaged in the 1844 bombing of Tangier, and essentially rebuilt in an expanded form in 1848. Continue reading “The Architecture of the Legation #architectureMW”

Architectural History of the Legation Now Available on Archnet

TALIM on Archnet
TALIM on Archnet

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.

Continue reading “Architectural History of the Legation Now Available on Archnet”

Hassan El Glaoui at the Legation

El Glaoui water colors in the McBey Gallery
El Glaoui water colors in the McBey Gallery

Dear Friends of TALIM (Version française ci-dessous),

Some very exciting news. We have just transferred several paintings from one of Morocco’s most famous artists, Hassane El-Glaoui, from our library to our museum. Please visit us between Monday and Friday for an unforgettable opportunity to view many of this beloved artist’s works!


Chers amis de TALIM, Continue reading “Hassan El Glaoui at the Legation”

Circles: Meet the New Director

Last Roll - 3
Former Director Loftus opened the Legation to Zankat America

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”

A Virtual Tour for Ambassador Peck

Pavilion cedar doors, re-sculpted 2013
Pavilion cedar doors, re-sculpted 2013

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”

Introducing the New Mudir – John Davison

John Davison in Istanbul
John Davison in Istanbul
Almost four years to the day, I wrote about my predecessor Thor Kuniholm and his long tenure at the Legation.  Next week, it will be my successor, John Davison, who will be coming in after Marie Hélène and I head off to greener pastures.

I was an early and strong supporter of John’s candidacy, among a very competitive field of applicants for this job.  He had visited us at the Legation after learning of the job opening, and we were impressed with his enthusiasm, imagination, and his knowledge of Morocco. Continue reading “Introducing the New Mudir – John Davison”

The Skeletons of Portuguese Tangier

6a00e54f782d83883301a511ca2bdb970c-800wiThe skeletons of Martin Malcolm Elbl’s book are not in any closets, they’re the very walls of Tangier’s medina, its old walled city which was, for centuries, Tangier itself, before the city dared build outside the fortifications.

“Your library has been randomly selected…” was the explanation on the $0.00 invoice slip that accompanied Portuguese Tangier (1471-1662): Colonial Urban Fabric as Cross-Cultural Skeleton, by Martin Malcolm Elbl of Trent University in Ontario.  This 1,000 page tome is the first volume of a series published by the Baywolf Press for Portuguese Studies Review (PSR).

Here’s how PSR describes the book:

The book offers a “virtual archaeology” of the Portuguese urban fabric heritage–both vanished and preserved–in Tangier’s médina, the walled Old Town. Solidly grounded in archival sources and profoundly revisionist, Portuguese Tangier alters our image of the médina to an unexpected extent.

“Encyclopedic” is often overused, but in the case of Martin Malcolm Elbl storehouse of knowledge, it is an understatement; Elbl is as at home in Portuguese as in Arabic, as at ease with GIS modeling as he is with Wencelas Hollar engravings of British Tangier.

Oh yes, what is British Tangier doing in a book on the Portuguese era, the mere twenty years which came on the heels of the two long centuries of Portuguese rule?  Elbl says that the British conveniently renamed much of what was in fact Portuguese (our own neighbor, the wonderfully-named “Irish Battery,” was originally the Portuguese Cubelo do Bispo).  Same stones, different colonists.

There’s much useful background for understanding what Elbl calls the “prehistory” of the Legation’s immediate surroundings.  The drouj merican or American steps, built into the medina wall in 1911 to allow more convenient access to the American Legation, had been predated by a Portuguese-era entrance further down what today is, appropriately, Rue du Portugal.

And then there’s another long-gone neighbor: “the ‘Sultan Steam Mill’ (almost back to back with the Legation). This was in the 1880s — one of the early waves of industrialization at Tangier.”  And the nearby “Times of Morocco” offices… we have much to learn from Portuguese Tangier, which is an unexpected but important addition to our research library.

Thank you Martin Malcolm Elbl, the Portuguese Studies Review, Trent University, and the Baywolf Press.  We suspect that the “random selection” had a bit of human agency behind it!

Gerald Loftus

The Coney Island of Culture

TALIM Auctioneer Loftus cropped
TALIM Auctioneer Loftus

For a few hours last Saturday, this venerable institution was transformed for our fundraiser into an auction hall, a Coney Island “lucky dip” (sort of raffle) parlor, and a place where Tangier’s multinational blend of friends of the Legation gathered to give us a hand.

Though we didn’t match the levels raised in our first foray into fundraising – “Paint the Legation” in 2011 – we nevertheless netted a respectable $7,000 in one evening.  And we all had a great time, giving us a chance to showcase our latest exhibits.

The success of the evening was thanks to a number of people and institutions donating works of art for the auction, prizes for the Lucky Dip, and subsidizing our catering for the evening.  Thanks to all for this help, which included several local volunteers offering their services as gatekeepers, auctioneers, and agents encouraging the donation of art for the highest bidders.

I remember hearing about another American in Morocco, who, as the head of a nonprofit educational institution, was put in the position of a fundraiser.  He likened himself to Morocco’s Gnawa musicians, men in brightly colored costumes who play their African-influenced music on the street, twirling their heads and stretching out the cup for a few coins.

So even though I didn’t do the actual auctioneering, playing the showman in the cause of our historic preservation efforts is worth it.  They don’t teach you how to do this in the Foreign Service, but then again I never learned about running a museum and research center, until I got here four years ago.  Gnawa-like passing the hat is just part of the job.

Gerald Loftus; photo by Jean-Pierre Ayadi