The American Legation in Tangier – A Legacy of US-Morocco Friendship – Jean R. AbiNader


American Legation, Tangier Photo: Kristal Dale

Jean R. AbiNader
May 28, 2018

Jean R. AbiNader, Moroccan American Center

Jean R. AbiNader, Moroccan American Center

I never tire of visiting Tangier and always stop at the American Legation located in the medina. It is the only US National Historic Landmark outside the United States. It is now home to the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies (TALIM). If you want a quick overview of its very colorful history, click here.

While the Legation has undergone many changes in the last 50 years, perhaps the most important stabilizing force has been its transformation into a US-based NGO that technically leases the property from the US State Department, its landlord. The Legation has many linked roles, which include a community center, exhibition spaces, a museum, a research center, and an education center. It is also the research center in Morocco of the American Institute for Maghrib Studies (AIMS), part of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC).

The Legation was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on January 8, 1981, and designated a National Historic Landmark on December 17, 1982. It is an architectural pleasure, combining various interpretations of Moorish designs, and acts as a good neighbor to the nearby medina and the greater Tangier region, welcoming thousands of Moroccan and international visitors annually.

With buildings going back as early as the 1820s, the facilities require a great deal of attention both to protect their heritage and provide growing space for the Legation’s growing outreach activities. The State Department, represented by the US Embassy in Rabat and the State Department Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, has been vital to securing the funding for renovations and upgrades.

I recently spoke with John Davison, Director at the Legation about its latest news. He highlighted three events that illustrate the breadth of the activities. The first is the creation of a new temporary exhibition space on the top floor of the Moorish Pavilion, inaugurated in April with “Mon Maroc, My India” by UK photographer (and part-time Tangier resident) Jaimal Odedra. I had the pleasure of seeing the exhibit recently, which displays some of Odedra’s wonderful collection of images from both countries, with an emphasis on people and their daily lives.

Davison noted that “Our STEEM English scholars, who now total 35 first and second year students, have begun receiving college and career orientation talks on STEM fields.   Some are also involved in virtual exchange programs with students from Lincoln Academy in Evanston, Illinois.” For the uninitiated, STEEM is an acronym for our new “Science, Technology, English, Education, and Mathematics” program for students from the medina that includes English Language Training (ELT).

John also pointed out that “The Legation has launched a podcast channel for talks, performances, and other events we host.  Here’s the link to our latest podcast about Morocco’s little known tradition of women troupes who perform the famous Fantasia (tbourida) equestrian ceremony, which was authored  by doctoral candidate and Fulbright scholar Gwyneth Talley from the University of California at Los Angeles.”

One of the most anticipated events held by the Legation is the annual April seminar, which brings together experts and interested attendees to discuss cultural and historical topics related to the Maghreb. As mentioned on the website, TALIM hosted its annual April Seminar on the theme, “Documenting the Cultural Heritage of Northern Morocco,” in partnership with the Office Cherifien des Phosphates and the Aga Khan Documentation Center  MIT.”  For the first time, a one-day workshop for experts from museums and other cultural entities from Tangier, Tetouan, Ksar Es-Seghir, Casablanca and even Brussels was held the day before the seminar.

One of the most successful outreach programs has been the intensive literacy program for women in the medina, offered as a joint effort of the Legation Museum and the Tangier Al Madina Foundation. Literacy and skills training are offered in embroidery and tailoring to help “unemployed women enter economic and social life of the community, and through these classes to give them and their children a better appreciation of the environment, the history, and the heritage of their city.” There are also a number of seminars throughout the year given by specialists and professionals in fields of health, environment, culture, historic preservation, and entrepreneurship.

If you’re planning a trip to Morocco and are curious about how the US-Morocco relationship began, and some of the key personalities and events that made Morocco what it is today, visit the Legation and enjoy this singular introduction to America’s historic portal to the region.

And for those who prefer their news in Arabic, here’s the link to a HESPRESS feature in Arabic on the Legation from earlier this year, which includes a 2-minute YouTube video.

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