Gem of Tangier

… is the title that State Magazine – the monthly magazine of the US Department of State – gave to my article in their September issue (click here for the interactive edition; my article is on pages 22-23).  Here's a screen shot, with the text below for the nearsighted among you.

– – – – – – – TALIM State Magazine Gem of Tangier
Historic facility still serves U.S. diplomacy

By Gerald Loftus

For the better part of two centuries, American diplomacy in Morocco was conducted from a collection of buildings in Tangier’s medina, or walled inner city.  This historic place still exists, long after the venue for diplomatic relations moved to the capital Rabat, and is now home to the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies, TALIM.

TALIM is a cultural and conference center and research library, a museum, art gallery and a venue for literacy, language and life skills classes for the women of the medina. To the people of northern Morocco, TALIM is still known as the “old American legation” on Rue d’Amérique, with its own entrance through the ancient walls of the medina.

Long History

A century ago, Tangier was Morocco’s designated city for foreign diplomatic representation.  The legations of the United States and other world powers maintained contact through the mandoub, the Sultan’s representative in Tangier.  For more than 40 years in the mid 20th century, a city council of foreign diplomats administered Tangier’s International Zone. The movie “Casablanca” reflects Tangier during World War II, when the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency set up shop in the Legation.

Even earlier, in 1910, Maxwell Blake began his 30-year posting as consul general at the American Legation. Blake gave the Legation buildings the look they possess today – and what a look that is. Boston University professor Dr. Diana Wylie, in her forthcoming book about the Legation’s history seen through its art and map collection, summed it up with one word – “Enchantment.

The only U.S. National Historic Landmark located outside the United States, the Legation is the oldest continuously occupied American diplomatic property.  The facility has been designated by the Cultural Heritage Program of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations as its first Culturally Significant Property.  Program head Jim Wenzel said the site is so significant that he commissioned an experts’ report on its essential renovations.

The Legation was given to the United States by Sultan Moulay Suleiman in 1821, reflecting Morocco’s recognition of U.S. sovereignty in 1777 – during the American Revolution.  The Legation was a witness to the waning of the Barbary Wars, Spanish and French colonization, Tangier as an International Zone and Morocco’s independence in 1956.

After a period as the site of the U.S. Consulate General in Tangier, the “Old Legation” building housed the Foreign Service Institute’s Arabic language program and became a Peace Corps training center for Morocco.

But by the early 1970s, the future of the historic site was in doubt.  Spurred into action by the oncoming American Bicentennial, a group that included former diplomats and U.S. ambassadors to Morocco, academics and returned Peace Corps volunteers formed a foundation that saved the Legation and embarked on its restoration.  To give Washingtonians an idea of the Legation’s scale and beauty, the Diplomatic and Consular Officers, Retired (DACOR) Bacon House in June 2010 put on display the Legation’s massive 189-year-old cedar gate.

Today, as TALIM, the Legation houses the research center in Morocco of the American Institute for Maghrib Studies, which promotes Moroccan and American scholarship and hosts researchers from the five countries of North Africa.  Every summer, TALIM and the American School of Tangier host an AIMS-administered intensive Arabic language course for American university students, part of the State Department's Critical Language Scholarship program.

Long Association

When he recently completed 19 years as director of the Legation, retired Foreign Service officer Thor Kuniholm and his wife Elizabeth were honored by U.S. Ambassador to Morocco Samuel Kaplan during a farewell reception in May. The event was attended by a large number of people who had been touched by the Kuniholms’ long years of service.

Though he had met royalty and high-level leaders during his Tangier years, Kuniholm said that some of the people dearest to his heart were the women of the medina, the Legation’s neighbors.  Appropriately, TALIM –“education” in Arabic – has been organizing literacy classes for years, and its educational outreach to the medina now includes foreign language, sewing, cooking and handicraft instruction.

It is now my challenge to continue this legacy and maintain this unique example of American citizen diplomacy. As TALIM, the Legation remains integrated into its urban environment, proud of showcasing the myriad ways that Moroccan-American relations developed over the years and eager to involve young Maghribi and American scholars in this living example of people-to-people diplomacy. My blog on life at the Legation is at, and TALIM’s Web site is

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 Gerald Loftus

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