"No Better Address!" A Brief Social History of the Hotel Cecil, Tangier. 2012, Dr. Terence MacCarthy.
Note: This guest post by Terence MacCarthy is the foreword (abridged) of his delightful new book, published in Tangier. TALIM and its "invaluable research library" are noted in the Acknowledgements. MacCarthy, a longtime Tangier resident, produced this meticulously researched and footnoted volume on a short term assignment, but now has a mission. He will produce similar social histories of Tangier's other historic hotels – the Continental, the El Minzah, and more – which thankfully have not suffered the fate of the Cecil. His plan is to then publish a definitive volume, which, through the stories of these legendary hotels, will recall another era, that of Tangier, International Zone.
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The "Golden Age" of Tangier is often assumed to have corresponded exactly with that period of its history during which it was subject to International Administration, from 1923 until Moroccan Independence in 1956. Whilst this is certainly true in an economic sense, it is very debatable when one considers the question from a social or cultural perspective! In fact, any survey of published biographies or memories relating to Tangier… makes it evident that the true "Golden Age" of the White City, as a favorite watering-hole of European aristocrats, painters and writers, more closely approximated the period from circa 1880 to the mid 1930s! Certainly, after the Second World War Tangier rapidly acquired a reputation as a "sunny place for shady people" and, by the mid 1950s as a "breezy place for sleazy people," or, worse still, as "Sodom-on-Sea!"
The "Golden Age" of Tangier as a social Mecca, when it was almost as fashionable as Monte Carlo or Nice, the preferred resort of European Royalty, Pig-sticking British Officers, Diplomats and Dowager Duchesses, painters and writers of international importance, rather than mere self-importance, corresponded exactly to the "Golden Age" of the Hotel Cecil. Indeed, the Cecil was for three decades the most fashionable hotel in Morocco, and one of the great hotels of the Mediterranean.
Unfortunately time has not been gracious to the Cecil. The hotel has been all but demolished, her priceless Guest Registers long since lost, stolen by autograph hunters, or destroyed, and her valuable furnishings and paintings dispersed. And yet, her legend lives on! Perhaps it is not too much to hope that just as the Hotel Villa de France is being restored and rebuilt, after more than two decades of dereliction, the Hotel Cecil too may yet have a future and not merely a past!
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Dr. MacCarthy has very skillfully begun to mine a rich vein of history, and if it is deemed "social," then he is in excellent company: the Social History Society is dedicated to promoting the study of social and cultural history, and publishes its own scholarly journal. As Terence MacCarthy attests, the Tangier American Legation's research library is a natural home for social and other historians, and we welcome them to one of the most congenial reading rooms this side of the Strait of Gibraltar, in our institute-in-a-historic-landmark.