The Kasbah Museum (Moroccan Ministry of Culture) partnered with Italian NGO COSPE to host a two-day seminar on Tangier's architectural and cultural heritage. A worthy effort, one that this city sorely needs, with developers greedily eyeing every square meter of available land.
A parade of presenters, including a Moroccan director at the Paris Institut du Monde Arabe, shared insights on how other cities, in Morocco and elsewhere, have sought to safeguard their historic buildings and districts. It starts with an inventory of what you have already.
Strangely, the only building that actually is designated – the Tangier American Legation, the only US National Historic Landmark outside the United States – does not feature on Tangier's wish list for conservation status. That's because the historic landmark designation is American, not Moroccan.
Actually, the Legation is doubly designated, as it is also the oldest American diplomatic building, the jewel in the crown of the Secretary of State's register of Culturally Significant Properties.
Tangier, though not a royal city like Fez or Meknes, does have its share of other buildings worth preserving. There's the forest hideaway of Ion Perdicaris (of "Wind and the Lion" fame), pictured at right. The house, properly restored, would be an instant draw, and would typify Tangier's days as an international city.
Going even further back in the city's long history, there's the tomb of Tangier's most famous native son, Ibn Battouta. The inveterate traveler's final resting place is reachable through the winding streets of the medina, but you have to be a determined pilgrim to find it, and when you do, you will be disappointed at how poorly his city honors him.
Ditto for the picturesque Teatro Cervantes, photographed by thousands of tourists every year, magnificent in its decrepitude. Sceptical participants in the seminar questioned the laborious listing process: "we've been trying to get it listed for more than ten years, and in the meantime it continues to fall to pieces."
Which brings me to my question: is Tangier worthy of the UNESCO World Heritage status that some would like to see it get? Sure, Tangier has many buildings that hark back to the layers of civilization which once called this place home. But doesn't there have to be a strong element of local pride in these places? A concerted effort to conserve them?
The people around the table at this week's seminar are the converted. Preaching to them doesn't stop the bulldozers.