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.

The courtyard and terrace ca. 1976
The courtyard and terrace ca. 1976

TALIM as it exists today integrates this 1848 structure with at least three other structures. While the distinct character of each part is maintained, they have been successfully combined into an organic whole. On the west side of rue d’Amerique, built around a stone courtyard with a marble fountain in the center, is a structure that is probably the most European in style. This portion of the Legation took on its current structure in 1848. Today it contains most of the galleries and apartments for the resident director and visiting scholars. To the south of this structure is a smaller courtyard house acquired by the Legation in the early 20th century. The date of construction is not clear, but it is much more typical of the residential properties in the medina, or at least those that have not been broken up into smaller units. The research library is in this building.

Straddling rue d’Amerique are what is now the conference room, the small chamber connected to the north of the conference room, and a terrace that bridges the street to the south of the conference room. They are connected to a terrace that sits atop a single story building containing space that is used as classrooms, galleries, and reading rooms. There is a covered terrace fronted by an open, cusped-arch arcade at the west side of the terrace. Stairs descend from the terrace to the courtyard garden. To the south of the courtyard is the two-story “Moorish Pavilion,” so called because of the Moorish Revival or Andalusian style in which it is built. The large, cusped-arch windows are fronted with carved wood mashrabiya. Atop which sits another terrace and two rooftop rooms. The roof of the rooms, like most of the roofs throughout the property, is covered in green, glazed ceramic, ridge tiles. The Pavilion was built between 1921 and 1931, after the Consul General Maxwell Blake acquired the property.

Interior view, conference room, toward the west courtyard
Interior view, conference room, toward the west courtyard

The 2010 Historic Structure Report by the US Department of State provides what is the most authoritative and detailed architectural history of the building of which I am aware. A portion of the report is available here, but a comprehensive, scholarly history of the Legation structure has yet to be written. Read more about the architecture of TALIM and see more than 100 photos on Archnet.

-Guest post by Michael A. Toler, Archnet Content Manager

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.