If you’re from the USA, don’t miss the American Legation Museum in Tangier. It’s the only US National Historic Landmark in a foreign country!
Are you looking for things to do in Tangier on your trip to Morocco? I recently spent a couple of hours at the American Legation Museum, and I highly recommend a visit to this lovely museum to anyone interested in American and Moroccan history.
If you’re visiting this beautiful North African port city by sea, the American Legation Museum is within walking distance of the cruise ship and ferry terminal at Tanger Ville.
Or if you find yourself exploring the popular Petit Socco area in Tangier, the museum is just a short walk from Place Petit Socco‘s shops and cafés.
Here’s everything you need to know before your visit to the American Legation Museum.
Why is there an American Legation Museum in Tangier?
The United States established its legation in Tangier in 1821, when the city was still the diplomatic capital of Morocco. The building itself was a gift to the US from Morocco’s sultan, and served as a diplomatic post for the next 140 years.
The word “legation” can be a bit confusing to many visitors, especially as we rarely hear it used today. A legation was a diplomatic office that ranked lower than an embassy. Instead of an ambassador, a legation was led by a minister.
It wasn’t a diplomatic slight to have a legation instead of an embassy—legations originally were the most common type of diplomatic mission. However, after WWII legations fell out of favor and most were upgraded to embassies.
The building was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1981 and designated a National Historic Landmark the following year. The American Legation is the only National Historic Landmark that’s not located on US soil.
Today, the Tangier American Legation Museum Society rents the structure, which is still owned by the US government.
The Society runs the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies (TALIM) as a cultural center for Moroccan studies and US-Morocco relations.
Exhibits at the American Legation Museum
Most of the compound is set up much like a house museum—with furniture, art, and ephemera arranged in vignettes.
However, some sections of the museum are dedicated to a specific topic. Here’s a taste of what you’ll find as you wander through the collections.
The main focus: History of the ties between the US and Morocco
Ties between the US and Morocco go back centuries, as Sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah recognized American independence from Great Britain on December 20, 1777. Morocco was the very first country to do this!
Much of the museum is dedicated to showcasing the relationship between the two countries, with fascinating historic letters, antique maps, and photographs telling the story of the two countries’ diplomatic relations.
Notable artwork at the American Legation Museum
The most famous artists whose works are held at the museum are no doubt Scottish painter and etcher James McBey (1883-1959), and his wife Marguerite Huntsberry Loeb McBey (1905-1999), an American painter and photographer. Both were longtime residents of Tangier.
The Legation’s Dining Room contains several of James McBey’s pieces including Zohra, a portrait of a servant girl that’s often called the Moroccan Mona Lisa.
You’ll also find collections by Moroccan figurative painter Hassan El Glaoui as well as by Muhammad Ben Ali ar-Ribati, one of the earliest Moroccan painters.
As an avid museum-goer, I was surprised that most of the artwork in the museum doesn’t include labels or plaques with artist names and information about each work. It made the museum seem more homey, but the lack of labels can be frustrating for curious people.
If you (like me) like to know what you’re looking at, I’d advise asking for a guided tour along with an admission ticket at the desk. Or you could take the museum’s online virtual tour before your visit.
Photography exhibit (temporary)
The third floor of the museum’s Pavilon Arabe houses revolving exhibits. During my visit in October 2022, the exbihit was International Tangier: Early Images of a City in Constant Motion. The photography display was curated from a collection of vintage glass negatives thought to be taken by Paul Servant (1878-1958), a Frenchman who was a longtime resident of Tangier.
(You can see the entire collection online, consisting of about 2000 images of Tangier and other locations in the western Mediterranean region taken between the last years of the 19th century and the 1930s.)
Paul Bowles exhibit
Fans of the American expat author and composer Paul Bowles are in for a treat at the American Legation.
Bowles, best known for his semi-autobiographical novel The Sheltering Sky, settled in Tangier in 1947. He lived there for 52 years until his death in 1999.
You’ll find scads of Bowles memorabilia, most interesting of which is the legacy of his work documenting traditional Moroccan music. With sponsorship from the US Library of Congress and a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, Bowles spent August and September of 1959 traveling throughout Morocco recording music. From then until 1961, Bowles recorded a wide variety of music from the different ethnic groups in Morocco, including Sephardic Jewish communities.
The American Legation Museum’s outdoor spaces
In the center of the museum, a beautiful plant-filled courtyard provides a peaceful oasis from the bustling city.
Take a moment to just relax and enjoy its beauty before you return to the busy medina.
How to get to the American Legation Museum
The American Legation Museum is located at 8 Rue d’Amerique in a residential neighborhood, not far from Place Petit Socco.
The fastest way to get to the museum on foot from the port will take you about 16 minutes. Cross Avenue Mohammed VI (the wide road that runs along the waterfront) and follow it south (with the water on your left).
Take a right at Gelateria Salcamfo and follow that short road to Rue du Portugal, where you’ll take a left. Follow Rue du Portugal until you reach Rue D’Amerique (Bab Merican, the “American Gate” is also right there). Take a right, and the museum is just ahead on the right.
If you’re coming from Place Petit Socco, it’s only a three-minute walk, but the way is a bit more convoluted. Start on Rue Siaghine and take Rue Ouezzane south, then take a quick left onto Rue Las Once. Continue until you see Rue Temsemani, and take a right. Rue D’Amerique will be on your left, and the museum is just ahead on your left.
Tip: If you won’t have access to an international data plan on your phone while you’re in Tangier, it’s a good idea to download a map for offline use. Finding your way through Tangier’s twisty streets to and from the museum can be tricky!
Or consider visiting the American Legation Museum as part of a guided tour. Most group tours of Tangier don’t stop by the museum, but some private tours, like the excellent Tangier Full-Day Grand Tour, offer the option to visit.
Interactive Tangier map of Tanger Ville port area
I’ve included an interactive map below showing how to get from the port at Tanger Ville to the American Legation Museum. The port is marked with a P on a red pin, and the museum is marked with a gold star on a red pin.
When is the American Legation Museum open?
The museum is open Mondays through Fridays from 10 AM until 5 PM. On weekends, the hours are 10 AM until 3 PM.
The American Legation Museum is closed on all Moroccan holidays.
For questions, you can call the museum office at +212-539-93-53-17.
Buying tickets to the American Legation Museum
Tickets to enter the American Legation Museum in Tangier cost 50 dirhams each for non-resident foreigners (about $4.68 US), and guided tours are 100 dirhams per person.
You can purchase tickets at the museum’s entrance with cash—they don’t accept credit cards. If you arrive right when the museum opens, it’s a good idea to have exact change.
I showed up about five minutes after 10 AM with only a 100 dirham note and a bunch of small change. Thankfully, the man behind the desk let me know he’d give me change from my hundred once he had it. After I had explored the museum for about an hour, he spotted me and ran over waving my 50 dirhams!
More resources for your trip to Tangier
Have you visited the American Legation Museum in Tangier? Or are you planning a visit? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
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