The construction of the Pavilion Arabe started in 1927 and took four years to be finally completed. The contemporary framework originated from the “Sarsar house,” the original building that alrady existed in the eighteenth century. This was the last piece added to the American Legation complex. The new structure was designed to have a view of a picturesque garden. The Pavilion Arabe follows the principles of a hybrid based on Moroccan and Spanish influences that intertwine to create an variation of Islamic architecture.
What is now a museum and an exhibition space used to be an office space during World War II, and then at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s the space was used to serve the Peace Corps trainees as their dormitory. The Pavilion Arabe is one of the most ornamented buildings in the American Legation. One of the most significant features is its Mashrabiyas that cover the window openings, following Moorish design principles. The Mashrabiyas showcase intricate wood carvings that demonstrate highly skilled Moroccan craftsmanship. The Mashrabiyas are locally made and employ local materials. Their main use is to block a good amount of dust, as well as allowing for privacy for the people in the interior, where they are able to look out, without allowing others to look back in.
Malcom Forbes Collection
Malcolm Forbes was an American billionaire, publisher of Forbes magazine, and a frequent visitor to Tangier, Morocco from 1970 until his death in 1990. “His reason, ostensibly at least, was the acquisition of a base for launching and publishing an Arab-language version of Forbes Magazine.”1 He liked Tangier so much that he bought Dar el Mendoub on the Marshan with ten acres of land to host his extravagant 70th birthday party in 1989.
Later, Forbes opened the Tangier Forbes Museum on the Marshan. His Museum housed 115,000 lead models of soldiers that were a part of various
battle scenes celebrating major battles that have occurred throughout history. “These lead soldiers re-enact battles like Waterloo and Dien Bien Phû in as realistic a manner as possible. Special sound and lighting effects have been added to complete the realistic impression as you look upon these various battles. Some showcases have scenes of complete armies standing on guard, while others depict battle scenes.”2 After Forbes’ death, his children put the property up for sale along with the collection. Purchased by the Moroccan government, Palais Mendoub and the legation are now proud owners of the two botanic scenes The “Battle of Three Kings” and “Battle of Songhai.”
Paul Bowles Collection
Paul Bowles was an American traveler, writer, and composer from Jamaica, New York. He is known for his musical scores, four novels, more than sixty short stories, his autobiography, and dozens of translations of stories by Moroccan storytellers. “One night in 1947 Bowles had a dream about ‘the magic city’ of Tangier, one of his homes during the 1930s, and he decided to return there. Before departing, he had an idea for a novel that would take place in the Sahara, and he thought of a title, ‘The Sheltering Sky,’ borrowing it from the popular song, ‘Down Among the Sheltering Palms.’ Later his wife joined him in Tangier. Published in 1949, “The Sheltering Sky” quickly became the foundation of his estimable career as an author. “The Sheltering Sky” was later filmed by Bertolucci.
He lived in Tangier, Morocco, for 52 years and influenced many Americans and Moroccans with his Paul Bowles Collection is on display at the American Legation building in the Pavilion Arabe. This collection celebrates Bowles life, travels, photographs, and his translations of Arabic stories.
The main room of the Pavilion Arabe’s ceiling is decorated with many traditional motifs, and the carved cedar wood ceiling was established on the first and second floor of the pavilion with different lighting fixtures. These decorations create a framework of intricate geometric patterns. “They were likely fabricated using traditional materials and joinery, as part of Consul Blake’s 1921- to-1931 renovation of the Legation. Contemporary accounts refer to “local building materials and native workmen, which most likely would have included craftsmen from Fes, a center of Moorish/ Andalusian design.” 1 The dimension is approximately two by two feet and they are framed with a combination of green and pink wood for the first floor and dark-colored wood for the second floor (Fig.2). The framing is both structural as well as decorative. The alignment of the wood is alternated where they are perpendicular to each other, adding some elaboration to the design.
The building has painted cedar wood as their door material with various patterns carved on the sur – face and demonstrate a combination of Moroccan and Moorish architectural styles in the pavilion. The door ornamentaion is similar to the wood ceiling and the craftsmen used vegetable-based paint to color the doors 2 . Unlike the common geometric pattern we see on the ceiling, a natural pattern of flowers and vines is established on certain doors, with several touches of geometric shapes around the frame.
Pavilion Arabe Second Floor Lighting Fixture
The lighting here showcases intricate detailing of geometric shapes in its outer shell. These shapes present a combination of floral patterns and geometric shapes that are heavily abstracted. These shapes are then repeated to create a beautiful piece that showcases craftsmanship in production and intricacy in design. The colors (blue, green, and red) match the wooden ceiling from which it hangs. The ornamentation is made from metal layered on top of the clear and colored glass. Today, this type of lighting is very much associated with the Arabic world, as well as association with the Holy month of Ramadan, where Arabs would use it to decorate either their homes, the streets, or public spaces.
The flooring is different for all three floors as well as the materials used to build the floor. On the first floor, craftsmen use a checkered pattern with a combination of smooth concrete and well-organized rocks to create a distinctive surface. The floor is monochromatic and displays the real color of the material which is dark grey. Moving up to the second floor, below the carved wooden ceiling, a mosaic shape of the Star of David was embedded in the floor. The symbolism continues across the whole second floor, and it is a reminder of the immersive relation of Jews in Morocco’s culture. It also shows that the relationship is still strong between the people. The colors presented on the tiles are blue, yellow, black, green, and red. If we study the decorative elements of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, artists there are using colors and geometrically designed ornaments to show part of Islamic cultures that then found their way to Tangier. The third floor is using carved ceramic tiles with geometric lines engraved on the tiles. Similar to the first floor, artists had not done any painting on the tiles and left the original color which is a faded pink-ish grey. The original color is still visible within the engraved pattern, even as dust and dirt cover the tiles, which makes the pattern contrast visually with its context.
Unlike the other roofs in the Legation, or even Morocco in general, the roof of the Pavilion Arabe is sloped. There have been some modifications in order to preserve the building from weather damage; glazed green roof tiles have been used as a finishing material for the roof. The modification also included new waterproofing that was completed in 1994.1 This roof sits on top of two rooftop spaces and a terrace. The gradient of the green color on the roof is not consistent; in some areas you can see that the tiles are starting to lose their green color. And yet, this variation creates a beautiful overall impression, especially when the sun shines on the roof, playing a nice visual effect. Muqarnas are hung from the roof, showcasing lovely carvings on the wood structure. It is usually quite complex, but this one is a little simpler. The designs are usually repeated to achieve a certainl level of complexity. In this case we have one straight row of them without repetition or overlapping.
Tangier’s climate is not the best for building conditions. It is very hot and dry during the summer, and cold and wet during the winter. It is also humid due to its location close to the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, there is always a need for renovations and repairs. The wooden materials of the doors and windows in the American Legation have suffered from these climatic conditions. “Typical conditions include loss of paint coatings; cracked glass; loss of glazing putty; warping and poor fit due to high humidity; splitting of joinery; and wood decay, concentrated at the bottom edges of sash, frames, and shutters.”2 Some of the walls have faced settlement cracks, and have had to be repaired. There have been issues with chipping and damaging of stucco. With the high humidity in the city, the building faces problems with paint. Repainting the facade is a temporary solution that is not the best in the long run, as the overlapping of layers merely covers up problems underneath the paint.