Walter Harris, a long-time Tangier resident and former news correspondent for The Times, would be elated. His Tangier house, a quintessential example of Moorish-European architecture, has not only been lovingly restored, but it is now a wonderful modern art museum bearing his name: Villa Harris Museum of Tangier.
Over the past decade, Tangier has experienced a real resurgence. There is a new port to support yachts and pleasure boats. The entire old medina and kasbah have not only undergone a facelift, but a much-needed re-plumbing has also been a success. The roads have been improved, widened, with several tunnels built throughout the city to aid traffic. The once tumbling-down-the-hillside remains of York Castle have been restored while a contemporary of Walter Harris’s, Ion Perdicaris, has had his own house restored, as well as the surrounding land, now one of the most beautiful parks in all of the Mediterranean: Perdicaris Park. Both the Atlantic and Mediterranean beaches have also been updated and cleaned up. In short, there has been a lot that has been accomplished in this formerly rough-and-tumble corner of North Africa. In a way, it’s no surprise that Walter Harris’s former home has been transformed into such a lovely museum.
The Villa Harris Museum in Tangier — Not Just a Musée!
The Villa Harris Musuem is situated on a few acres of lush garden. In the gardens are several playgrounds for children as well as an array of outdoor sport equipment. On sunny days, the air is vibrant with the laughs of children, passing joggers, and friends relaxing in the grass, often with a light picnic shared between them.
Villa Harris, the former home of Walter Harris, rises from the midst of this endless summer. With soft lines, variety of arches, intricate calligraphy, vegetative design, and decorative interior zellij (tilework) set against a clean pallet of starch white, beiges, and blues, the affect brings to mind the Mediterranean beach, just a few steps away.
The Villa Harris Museum Collection
The museum’s collection traces back to the late 19th century with pieces by well-known European artists from their time painting Morocco, inspired by Delacroix’s first and only trip to Tangier. These artists include: Jacques Majorelle, Edy-Legrand, Claudio Bravo and Jacques Veyrassat. From their, the collection shifts to the next period, where alongside, say, Miro, you will discover some of the very first Moroccan painters, such as Mohammed Ben Ali R’bati, Mohamed Ben Allal, Ahmed Yacoubi and the inimitable Mohamed Hamri.
The entirety of the permanent collection of the Villa Harris Museum of Tangier is made possible through the generosity of El Khalil Belguench. It was the feeling of Belguench that all Moroccans should benefit seeing this collection. In many ways, the collection is instructive, showing the rapidity with which much of Morocco took to — what was for many Moroccans living in Morocco at the time — a completely novel artistic expression. Before these forms of painting were introduced, art throughout Morocco was largely rooted in Amazigh (Berber) tradition or found in relation to Islam and constrained by its tenets.
In painting, whether it be landscape or abstract, cubist or portraiture, throughout the collection there is a real sense of playful experimentation, a sense of learning, of wonder, of, in a sense, artistic freedom.
On opening (March 16, 2021), the Villa Harris Museum of Tangier was free of charge. For how long? It’s a mystery. Suffice to say, admission will likely be in the 10dhs – 20dhs range at some point in the future.
The Villa Harris Museum of Tangier joins a growing list of interesting, vibrant museum spaces popping up all around Morocco. From the Mohamed VI Museum of Modern Art in Rabat to the Museum of Contemporary Art AL MAACAL in Marrakesh, there is a new sense of wonder for those of us art lovers who love to wander. Of course, if you’re craving a bit of Morocco right now, you could always pick up a copy of Our Morocco!
About the Author
Text and photos by award-winning writer, photographer, and Morocco expert, Lucas Peters. After spending years traveling to the distant corners of Morocco and writing about his adventures, he penned the best-selling guidebook Moon Morocco as well as Marrakesh and Beyond. In addition, he edited and contributed to the of Our Morocco anthology. He lives in Tangier with his family.