Villa Harris: an abondoned monument

Per: Julien ANTINOFF  

READ Built in the late 19th Century by Walter Burton Harris, Villa Harris has led a peaceful existence until it was abondoned in the early 90s. The place is now falling apart and is occupied by homeless personnes, while property developers circle around it thinking of building their dream probject on the site.

At the end of the nineteenth century, a British journalist, Walter Burton Harris moved to Tangier. A special Envoy of the prestigious Times Magazine, he built a house on an area of nine hectares in Malabata, now a centre for tourism. At the heart of the vast garden, the journalist cultivated rare plants and the house itself was built in a Moorish style, with carved wood and painted ceilings and carved plaster and Zellig on the walls, Gradually the place became famous and well known in the city. 

Legend has it that Burton Harris lost a lot of money gambling in the casino's. The debt was too high and he had to sell his house to the owner of the establishment, Onofre Zapata. The villa Harris turned into the Harris-Park Casino. The occupation of the city by Spanish troops in 1940, put an end to the recreational area and it was not until the late 70s that Villa Harris was brought to life again. Acquired by Club Med, one of the resorts hotel chain was built around the villa. The club then gave it up in 2000, it has since been in ruins. 

Degradation and Projects

After the departure of Club Med, Villa Harris was looted, ransacked and left largely in ruins. With time and weather conditions, the building fell into disrepair and the once lush gardens are now a distant memory. Belonging to the state, the place became a refuge for the homeless, the authorities have failed to react to this. In a letter oublished in 2011, writer and university professor Mokhtar Chaoui accused authorities of 'destroying the heritage for the benefit of a minority of profiters." With these words, he was targeting real estate tycoons who let the situation deteriorate and then plan to convert hem into tourist projects. In 2007, the Villa joined the list of Historical and Natural interest, as a National heritage in the area. The government of Tangier have since tried to request the declassification of the place, an application that supports the theory of writer, Mokhtar Chaoui. 

The association Tingiania, have also launched a petition for the protection and rehanilitation of the Villa Harris, the president Yassine Madani explained at the tim "Our goal with the launch of this petition is to raise awareness to the fate of Villa Harris. We want to rehabilitate the house and make it more accessible to the people of Tangier." Despite all these efforts, so far nothing has really changed and the place continues to wither away!

Text Julien Antinoff

Transation Karen Athwal

Photo Kalamoukoum1