By Sana Elouazi
By Sana Elouazi
Rabat – Morocco’s oldest national theater in Tetouan is on the verge of collapse, after it crumbled almost entirely from the inside on December 16, raising panic among residents in the vicinity of the perished building, local media Press Tetouan reported.
As the walls of the facade remained intact but may collapse anytime soon, local authorities cordoned off the area to strengthen its security and avoid any upcoming danger.
Bouabid Bouzine, director of Tetouan’s Modern Art Center told Morocco World News that over the past years, the National Theatre gradually deteriorated and fell into a state of decay since its closing in the 1970s.
This historical landmark, located in the old district of Musalla in Tetouan, was known as Victoria Theater when it was first established in 1914 by a Spanish resident, to be baptized in the thirties as Morocco’s first National Theatre.
“The National Theater of Tetouan is the third oldest theatre in Morocco. During the 1960s, the theatre’s owner decided to transform it into a cinema where I used to watch movies when I was a child. Unfortunately, after being sold to a Moroccan businessman in 1970s, he wanted to convert it into a residential building as the theatre was no longer economically viable,” Bouzine said.
“When a large community of Moroccan artists had fiercely contested the project, the businessman finally yielded the building to the municipality of the city and was later integrated into a rehabilitation program,” Bouzine added. However, “nothing had been done to that end.”
A video published by Press Tetouan in 2012, showed the dysfunctional theatre in a precarious state. Archives dating back to the Protectorate are almost destroyed by rain water, as well as the old stages and screening rooms that turned into a huge garbage yard and squat place for delinquent and homeless people.
As a result of neglect and lack of maintenance, many equipments of the building including chairs, windows and doors are now missing.
Right after the incident, the governor of Tetouan province, Younes Tazi, visited the theatre to check upon the situation in order to speed up the process of its restoration.
“It’s too late now, if they had renovated the theatre 20 years ago, it wouldn’t cost them that much,” Bouzine said with regret.
According to him, the National Theatre is not the only one in the region to decay for years, adding that the famous Cervantes Theater in Tangier, built in 1913 during the Spanish Protectorate, has also been closed to the public for over thirty years and may be in danger of a similar fate.
“The Cervantes Theatre is a real masterpiece that we have to preserve,” he asserted.
Tarik Mounim, the founder of Save Cinemas in Morocco – an organization dedicated to preserving traditional theaters to promote public cinema in Morocco – lambasted the authorities of Tetouan city and the Moroccan Ministry of Culture for not taking the necessary measures to save the rich heritage of Moroccan theatres and cinemas, which is in a real danger to vanish.
“It isn’t a surprise for me to learn that the theatre is about to collapse as there are more than 150 cinema-theatres across the country that are closed or threatened to fall into ruin,” said Mounim.
Many activists including Mounim, have deplored the current situation of movie theatres especially in a context where film caravans are on the rise and many young Moroccan filmmakers are flourishing.
In recent years, more and more movie theatres are disappearing in Morocco such as Lux cinema in Casablanca or cinema Boujloud in Fes used now for storage of market goods, to name but a few that have been dismantled or repurposed for other businesses amid the authorities’ silence.
“We managed to register so far 20 movie theatres in the list of historical sites and monuments. This list is meant to prohibit destroying closed cinemas in Morocco, but it’s not enough,” regrets the president of Save Cinema in Morocco, which lobbies for the restoration of the country’s movie theatres.
The Dahir of 1956 prohibits any kind of conversion of cinemas and prevents their destruction, however, “about 4 or 5 cinemas are illegally demolished every year and no police intervention ever comes to block their destruction.”
Mounim also pointed out that Internet piracy and the rise of movie multiplexes have contributed in the decline of traditional and old movie theatres in Morocco.
“Movie theatres are not a priority for this government, even though they are a real engine for social and economical development, they used to be at the heart of every city and neighbourhood in Morocco,” he said.
Morocco’s Ministry of Culture did not respond to Morocco World News’ request for comment.
“Authorities believe that cultural heritage is a burden especially when it comes to maintenance and safeguarding. What we are striving to do through the association is to prove that, on the contrary, cultural patrimony can bring considerable value added to our country,” he concluded.