The United States has over 2600 National Historic Landmarks. These special properties illustrate our heritage in many forms: buildings, sites, structures, objects, and districts. As one might expect, all are within the borders of the United States. Except one.
Go back to 1777 and the earlier days of our Revolutionary War. As European countries debated what their policies toward this rebellion should be, the sultan of Morocco, Moulay Mohammed ben Abdallah, issued a proclamation which recognized U.S. independence from Great Britain and welcomed American ships to “come and traffic freely” in Moroccan ports. Thus Morocco became the first nation to recognize our independence and must be considered our oldest friend.
Granted, Morocco was not one of the world’s great powers at the time. But its strategic location on the south side of the Strait of Gibraltar and the threat of Barbary pirates in that general area meant an official presence for our new nation was of critical importance.
This friendship eventually led to the opening of the Tangier American Legation on May 17, 1821. The Moroccan sultan gifted the U.S. government a rambling mansion for the legation at a site that spanned two sides of the Rue d’Amerique in the southern corner of the medina, or old walled city, of Tangier. In the intervening two centuries, this structure has seen duty as a diplomatic residence, working consulate, Peace Corps training center, espionage headquarters, museum, research library and community center, and has acquired a rich history in its own right. Its location was particularly valuable during the Civil War, when U.S. Consul James DeLong would use this vantage point to watch for Confederate ships entering the Strait of Gibraltar.
As a consequence, its current status as the only National Historic Site outside the U.S. is entirely fitting. Incidentally, Morocco remains a special friend in that part of the world. At Walt Disney World’ s Epcot theme park, Morocco is the only African nation with a World Showcase pavilion.
For more detail, see “Why a 200-Year-Building in Morocco Is the Only National Historic Landmark Outside the U.S. ” by Graham Cornwell at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/two-hundred-years-tangier-legislation-180977742/.