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appreciative silence to music that to the less
accurately-trained European ear sounds unmelodious,
even discordant.

To the poor native the caf6 is a club, a hotel, a home.
He brings his crust of bread, his handful of onions, to
eat there, he sleeps on its benches or on the pavement
against its wall. And once or twice a day he spends
two sous in it for a cup of coffee.

From the market-place lead narrow streets and, as
in Eastern cities Cairo, Tunis, Delhi, Canton each
is lined with shops devoted to one particular trade.
Down this one are the tailors. In the square holes
devoid of counters, tables or chairs, white-burnoused,
bearded men who look like Biblical patriarchs, squat on
the floor and sew furiously. On the walls hang the


duller garb of men, burnous, haick, hlafa, gandaura, or
else, bright with tinsel and gay colours, the more
attractive wear of women.

In the next street brass-workers hammer at bright
pots and tall water-vessels, denting patterns into them
with sharp-pointed instruments struck with mallets.
Or tinsmiths display piles of saucepans and coffee-pots.
In the tiny shops of the next crooked lane cobblers
stitch rapidly at red leather babouches the easy native
slipper or work beautiful designs with gold and silver
thread and spangles on dainty little shoes for women's

Here is a break in the trades' guild character of the
shops. For outside this one a small crowd is eagerly
watching the movements of a youth seated before a
tiled stove running up into a pointed chimney and with
a small table beside him. In a dish he is mixing white
batter, rolling it, pulling and twisting it with nimble
fingers, then dipping it into oil and placing it in the
stove. His hand dives in once or twice after it, turning
it, then with tongs he draws out a crisp, golden puff,
lays it on a small square of newspaper, puts it into
an eagerly-outstretched palm and accepts a coin for it.
And the buyer turns away, contentedly munching the
succulent morsel, while his place is taken by another
expectant purchaser.

The next street blazes with colour. For here
black-bearded Mozabites heretical Mussulmans from
the district in the Sahara called M'zab in flowing Arab
garb or hook-nosed Jews in semi-European ature dis-
play a wealth of rainbow-hued, long-fringed silk shawls,
gay-coloured bodices and jackets, and skirts and other



garments, pink, blue, yellow, red, with leather belts gold-
buckled and heavy with bullion and gold-embroidery,
white wool or silk and wool gandauras, and sheikhs'
crimson burnouses worked with gold or silver.

Then the jewellers' street. Here many of the shops
have glass windows ; and set out in them are massive
silver bracelets three or four inches wide, gold and silver
ear-rings three inches in diameter, huge necklaces of
broad, beautifully designed flat silver and gold orna-
ments, filagree rings, heavy anklets. And always a
multitude of tiny gold or gold-washed hands inset with
coral or turquoise, the universal Arab mascot, kamsa,
" five," they call it because of the five fingers. The
Europeans term it " The Hand of Fathma," daughter
of the Prophet. Every Arab woman and many a
foreigner wears it; and on the wall of every Moorish
house is the imprint of this luck-bringing hand. It is
borne on the company colours of the regiments of
Tirailleurs Indigenes, formerly called Turcos.

Dazzling white in the brilliant sunshine the walls
of this mosque almost blind one's eyes by their glare.
But enter it you pass into dark, cool shadows, a silent
interior bare and restful. Through the past centuries
bearded Moslems with the blood of the unbelievers red
on their hands have gathered here to bow down towards
Mecca and beg Allah's aid in fresh crimes but they
thought them meritorious deeds, by the truth of the
Most High ! And every Friday the faithful come here
still and who shall say that none of them mutter in
their beards curses on the Christian dogs that rule

The nearer the church 'tis an old Saying. An.d


the tall houses in the narrow lanes near the mosque
harbour the Tribe of the Painted Daughters of
Joy. Of many nations are they Arab women in gay
kerchiefs, gaudy jackets of brocaded silk, and baggy
trousers, Berber girls from the mountains of Kabylia
arrayed in the colours of the rainbow, Ouled Nails from
the Ksar of Boghari with necks encircled by chains of
gold coins, their future marriage portion, stout, bright-
eyed Jewesses from Oran and Constantine. Negresses
from the desert oases, thick-lipped, fuzzy-haired, laugh-
ing, happy. And Christian women too, alas ! French,
Spanish, Italian. From marble-pillared doors and
grated windows the venal smiles are showered on the
hesitating wanderers from many oceans. At night this
quarter is an island of light in the deep sea of darkness
of the black alleys, where at long intervals an occasional,
feebly glimmering lamp only serves to make the gloom
more dreadful for the momentary relief. And the
sound of barbaric music, the shrill voices, the high-
pitched laughter of women and sometimes an agon-
ised shriek of tragedy shatter the silence of the sleep-
ing town.

From the open doorway of a Moorish cafe light
streams out into the dark lane. Inside a throng of
seated Arabs in gandaura and burnous, in European
dress or a mixture of both, in costly silk and woollen
garments or in rags, are all gazing eagerly towards the
end of the long room, where on a raised platform and to
the strains of weird instruments a gaudily-attired
woman is dancing. Her face is whitened and rouged,
her lips carmined, her eyebrows blackened, her cheeks
and chin adorned with spangles. In her ears are gold


or silver ear-rings, hoops several inches in diameter ;
across her forehead and about her throat are bands of
gold coins of many nations. Around her neck are
necklaces of coins or beads from which immense orna-
ments lie on her bosom ; massive bracelets and anklets,
some hinged, studded with coloured stones and six
inches broad, adorn her bare arms and ankles ; her feet
are naked, and her toes, like her fingers, are stained
with henna.

And her costume! No words can do it justice.
Her head is swathed in a lovely, rainbow-hued, long-
fringed silk shawl which streams down her back and in
a corner of which her hair is gathered, except the plaits
tied with coloured ribbons and hanging down her cheeks.
Over an innermost gauze garment are two or three silk
vests of palest pinks or greens or yellows, and above
these a beautiful, rose-tinted brocaded silk jacket
covered with transparent silver tissue and heavily
embroidered with silver bullion. Her waist is swathed
with a gold-tissued pink silk sash, and over it a gold-
embroidered red leather belt. She wears wide trousers
of pale blue silk hanging baggily over the slender ankles.

Her dancing! She moves on her toes, but barely
raises them from the platform. In her hands she holds
a silk handkerchief behind her head or waves it occasion-
ally in the air. But feet and hands, legs and arms, do
not enter much into the dance she performs chiefly
with the muscles of her neck, her breast, her stomach
and her hips. First her head is jerked mechanically,
unnaturally, from side to side as though it were not
joined to the body and moved independently. Next
her bosom follows suit. It ripples, sways swiftly from

. Photo. Service, Government of Algeria.


side to side or is jerked up and down while the rest of
her body is motionless. Then her stomach moves in
equally violent jerks, almost touching her breasts.
Then her haunches are waggled no other word
describes it swing and sway and jerk. And all these
violent motions keep time with the strange music of
pipe and flageolet and tom-tom, while five or six other
dancers as gaudily, gaily dressed, clap their hands or
utter little cries at intervals. And an Arab musician,
noseless, disfigured, hideous, a long cylindrical drum
slung under his arm, springs up from his chair and
dances wildly towards her, beating his instrument with
fingers and palm as he hops in pursuit while she glides
past him and escapes him with a lissome movement.

And the eyes of the interested spectators sparkle as
they gloat on the dancer's charms and her movements,
to them the poetry of motion while to a European
almost repugnant.

On, on, still upward by steeply sloping street and
steeper stairway through the narrow defiles of houses,
under the vaulted tunnels, until the summit is reached,
and one emerges at last into the open from the crypts
and labyrinth of lanes. Here are the Rue and the
Boulevard de la Victoire a cheering prospect of a fort-
ress, a prison and a cemetery, all within a stone's throw.
But the fortress is the old Kasbah tenanted now by
light-hearted Zouaves and Tirailleurs, the prison would
have seemed heaven to the former captives of Algiers,
and the graveyard is an Arab one perched on a bright
slope looking across the hollow of Bab-el-Oued to the
sunlit hills crowned by Notre Dame d'Afrique.

But first a market must be passed the Thieves'


Bazaar we would call it in India. The dealers squat
on the ground beside their spread-out wares. And such
wares! Nothing too worthless to be despised there.
Empty bottles, old meat tins, worn-out boots, odd keys,
coffee-pots lacking spouts or handles, or both. And
they find buyers. An old dame, veiled lest the bold
gaze of men should rest on her withered visage,
examines a bottle carefully, a ragged Arab bargains
for an empty lobster-tin, a swarthy Sicilian girl slips
off her down-at-heel shoes and tries' on a pair of old
white canvas boots.

The crowding houses of the city end here ; and
across the road is the scarped hillside with grass, gardens
and trees. In a small open space native barbers
are shaving the scalps of clients or squatting beside
their chairs awaiting customers, while the tools of their
trade, razors, scissors, clippers, mirrors, are laid out
ready on the ground. This open-air toilet-saloon is a
strange sight for the tourist, but does not gain a look
from the passengers in the electric trams passing
within a few yards of it up the Rue de la Victoire which,
a few yards farther on, turns a rocky, scarped shoulder
of the hillside and joins the boulevard of the same
name. Then a hundred yards higher up they run
through a tunnelled passage under the high, frowning
walls of the ancient citadel, the Kasbah.

But a broad path turning off at right angles crosses
a drawbridge over the deep, revetted fosse of the old
fortifications. Follow it. It leads beneath sad-looking
eucalyptus trees, under which Arab beggars lie asleep
or sit lazily searching their ragged garments for vermin.
Suddenly you come upon tombs and the ground falls


sharply away, So that the eye ranges over the deep
valley of Bab-el-Oued with its gardens and houses to
the bright red scars of quarries and cliffs in the green
hillside opposite crowned with the domes of the famous
church of Notre Dame d'Afrique facing across the
Mediterranean to its sister Notre Dame de la Garde on
the height above the harbour of Marseilles.

Here where one stands on the summit above the
steeply-descending pathway are the densely-crowded
graves of the Arab cemetery of El-Kettar. A very
few are marked with white domes, most have thin white
stones at head and foot, some are but green mounds.
A grave-digger in a garment of ragged sacking and a
wide-brimmed straw hat is digging languidly, while a
couple of urchins stare with interest at brown bones and
a skull in the mould that he has thrown up.

Across the drawbridge a small procession of natives
in red checchias and coats and trousers follow towards
the cemetery a man in a worn burnous who carries in
his arms a tiny packet tied up in white cloth and covered
with a gold-fringed, parti-coloured silken pall. Beside
a little open grave he stops and, pulling off the cloth,
lays the white package tenderly on the ground. Stand-
ing over it he looks down at it sadly and raises his hand
to his head in prayer ; while his friends seat themselves
on adjoining mounds, light cigarettes and chat uncon-
cernedly. The grave-digger comes to the party ; and
after a word with him the sorrowing father lifts up the
tiny body of his son it must be a boy, for a girl would
be treated with scant ceremony and lays it gently in
the shallow grave. Then while the earth is being
thrown in he sits with hands stretched out, palms


uppermost, and chants in a high-pitched tone, while
his friends, seated or standing, some smoking but all
with similarly outstretched hands, interject responses.
In a few minutes the simple funeral is over. The
friends go off chatting gaily ; while the father, the gold-
fringed pall over his arm, accompanies the sexton to pay
for the little grave.

On this sad Garden of Allah the walls of the Kasbah
look down. Here in this palace, fortress, prison, the
last Deys of Algiers shut themselves away from their
discontented subjects and the guns of their stronghold
frown threateningly on the murmuring city beneath.
Here surrounded by soldiers and slaves the Pirate Lords
lived out their days in debauchery and cruel tyranny
until in 1830 the very last of them, Hussein Pasha, saw
from his windows France's avenging squadron manoeuv-
ring in the bay below him and her brave soldiers swarm-
ing up the wooded slopes of El Biar above and knew
that his rule was ended.

To-day from the walls of the Kasbah one looks down
on a larger, grander city than Algerine pasha ever knew,
on a splendid harbour where a great fleet may ride at
anchor, on the beautiful bay curving by Mustapha
Superieur, Hussein Dey and Fort de 1'Eau to the green
point of Cape Matifou exactly opposite. And across
the low hills and the plain the eye ranges to the cloud-
capped peaks of the Djurdjura Mountains in Kabylia.

Beyond the Kasbah the road goes on by groves of
ragged-barked eucalyptus trees and just under the hill-
top that is the highest point above the city seen from
the streets below. The Koudiat-es-Saboun or Hill of
Soap it is called; and on it the Emperor Charles V.


camped with a big army in 1541 and looked down
exultantly on the pirate town that he had sailed across
the Mediterranean to destroy. He was sure of victory.
He could see his enormous fleet at anchor close inshore
a couple of miles away where to-day is the Jardin
d'Essai, or Botanical Gardens. But Hell fought for
its own. A storm arose and wrecked his countless
ships. The rain that drenched his soldiers in their
bivouac damped their courage as well as their powder,
so that they fled before a handful of Moslem mercen-
aries and Algiers was reprieved for three hundred
years until in 1830 French troops stormed the fort that
in 1545 Hassan-ben-Kheir-ed-Din built on the spot
where Charles had camped. Sultan Kalassi he called
it; Fort I'Empereur it is termed to-day. Now it is a
military prison. In front of it towers a tall granite
obelisk, a monument to the African Dead, visible from
far out at sea.

Beyond this hilltop the road winds up to higher
ones, giving glorious views over valleys in which white
villas nestle in bright gardens, over coastline and blue
sea, until it reaches the suburb of El Biar on the sum-
mit of the line of the Sahel Hills and passes on through
vineyards and cultivation to Ben Aknoun and the

But turn back from the Kasbah and go down to the
city again by the tortuous Rue Rovigo that twists
between modern residential buildings in the steep
decline and between arcaded sidewalks lined with the
shops of M'zabite and Jew sellers of silks and jewellery
until it emerges on a small square in which the cathedral
that was once a mosque lifts its twin towers above its


neighbour, the modest Winter Palace of the Governor-
General, formerly the residence of Hassan Pacha.
Thus the headquarters of Moslem creed and dominion
shelter now an alien faith and rule. Facing them is a
white building that was the Palace of the Daughters
of the Dey, the exterior plain and unpromising, the
interior a gem of Moorish architecture and ornament.
In the exquisite tiled courtyard where twisted marble
pillars and white arches support the galleries with carved
wooden balustrades one can fancy that the negro seated
by the exquisite fountain is the fierce guardian of beauti-
ful Mauresque princesses lolling on gold-embroidered
divans in the gilt-ceilinged chambers upstairs.

A few score yards lower down Old Algiers and
New meet in the spacious Place du Gouvernement.

And here the modern city begins, more sombre in
hue than the Old that earned the name of La Ville
Blanche from the brightness of its whitewashed houses.
But seen from far away across the bay the crowded
masses of buildings of Algiers sweeping up the hillside
from the blue sea to the dark green of the eucalyptus
woods above are snowy under the brilliant African sun
and still merit the title of the White City.

Photo, by the Author.

Photo, by the Author.



THE Place du Gouvernement is a medley of strange
contrasts of buildings and races, with its mosques and
its modern hotels, its tall palms waving over news-
paper kiosks, its European and its African loungers
on the promenade by the balustraded wall above the
Inner Port that once sheltered pirate galleys and now
holds motor-boats and submarines.

On three sides are French cafes, shops and hotels.
The fourth is partly occupied by the white walls and
rounded domes of a mosque, the Djama El Djedid (or
" New Mosque "), built in 1660. Above it rises a
square minaret a hundred feet high from which only
a century ago the voice of the muezzin the priest who
called the Faithful to their prayers floated out over
the harbour and bade the pious pirates climb up the
steep slope to the mosque and there give thanks to
Allah for victory over the accursed Christians. But
Modernity has made even this tower her own and
placed a great illuminated clock in it, has massed
electric trams in its shadow, has planted before it a
bronze equestrian statue of a former Royal Governor-
General of Algeria, the Due d'Orleans, to show that
France rules over Islam in this land now.



The ground plan of this mosque is in the form of
a Grecian cross ; and legend says that a Christian
slave charged with the building of it purposely gave
it this abhorred design in despite of his Moslem
masters who did not discover the fact until the edifice
was completed. Then the impious blasphemer paid
for his crime with his life; but the mosque was not
destroyed. In the fountained courts beggars shelter
and footsore wanderers rest their weary bodies in the
House of Allah, in the dim, many-arched interior
white-robed men turn their faces to Mecca and bow
their faces to the mats in prayer.

Around a side door squat shapeless bundles of
white clothing the livelong day through, veiled
Moslem women, some with hands outstretched for
charity, others weeping silently while they wait to be
summoned before the Cadi in his office in the
sacred building to hear with unavailing protests his
pronouncement of their divorces from husbands whose
love has passed to newer wives.

Beside this mosque is a larger one, the Djama El
Kebir (" The Great Mosque "), supposed to have been
built early in the eleventh century of our era. Its
street front in the Rue de la Marine is an arcaded
gallery supported on white marble pillars, having in
the centre a fine black marble fountain.

The prayers of the Faithful in both mosques are
disturbed by the constant rumble and clanging of the
tramcars around the Place du Gouvernement ; for most
of the city lines start from or pass it and in the even-
ings it is bordered with long queues of white toilers
waiting to be conveyed to their homes in the suburbs


of Algiers. All day long the square is filled with a
medley of races Arab and Kabyle men in flowing
burnouses, veiled women whose shrouding white
outer garment, if displaced, gives a glimpse of bright
pink or scarlet or blue jackets underneath, dark-faced
Sicilians, Maltese and Spaniards from the poorer
quarter of Bab-El-Oued (" The Riyer Gate ") which
begins on the north of the Place.

The white mass of the Djama El Djedid fills but
half of the east side of the square, leaving a wide gap
towards the sea that gives an unrestricted view of the
glorious panorama of the harbour, the bay, the
curving coastline with its green hills and far away
beyond them the lofty peaks of the snow-clad
mountains of Grand Kabylia.

Lean on the balustraded railing of the wall that
on the seaward side falls forty feet to the wharyes
below and look down on the busy port, the Inner
Harbour of which is very much as it was in the days
of the pirates. That charming little white Moorish
building with its domed roofs and high arches is the
French Admiral's House but it was once the
residence of the Turkish Minister of Marine, the

Behind it from a polygonal stone bastion rises the
white tower of a lighthouse. That bastion, the Penon,
is all that is left of a formidable fort built by the
Spaniards in 1510 when they seized the rock on which
it stands. A rock only a few hundred yards from
Algiers, but which a garrison of a hundred and fifty
men held for nineteen years, while they fought the
Algerines almost daily; until Keir-ed-Din, one of the


famous Barbarossa brothers, with a tremendous force
captured the fort and barbarously slew the few of its
defenders that remained alive. With the material of
the demolished fort he built a mole to join the rock to
the mainland and form the protected Inner Harbour
that exists to-day. One bastion was left and on it
was erected this tower to ser^e as a lighthouse. And
now four hundred years afterwards with modern
appliances it guides peaceful merchantmen and
friendly warships instead of the bloodstained pirate
craft of Old Algiers.

This Inner Port that was big enough to shelter
the long-oared galleys of the Barbary rovers is too
small for present-day uses and long stone piers
enclose a great stretch of the bay beyond it and form
the Outer one that can rival any in the Mediterranean.
But Algerian commerce demands still more; and an
enormous projected extension will make vaster still
the harbour that is the reason of Algiers' being.

What fascinating sea pictures it offers to your
view as you look down on it from the Boulevard de la
Republique by the Place du Gouvernement ! Over
the water dances a flotilla of white-sailed boats
manned by swarthy-faced fishermen, or a piratical-
looking felucca from Sicily or Spain slinks in with
a furtive air no craft could look honest with that
lateen rig. A couple of submarines creep just awash
into the Inner Harbour and moor where the corsairs
of old cast anchor. Perhaps a British super-dread-
nought flying an admiral's flag at the fore, her quarter-
deck bright with long lines of white-clad officers and
sailors and ranks of blue-uniformed Marines present-

Photo. Service, Government of Algeria.


ing arms while the band plays the Marseillaise, steams
out in state, and a covey of top-heavy destroyers hover
like anxious chickens around her as she puts to sea.

Or maybe a many-decked transatlantic liner rounds
the harbour wall, drops anchor and discharges seven
or eight hundred hustling American tourists who have
just six hours to see Algeria.

Perhaps a more gruesome, more tragic sight than
these. Near the harbour-mouth lies an ordinary-
looking grey steamer a tramp in ballast she seems.
Nothing about her to attract your attention for the
moment. But beneath you on the wharves is the long,
low building of the railway station conveniently
close to the dock. A couple of hundred Senegalese
soldiers in red caps with blue tassels and khaki
uniforms, and parties of police of all varieties, agents
de ville in greenish-khaki, gendarmerie in blue, agents
de Sdrete, appear from nowhere and converge on the
station. Around it they form a cordon, clear a broad
space between it and the edge of the quay, drive
back a crowd of curious sightseers or more interested
observers, and stand on guard, the soldiers with
bayonets fixed, the police with revolvers in their belts.

And in the harbour a navy launch with armed

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Online LibraryGordon CasserlyAlgeria today → online text (page 2 of 18)