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sailors puffs up and scatters a flotilla of small boats
filled with shore-folk, Arab men and an occasional
white-shrouded woman, swarthy-faced Spanish youths
and weeping girls. What does it all mean?

A shudder seems to run through the waiting ranks
of soldiers as they come to attention, a shudder
repeated through the spectators. For a long train
steams slowly into the station. On the end platforms


of every carriage stand armed police and the red caps
of soldiers are seen at many windows. But when the
train draws up and police and troops descend the
mystery is explained. For after them come dark-clad
men in pairs they are chained in couples. Five
hundred and fifty convicts, European and native, bound
for the French penal settlement of La Guyane across
the ocean. They are dressed in a dark blue uniform
with sailor collar showing white shirt or jersey under-
neath, and a round woollen cap on their close-cropped
skulls. They are clean-shaven. A few are old, but
the majority are young. Well-fed and smiling, they
would draw the remark under other circumstances,
" What a cheery lot of boys ! "

Yet there are all the crimes in the calendar over and
over again amongst them. Murderers who have slain
in quarrels or revenge, callous brutes who have killed
for a few francs. Brigands who have terrorised a
countryside for years and slaughtered men, women and
children indifferently. Villains that the extraordinary
clemency of French justice has spared from the

And now they are marched on board lighters which
are towed by a tug to the waiting grey steamer. And
all the rowing boats scattered by the navy launch crowd
daringly towards them, for their occupants are friends
or relatives of the convicts eager for a last look. Men
wave their hats, women their handkerchiefs ; but some
of the latter need them to wipe their streaming eyes.
I or in these boats there are mothers, wives, sweethearts,
to whom these scoundrels are as dear as though they
were honest men.


But each lighter is fringed by rows of soldiers all
round its four sides; and the convicts are made to sit
down. But here and there an upraised arm from the
dark-clad mass waves a handkerchief on chance. And
uplifted faces are turned towards the climbing white
houses and the green hills of Algiers that few of them
shall see again. A good riddance for the colony!

Look away beyond the prison-ship to lovelier things
to take the bad taste from your eyes ! Across the blue
bay the wavelets crisp in crystal lines on white sands
below the wooded hills dotted with villas, and beyond
the hills the white crests of the snow-topped Djurdjura
Mountains melt into the pale blue sky.

The sea-front of Algiers is as imposing as any in
the world. The steep slopes that formerly ran down
to the water's edge have been cut away, and on the
thus levelled shore wide quays and wharves made;
while the scarp is revetted by a great forty-foot wall to
support the splendid promenades, the Boulevards de la
Republique and Sadi Carnot, lined with great five-
storied blocks of buildings that run along above the
harbour on deep arches which shelter under vaulted
roofs the cat-haunted Fish Market, coal and marine
stores, cafes and shipping offices. To these boulevards
ramped roads or hydraulic lifts in white stone towers
give access from the lower level.

To north and south high above sea and harbour
the modern Algiers stretches away from the Place du
Gouvernement in these long regular lines of imposing
buildings hotels, or flats above and offices or shops
below opening on to the arcaded sidewalks. To the
north a new quarter of blocks of apartment-houses



reaches out to the great Christian and Jewish cemeteries
at St Eugene, beyond it a suburb of villas and summer
bungalows perched above the rocky cliffs and sandy
coves under steep hills.

To the south of the Place is the real city, and a few
hundred yards on its impressive sea-front is broken by
a leafy public garden, behind which is another square.
Here the deep shade of bamboo, banyan, banana and
palm-trees offers a welcome retreat to the workers in
the shops and offices around in the hot siesta hours
from noon to two o'clock, when all the business estab-
lishments in the city almost without exception close for
lunch and rest for their employees.

In the Square de la Republique behind this
garden is the fine building of the Theatre Municipal,
the Opera House, the home of grand opera and ballets
in Algiers, and in Carnival time the Temple of Terpsi-
chore for here the masked and fancy dress balls of
that gay season are held.

On its facade is a plaque commemorating the
French poet and playwright, Regnard, who was a cap-
tive and slave in Algiers. On another building in the
Square is an inscription recording a deed of daring
that outrivals fiction. When the army of Charles V.
was fleeing in dismay from the Hill of Soap before a
few thousand janissaries and citizens a gallant band of
Knights of Malta turned fiercely on the pursuers and
drove them headlong back to the city of Algiers, into
which the Moslems fled through the Gate of Bab Azoun,
closing it only just in time to keep the daring Christians
out. A French knight, Sir Ponce de Balagnier, Sire
de Savignac, Standard Bearer of the Order, galloped

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up alone under a hail of bullets and arrows, planted his
dagger in the wood of the gate and, as he fell dying
with a score of wounds, cried, " We shall return ! "
Three hundred years rolled by and his prophecy came
true. His countrymen returned.

Around the Square are the most popular cafes in
the city which at midday, in the afternoon and the
evening are filled with officers and civilians and their
families listening to the string orchestras as they sip
their drinks, while the clanging trams go by to the
suburbs north and south. Beside the Opera House is
the Officers' Club housed in a historic building, the old
Palace of the Janissaries, of that " Foreign Legion "
of the Algiers of pirate days recruited from the criminals
of Turkey and Asia Minor and Christian renegades
and scoundrels from all European nations. While
behind the Opera the Old Town rises in terraces above
it to the hilltop, stately streets of seven-storied blocks
of buildings in the style of Paris lead off to the south
from the Square. And a gently-sloping street goes up
to the principal thoroughfare of the new city, the Rue
d'Isly, its luxury street lined with cafes and shops
worthy of the French capital, the fashionable promen-
ade in the afternoons where demoiselles and senoritas
for the Spanish element is strong in Algiers stroll
up and down in affected unconsciousness of the
admiring stares of the jeunesse doree.

The epitome of the mixed Algerian population, the
Rue d'Isly is interesting and full of colour. Burnoused
Arab beggars stately in their rags, and red-capped
Moorish town-dwellers elbow Frenchmen, Spaniards
and Italians. Black-coated civilians mingle with


officers in uniforms of many hues, in the blue tunics
and red breeches of Infantry of the Line, the pale blue
of light cavalry, the khaki of native regiments, the
brilliant scarlet jackets and red burnouses over white
of Spahis. Bluejackets with the striped jerseys and the
red pompoms on the little caps of the French Navy pass
Zouaves in red fezzes or checchias, as they are called
in Algeria dark blue shell-jackets braided with red
and baggy red trousers. Tirailleurs Indigenes native
infantrymen, the Turcos of old in uniforms similar to
the Zouaves but of a delicate turquoise blue with yellow
braid stroll by cheery-faced, thick-lipped negroes of
Senegalese regiments in khaki. A young Japanese
how came he here? stands at a street corner selling
cheap ornaments. White-bearded Arabs looking like
Biblical patriarchs in their rounded headgear, thin
cotton drapery thrown over it bound round with camel-
hair cord and hiding the backs and sides of their heads,
long white woollen burnouses with hoods hanging
between their shoulders, and gandauras or long gowns
reaching to their ankles, bare feet thrust into heel-less
slippers, stalk slowly along. Behind one a pet sheep
trots unconcernedly, ignoring dogs and passers-by.

Tall, fair-faced Berbers from the mountains of
Kabylia, with high cheek-bones, blue eyes and sandy
moustaches that give them the appearance of typical
Scotsmen, in dress similar to Arabs, go briskly by.
For these aborigines of North Africa are energetic and
businesslike and do most of the outdoor labour of
Algiers, work on the quays, drive carts, carry loads;
and they sell rugs and carpets in the streets here, as
they do in Marseilles and farther afield.


And veiled and white-shrouded Mahommedan
ladies with heavy silver rings around bare ankles and
naked feet in high-heeled Paris shoes gaze into the shop-
windows or stare with the instinctive antagonism of
their sex at smartly-dressed French ladies in big hats,
long-waisted frocks, short skirts and silk stockings.

As Algiers is built on steeply sloping hillsides the
streets running parallel to the sea are terraced one above
the other. From the Rue d'Isly flights of stone stair-
ways, the number of their steps reaching the hundreds,
lead up to residential streets and on higher still to green
slopes and groves of melancholy eucalyptus trees climb-
ing to the grey mass of Fort 1'Empereur on the summit
of the Hill of Soap.

The Rue d'Isly passes by a depressing statue
of Marshal Bugeaud who gained the victory of
Isly over the Moroccans in 1844, an d ends in the
finest open space in the city, the Boulevard Laferriere,
that finds few equals anywhere for the picturesqueness
of its surroundings. On one side open to the sea, so
that the eye can range over the bay to the villa-dotted
hills above the coast and past them to the Djurdjura
Mountains beyond. Inland a terraced public garden
gay with bright flowers goes up to the tree-clad slopes
of the Hill of Soap.

The other two sides are framed by massive blocks
of seven and eight-storied buildings pierced by roads
north and south, ornate structures, the long facades of
which are broken by countless balconies each window
has one. But at one corner of the great square is a
colossal white mass of architecture in the Neo-
Mauresque style, high Moorish arched entrances


adorned with Arabic lettering and ornaments, and lofty
cupolas and domes. A building worthy of being the
principal mosque in Africa but it is only the General
Post Office ! The Prefecture on the sea-front near it
is in the same style.

Farther up on the same side is a similarly designed
building in tasteful Moorish architecture, the offices of
a daily newspaper, the Depeche Algerienne. Past it
are many-balconied blocks of flats lining stone balus-
traded flights of steps leading up to new boulevards
on the hillside.

And in one of these is the headquarters of the
Societe de Geographic d Alger et de 1'Afrique du Nord.
For Algiers is not only commercial or pleasure-loving.
It has room for learned societies ; and this particular
one is world-famous 1 . Many celebrated African
explorers have given the first narration of their travels
in its hall ; the number of its members runs to thousands
and includes the names of famous men ; and under the
presidency of the distinguished man of letters, M.
Armand Mesple, it has conquered a foremost place for
itself among scientific societies of the world.

Across the Boulevard Laferriere the Rue d'Isly is
continued by the Rue Michelet, a long street indeed.
For, at first lined with fine blocks of buildings of regular
and massive architecture, flats above, shops and offices
below, passing the University in its gardens terraced
high above it, it runs out of the city to the south and
winds on and up between the gardens, villas and hotels
on the sharp slopes of Mustapha Superieur, giving
glorious views of the bay and Algiers, to end in a gap
on the summit of the Sahel hills about five or six hun-

Photo, by the Author.

Photo, by the A itthor.


dred feet above the sea, where a small monument called
the Colonne Voirol commemorates the construction of
the road by the Foreign Legion under General Voirol
in 1833 when the French decided on retaining Algeria
and began to extend the zone of their conquests beyond

But half-way between this spot and the city there
is a gate in a high wall recessed in a semicircle at this
point and with niches in it containing busts of former
French Governor-Generals of the Colony. Beside it
is a stable full of long-tailed white horses and red-
burnoused Spahis. A sentry stands by the open gate
which gives an entrancing glimpse of a beautiful garden
full of flowers and palms in front of a splendid white
building, all pillars, ornamented arches and domed
roofs. It is the Summer Palace of the Governor-
General of Algeria, a building well worthy of sheltering
an African Proconsul, with its pillared courts, grand
staircases, and the splendid ballroom with its wall-
paintings, mosaics and carved ceiling.

Next to it is a less imposing but even more attractive
residence set in lovely gardens, the Bardo, formerly the
summer palace of the last Dey of Algiers and bought
from the Government after his deportation by a French-
man whose family still possesses it. With the exception
of the addition of modern lighting and sanitation it
remains almost unaltered since Hussein Pacha sprawled
on its soft divans in amorous mood with one of his
seventy wives, while the other sixty-nine awaited his
summons crowded together in the small house standing
in the gardens some distance away from the main resi-
dence. The embroideries, carpets, tapestries, bronze


and brasswork, the pottery, the couches and Moorish
beds, and the inlaid furniture that fill the chambers are
wonderful and priceless. But never in Oriental palace
in Morocco, India, China or Japan have I seen anything
lovelier than the white inner court with its bathing pond
sunk in the marble pavement. A setting for a picture
of satin-limbed naiads finer than Alma Tadema ever

Where the Rue Michelet ends and the road to the
interior begins in the gap in the Sahel range the scenery
is beautiful. On one side of the pass the hilltop is
crowned with a pinewood pierced with many paths and
known as the Bois de Boulogne, a favourite resort of
the citizens of Algiers on holidays. On the other side
of the pass the ground rises in a pleasant region of
beautiful villas and gardens lining a hedge-bordered
road reminiscent of England running along the ridge-top
to El Biar. Behind lies the bay far below with Algiers
to the left, while in front a new world opens. For
here begins the interior of Algeria ; and in tree-shaded
ravines the ground falls to the fertile Mitidja Plain
beyond which rises up the chain of the Atlas Moun-
tains, the plain that in the days of Old Rome helped
to earn for the land the title of " The Granary of
Europe." Neglected under the Arabs until it sank
back to jungle and feverish swamp, the efforts of
French colonists restored it ; and now it is a prosperous
region of cornfields, vineyards and orange groves dotted
with large European farmhouses and villages. Rail-
ways and fine roads traverse it, linking Algiers with
the interior. Looking down from the Sahel Hills
to-day it is hard to realise how through the last century


every foot of the ground over which the eye wanders
has had to be fought for fought for against bloody
pirate and treacherous Arab and deadly fever. A
wonderful task this that the French have achieved in
the face of countless difficulties and dangers.

Well, it all looks peaceful and prosperous enough
to-day, the well-cultivated countryside, the curving
coastline with its many sea-washed towns, the white
city and its climbing houses basking in African sunshine,
a prize that is a worthy reward of the sacrifices, deter-
mination and perseverance of France royal, imperial,

The flora of Algeria is similar to that of Southern
Europe ; but the stranger to North Africa usually
expects to find it a land of tropical vegetation. For
that in Algiers he must look in the famous Jardin
d'Essai separated from the sandy beach of the bay
under the Sahel Hills by the railway and the road from
the city under Mustapha Superieur. It is the Botanical
Gardens or, rather, the Jardin d'Acclimatation ; for in
its thousands of acres are cultivated trees from all parts
of the world with a view to their being acclimatised for
the benefit of the Colony. A big overseas trade is done
in palms, tangerine and banana trees shipped to
England, France and other lands ; and the little potted
palms one sees on sale behind the Madeleine Church
in Paris and in Covent Garden were probably grown
in the Jardin d'Essai. Great banyans from India and
Burma, Yuccas from South America, cocoa-palms from
Mexico, and the tropical countries of Asia, shade the
paths on which the citizens stroll on festival days.

And by it trams and automobiles pass on farther


out between the fields to the race-course in the sandy
dunes where in the past Frenchmen and Arab tribes-
men fought to the death and their descendants now
gather to witness bloodless contests in this modern
phase of life in the New Algiers.



WIDE-STRETCHING as it is to-day, spreading out along
the coast and up the hills in suburbs and independent
communes, Algiers yet holds a scarcely larger popula-
tion now than it did in the days of the Turkish Pashas
when over a hundred and eighty thousand folk, pirate
and slave, janissary and trader, renegade and born
Moslem, harlot in the brothel and weeping Christian
captive in the harem, were crowded within the narrow
walls now outgrown and destroyed.

The French call the native inhabitants of Algiers
Maures or Arabes ; and the Englishman terms them
Arabs. But these indigenous citizens are not Arabs.
They are a very mixed breed, the descendants of
Berbers, Turks, Jews, Christian renegades of many
races, captive slave women of varied nationalities, Euro-
pean, African and Asian. There can be little true Arab
blood in these townsmen. Their language is almost
more Turkish than Arabic. It must be remembered
that the rulers, the governing classes and the janissaries
or State Militia of Algiers were for centuries mostly
Turks with an admixture of European renegades, and
they had little intercourse with the Arab inland dwellers



on whom they all looked down with contempt and

Their garb was Turkish rather than Arab ; and
traces of it are seen to-day, though the majority of the
native inhabitants of the city wear more or less Euro-
pean dress with the red checchia. Around this cap
the poorer classes sometimes twist a coloured kerchief
to make a small turban of it; and with them a ragged
shirt and trousers, or even merely an ankle-long cotton
gown is all they wear, while the wealthier man clothes
himself like a Parisian, save for the checchia. Euro-
pean boots or heel-less leather slippers called babouches
are the footgear.

Yet in the streets one sees many, mostly from the
interior, in the traditional Arab attire, which is worn
almost universally throughout Algeria by all but the
town-dwellers. On the head is a rounded white high
skullcap of hard felt a over which is draped a thin white
linen cloth, the klafa, that hangs down on the back and
sides of the head, shades the forehead, eyes and cheeks,
and is gathered under the chin by the body-garment
buttoned over it. It is held in place on the cap by a
thin brown cord of camel hair wound round and round
many times. A long gown, the gandaura, of woollen
material is confined at the waist by a coloured sash;
and over it is the burnous, a white woollen hooded and
sleeved cape closed in front near the throat. A well-
off individual may wear two or three burnouses, the
outer one of good cloth and embroidered with silk.
The man who rides wears long soft red leather boots
which, when he is afoot, he thrusts into babouches.

The city Mahommedan women of all classes and


ages wear the same outer costume, the white voluminous
drapery shrouding them from top to toe, worn like a
shawl over the head, and if displaced giving a glimpse
of gay-coloured bodices and baggy trousers. Bare
feet are shoved into little babouches, which are often
dainty slippers of coloured leather heavily embroidered
with silver or gold. But modernised native ladies prefer
silk stockings and high-heeled French shoes. All
town-dwelling women wear the Adjar^ an embroidered
muslin veil hiding the face below the eyes and hanging
down to the breast. Only the oldest and poorest
dispense with it. But Berber and desert women do
not conceal their faces ; nor do the women of Tlem^en.

In the seclusion of their homes and on the flat roofs
of their houses, if sure that no male gaze can rest on
them, they throw aside veil and ugly outer garment;
and the wealthy shine like butterflies or birds of para-
dise in glowing colours. Over chemises of finest gauze
is worn a vest perhaps more than one of silk pink
or mauve, blue, yellow, heavy with gold or silver
embroidery and buttons. Above the vest a brocaded
silk jacket. Below are trousers of finest silk wide as
divided skirts. On the head is a dainty little velvet
cap covered with seed-pearls or gold coins. Necklaces
of coins, large hoop ear-rings, broad bracelets and
anklets, rings and brooches adorn them.

The Jews of Algiers are known only by their
features, for they have adopted European dress and
discarded the long black caftans and the black checchias
that are still their costume in Morocco. Only occasion-
ally an elderly Jewess may be seen with the black or
coloured fringed silk handkerchief shrouding her head.


There is both comfort and luxury in the homes of
the richer natives of Algiers. A visit to a Mahom-
medan gentleman's house in the old city is interesting.
From the bright streets of the modern portion one
passes to the narrow lanes of the native quarter ; and
after climbing the stone stairway of a dark and filthy
alley hemmed in by high, almost blank walls, you
arrive at a low portal thrown open hospitably to you
and entering a dim hall emerge on the sunlit square
inner court paved with bright tiles where your host
receives you. Pillars support the galleries, which are
reached by narrow staircases and have carved wood
railings. On the first to which you ascend open
several rooms with gilt and crystal chandeliers, though
electric light is usually now the illuminant, carpets
too often of gaudy European manufacture instead of
the mellow-hued native make, divans, painted wood
shelves and chests, gramophones, and a mixture of
French and Oriental furniture, generally covered with
holland shrouds. On the walls are coloured oleo-
graphs views of the Kaaba of Mecca, of Constanti-
nople, of St Sophia, or pictures of Moslem heroes,
all inscribed with Arabic characters. In the sleeping
chambers in recesses are comfortable Moorish beds
with wide canopies and intricately designed brass-work
and piles of folded blankets and coverlets stacked up
in corners.

A portion of the roof is screened in perhaps by
leafy vines which do not altogether hide the dark-eyed
and fair-complexioned ladies who peep down at you,
their veils cast aside since the green screen is supposed
to conceal them. And if the building in which you are


gives a view over the flat roofs of houses lower down
and you chance to see other Moslem ladies divested
of their shroudlike outer enveloping white garment
and bright as butterflies in pinks and yellows and
blues, well, you are not supposed to look at them or
at least to mention the fact.

If your host does not happen to speak French
which is rare some of his younger male relatives are
sure to do, and will interpret for him as over coffee
or fragrant mint tea from Morocco and honey cakes he
inquires politely about your health or the ways of your

One sees few negroes in the streets of Algiers;
unless they be the cheery, thick-lipped, scarred-faced
soldiers of a Senegalese regiment quartered in the
casemates of the fort near the Boulevard Laferriere

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Online LibraryGordon CasserlyAlgeria today → online text (page 3 of 18)