Algiers – Travel

ALONG the historic coasts of Portugal passes the steamer. Cape after cape juts out to sea, St. Vincent and Trafalgar, both the scene of epoch-making sea fights.

The second day out from Lisbon brings us under the frowning cliffs of Gibraltar, the Rock that has occupied the imaginations of men for so many centuries. I have passed it by moonlight, at daybreak, and in the full light of noon, and always it has the same imposing majesty. The Rock that no one but England could take, and, having taken it, held it forever after. Some of the winter-cruise steamers stop here for a few hours. I went ashore there, once, in a felucca, was shown the galleries and the obsolete batteries, the town, filled with red-coated Tommies. All that is past and gone, now. A battery of big naval guns over on Ceuta under Monkey Mountain, the second of the Pillars of Hercules, could reduce Gibraltar to a dilapidated stone quarry. However, if stopping there now from a winter-cruise ship, all will be provided in advance, a motor boat ashore, and then a visit to see all that the British will let be seen. If there are modern batteries, they will be up on the crown of the cliff, quite dangerous—until their foundations get shot out from under them!

Many of the winter-cruise steamers make a day’s stop at Gibraltar and there is an optional tour by rail from Algeciras, opposite it on the Bay to Grenada, rejoining the steamer at Malaga by a short rail trip from there. You will find some directions upon what to see and do in Grenada under Chapter V, The Spanish Ports, as a footnote on Malaga.

Your wanderings ashore in Gibraltar will usually be confined to Waterport Street, the Alameda Gardens, and a motor trip on the Europa Main Road. Hire a car and see every-thing that the chauffeur can manage for you. Parts of the famous Rock are reserved exclusively to British subjects, such as the Galleries cut in the living rock and armed with long muzzle-loading cannon of ancient vintage, but your guide can “arrange” that interdiction. The Gardens are worth a visit, also the Signal Station and St. Michael’s Cave.

The old Rock is our first bowing acquaintance with that gorgeous prince of pirates, Khair ed Din, who sacked it with his usual thoroughness in 1540 and whom we will see much of in Algiers. It gets its name, Djebel Tarik, from Tarikibn Zijad, who took it from the Moors in 711 at the head of an expedition sent from North Africa by Musa, Caliph of Damascus at the time, and therefore emperor of all the Moslem Empire. Djebel Tarik, the Mountain of Tarik, the Arabs named it, from which “Gibraltar,” with our casual handling of Arabic names—such as corrupted El Jezira into Algiers.

Gibraltar has endured fourteen sieges during its long history, the last and greatest being that of 1779-1783, the English under Elliott holding it against the French. Carthaginian, Roman, Vandal, Moor, Spaniard, and English-man have all taken and retaken it. It fell to the British fleet under Rooke in 1704, War of the Spanish Succession, and has remained English ever since.

Two days later we arrived at the Fairy City, the City of Perfumed Nights, the Fairyland of Flowers, the Paris of North Africa—Algiers! Pardon all these adjectives, but I live there, and cannot repress these gusts of enthusiasm! As a winter home I yield to none in the charms of Algiers. We have everything that man could want here in Algiers; a sunny, balmy climate all winter, one of the best opera companies in France, concerts every evening from five till eleyen, a splendid University. And the Arabs are with us everywhere, swarming in their own city of the Khasba, and occupying sumptuous Moorish villas on the Mustapha Superior. The East and the West, in a happy mixture, is Algiers! I was attracted to the place on my first voyage, where we ate out of doors at the Brasserie Terminus under the awnings spread against a hot January sun. I revisited it a year later, to take a month’s caravan trip down in the Sahara, and ended by renting a villa on the Mustapha, coming back to America only for the summers.

Your first object of interest, as the steamer passes along the mountainous green coast line of Algeria, will be a great church in Moorish architecture perched on a high promontory. It is Notre Dame d’Afrique, and is the landmark that tells that we are approaching Algiers. Then comes in sight the breakwater, with the old Spanish fort of the Penon on its outer end, and the mole of Khair ed Din joining it to the mainland. For El Jezira was once only “The Island,” occupied by the Spaniards in their fort until driven out by Khair ed Din, first Turkish leader of the Corsair Republic. He built that mole out to it, in 1518. Europe knew Khair ed Din well; as Barbarossa, the terrible “king” of the “Saracens.” He raided the Riviera periodically, besieged the Rock of Nice once in company with the Genoese, and took by treachery that second of the triple chain of defenses, “The Rock that no one but England could take, and, having taken it, held it forever after.”

“The Fairy City, the City of Perfumed Nights, the Paris of North Africa—pardon all these adjectives but I live there.”

Eze, of which the Rock of Monaco was the third. To this day Eze has not recovered, for atrocious was its sacking; but of that more anon.

In Khaired Din, whose name means, ironically, “The Charity of the Faith,” we have the Great Man of Algiers, that republic of pirates who later threw off the suzerainty of Constantinople and elected their own deys. Khair ed Din’s mole converted El Jezira into a good harbor, where long rows of armed feluccas could congregate. Algiers was Icosium in Roman times and because of its island survived as a considerable place under the various Arab and Berber sultanates. The Mosque of El Kebir was built in 1018 and its minaret by the sultan of Tashfin in 1334. Thus Algiers possesses one of the oldest mosques in North Africa. But it was Khair ed Din and his mole that made it the great corsair port that it became. The New Mosque, Djemma el Djeddid, was built by the Turks of the hanefi rite in the seventeenth century, by which time, a hundred years after Khair ed Din and his three brothers, it had be-come a Turkish republic, supported by the Dey’s janissaries on one hand and the rats or corsair chieftans on the other.

In through the gates of the breakwater the steamer drifts, at slow speed, and we pick out those ancient landmarks, the two mosques, white and domed, with their square minaret towers characteristic of North Africa. But in front of them run low long ramps of arched driveways, completely hiding the ancient cliffs that were once lined with cannon embrasures. The Djemma el Djeddid now seems inland, whereas it was perched on the very edge of the cliff, and still is, but that the wide boulevard of the Pecherie now runs in front of it and is sup-ported by ramps that are triumphs of engineering skill.

For miles above the ramps run the straight blocks of French office buildings and hotels, all arcaded over the sidewalks. Patches of tropical greenery betray the parks of the Place du Gouvernement: and the Place de la Republique. There are more business streets be-hind them; the Rue D’Isly, Rue Michelet; and then begin the steep hillsides, with the white wedge of the Khasba and its flat Arab roofs rising uphill to the right, and the villa section of the Mustapha Superior to the left. Up on the crest of the hill and surrounded by greenery is a tall white monument. This commemorates the dead of the African Wars, those valiant Frenchmen who from 1835 to the present have battled to make this country the peaceful and happy paradise that it now is. That monument means much to every Frenchman who views it. It recalls the capture of Algiers that ended, once for all, the pirate nuisance that had afflicted the Mediterranean for five centuries. It recalls the campaigns southward to recover the lost Tell, that plateau of the hinterland once the great granary of Rome and now one of the granaries of the world—the campaigns of Blida and Abd el Kader and the Kybeles. It recalls the conquest of the Sahara, little wars without end, to take Laghouat, Biskra, Touggurt, Ouargla, the winning over of the Chaamba, the recent campaigns against the Ahaggar and Azdjer Tuaregs; and finally, on Christmas Day 1920, the junction at El Hank of the troops of French Congo with those of Southern Algeria. The monument speaks of a hundred years of heroisms and privations, to the end that a country as big as half Europe might be added to the territory of the civilized nations.

As the steamer comes to anchor, you take a final glance along that water front and reconstruct in imagination those batteries of the Dey that lined the cliffs as far as the present forts of the Agha. Impregnable was Algiers in those days! The French finally solved the problem by landing an expedition at Sidi Ferruch, fifteen miles up the coast, and taking Algiers in the rear. That grim fort that you see back of the Monument is where the generals of the Dey capitulated. The French took it by storm, and, once in possession, they had all Algiers below at the mercy of their artillery. My villa, in which this is being written, stands on the ram-parts of an outer corsair fort, one of the last to submit. From here its guns guarded all approach to the city from the east; but, once the main fort was broken, it became useless.

So much for the past. The present surrounds the steamer in the shape of vociferous Arab boatmen begging for your custom. The big winter-cruise ships have a more dignified landing arranged, with tugs that carry the whole company, but from the regular ships you depend on the ubiquitous bumboat. You can trust yourself with these genial pirates. They carry down your trunks—a whole piano if you wish it—and deposit them and your hand baggage in the bows. The charge ashore is three francs a person, one for each handbag and two for trunks. One lands at the duane. If merely visiting ashore, there are no port formalities. If staying, the passport is produced and stamped by the police, and baggage examined (perfunctory) at the duane.

The cruising ships will have fleets of motor cars waiting to take the entire company the round of the sights, including a trip inland up the famous gorges of the Chiffa and the Monkey Brook to Blida. But this book is more for him who wanders ashore, and does his own rambling. ‘We walk along the shore to the elevator and are carried by it to the top of the ramps, the Boulevard Sadi Carnot. We head at once for the Place du Gouvernement, marked by the white dome of the mosque Djemma el Djeddid. If your first touch of the East, Algiers will seem a wonderland. It swarms with Arabs, almost as numerous as the French. There are magnificent sheiks with patriarchal beards, in flowing burnouses and huge domed turbans wound with camel’s-hair cord; there are resplendent Spahi and Chasseurs d’Afrique officers, in scarlet and khaki capes, and clanking sabers; there are thousands and thousands of red-fezzed town Arabs, and ragged hummars, coolies, some in haiks of striped Moroccan weave, more in ragged ahias, all in red fezzes wound about with orange kerchiefs. One never tires of looking at the Arab; a group of wealthy sheiks seated at the cafe table next you will even divert your mind from the good French beer!

There are quantities of guides in the Place du Gouvernement. They pick you out as a tourist unerringly, knowing by sight all the regular residents, English and American. They surround you vociferously, and you will do well to pick out the least villainous and put yourself in his hands. The charge is about twenty francs for a morning’s guidance of your party. He should take you, first, to the two mosques, open every morning to infidel visitors. They are nothing much compared to Constantinople, but will be of great interest if your first, and there is a very fine illuminated Koran to be seen in El Kebir. Its columned arcades outside along the street must not be missed, either, for there you will see the groups of disciples listening to some old marabout reading through horn spectacles a much-thumbed Koran, a custom that has prevailed down through the centuries since the Hegira. Also, if fortunate enough to have arrived on the proper date, make the guide take you to the divorce court in the mosque, where an old Arab judge monotonously pronounces the sentence that liberates marriages that have gone wrong. The women are there, muffled in their white abias but vociferous; the hangdog and unhappy man; the voluble Arab lawyers—it’s a very human show!

After the mosques, an hour must be devoted to the palace of the Dey, and to the present residence of the Archbishop, formerly the Dey’s ambassadorial reception hall. A French guide takes you through the Palace; charge, one franc per person. It must not be missed, for here you will see all your dreams of Oriental magnificence, in tile and column and rugs and mosaics, realized. It is just as the Dey left it on the night of his attempted escape. Marshal Macmahon has roofed over the central court with glass; that is all the change.

You are shown the harem rooms, the big audience hall, the Dey’s private smoking room, the apartments of his favorite wife, his own sumptuous quarters. It is all in Moorish and Turkish furnishings, and the mosaics that make brilliant the walls are a glory of color. And you will see, presently, a secret cupboard that swings in on hinges. A round stone well appears under it, with a narrow black stone spiral stairway. It leads to a tunnel under the Place du Gouvernement and out to a hole in the cliffs, now concealed by the arches of the ramps. It was once a Well of Death to many who had displeased the Deys, great sheiks who had be-come too powerful, favorites of the harem who had intrigued too much; the last time it was used was one night in 1835, after the capitulation of the Khasba on the hill above.

Down it the last Dey and six of his choicest wives made their escape before the French took possession of the city. They put to sea in a felucca, but were captured by a French man-of-war. In the old castle of the pope at Avignon they were immured. A few years of miser-able exile; then the cold of Provence killed them all. Some poet should write the last days of the ruler of Algiers, the despair, the suicides, the endless clammy cold, to these children of the sun accustomed to the balmy airs of Algeria!

The archbishop’s palace is across the square from the Dey’s. Its court is open to the sun and is lined with double tiers of Moorish arches supported by slender fluted and twisted columns of marble. Its tilework is particularly fine, friezes of pure-white faience, walls and pavement in Delft. Here, on the second floor, was the throne room, and to this clay the audience hall is lined with those same European chairs where sat the ambassadors from all nations. For many years Algeria had been a nuisance to the civilized world. It was vain to protest to Constantinople. Algeria owed her a nominal suzerainty, but that did not interfere at all with the operations of her pirates. And here, once upon a time, the Dey, in a fit of arrogance, struck the French ambassador with his fan be-fore the representatives of all nations. That insult was the culminating point of the nuisance! Within a month a French expedition had landed at Sidi Ferruch, and twenty days later, after much hard fighting, the French had siezed the heights back of Algiers and planted their artillery commanding the city. The curtain rang down on the fan incident when the Dey and his six wives crept down that stone well in a final attempt to escape its inevitable consequences.

One more point of interest in this region, and it will not take long to see. Adjoining the palace was the Dey’s mosque, now the Christian cathedral of St. Philippe. It has the usual French church interior; but ask to be shown the tomb of the martyr, St. Jerome. He was buried alive by the corsairs in a block of concrete and the block built into their Fort of Twenty-four Hours. But the incident crept into history through the Spanish friar, Heado; and one of the first things the French did on capturing Algiers was to tear down that fort and recover the bones of St. Jerome. He was not the St. Jerome of the Vatican pictures, by the way, but a saint of that name of early Christian Africa.

From the Place Malakoff, the guide should now take you up to the Rue du Chat to the Medersa, the Arab college. This, like the new post office, the Galerie du France, and many of the villas, is a modern building, but in the Moorish style of architecture, a delicate French tribute to the eternal fitness of things. At the Medersa you will see hundreds of Arab students in flowing black gowns and red fezzes, and perhaps have converse with one of their muftis, professors. But the sight to see is the tomb of Sidi Abd er Rhaman adjoining the Medersa. This is a very holy place. One takes off one’s shoes and walks over the rugs, to enter a crypt all hung with candelabra and ancient Algerian flags. In the center is the saint’s tomb, a great structure of beaten gold and silver, embossed with Arabic characters and having the narrow shape and high peaked roof of the Ark of the Covenant. White-shrouded women lie prone all around the tomb, praying to the saint. He has peculiar powers in matters of childbirth and sterility. Judging from the fervor of their mutterings, he is deyoutly believed in.

To the rug factory, after a brief inspection of the Arab cemetery around Sidi Abd er Rhaman’s tomb and overlooking the Jardin Marengo. This factory lies up the Boulevard Valee and in it you will see dozens of little Arab girls knotting up rug patterns on tall looms. Each wears a bright kerchief, and has her hair done in two curved pigtails that stick out behind like horns and are adorned with ribbons. Their little fingers are most adept; one sees the pattern growing, knot by knot. In the salesrooms the finished product is shown, Algerian rugs of soft colors and deep pile. The price is about the same as anywhere in the Khasba. Four hundred francs will buy you quite a souvenir, a rug about four by seven.

A short walk up the boulevard gives us a glimpse of the ancient Khasba or castle of the Dey, from which the Arab quarter gets its name. Its stone battlements are now given over to a caserne for French troops, and near bv is the Prison Civile with its grewsorne guillotine. Thence we enter the Khasba itself, that sight that every tourist to Algiers really must see. It is all downhill, now, toward the French quarter, and you cannot get lost, for eventually you will arrive at civilization once more. The Khasba is a somewhat alarming. place, of crooked and narrow streets and blind courts, of dark alleys and tunnels leading nowhere. The upper stories of this rabbit-warren of Arab houses are built out on cedar struts and have walnut grillages through which the women of the harems are peeping down at you. It is crowded with suks, little holes-in-the-wall that are shops, with the owner seated cross-legged within and smoking a narghila. There are leather embroiderers and brass hammerers and silversmiths and booths of gauzy garments for Arab women, and silk shops and rug shops. It is a noisome and stinking place—only Canton has more smells—and it swarms with crowds of yelling and chattering Arabs; but have no fear. My better half, who slings a wicked paintbrush, works here all alone at her canvases, and has never yet had anything but courtesy and friendly interest, even from the ubiquitous ouled, or small Arab boy.

Here you can see native life in full blast, the Cafe Mauresque with burnoused and hooded sheiks playing at checkers, the restaurant where you are served couscous (very good, farina and a stew of meats and vegetables) and Arab coffee, a mud of grounds and wholly a syrup, strong as lye. There are mosques and medersas, butcher and vegetable markets, Moorish bathhouses, and the blue streets of the courtesans where the vile squealing of the zef and the dub of drums is forever sounding to the Danse du Ventre. The men of the party will have obscenities whispered at them and their clothes plucked, but no matter, it is all in the Khasba! I should not advise buying anything. To stop is to gather a crowd, and the suk men are unconscionable thieves. If you do buy, let him name his price, then offer half of it and walk away. Depend on it, he will be at your elbow with the sale, cursing you volubly in Arabic for a robber—but one must live!

The Khasba visit should end at the head of the Rue du Lyre, a long, arcaded street leading back to the Place du Gouvernement. This is wholly given over to Arab shops, but the price is fixed and there is a fine assortment of every-thing native that you wish to buy. There is no use bargaining with these fellows. They may come down a trifle, but are more apt to raise the eyebrows of disdain and put the thing away. But here is the right place to accumulate plunder.

Half the day has now gone by; and where shall we cat? I would advise a walk down the arcades of the Bab Azoun to the Place de la Republique. It fronts the Opera, and is a paradise of a grove of banyan and bamboo. Near it you have choice of two very good restaurants, the Brasserie Terminus and the Brasserie Phoenix. The former gives you a sumptuous table d’hote with wine for twelve francs; the latter has deliciously cooked food but no table d’hote. If expert with a French menu, you can do yourself mighty well here for about ten francs. It lies up the Rue d’Isly a short distance from the Place de la Republique.

For the afternoon, I hesitate to suggest, as there is so much still to see. If the steamer sails at five, you have two choices, a tram trip up on the Mustapha Superior, past the Pare de Galland and the Hotel St. George to the Column Voirol; or else the tram to the Jardin d’Essai. If you elect the Voirol tram, it will give you a very fair idea of the extent and beauty of this Algiers that is my winter home. French cities are, like the three niggers Sambo, Crambo, and Jumbo, “all berry much alike, especially Jumbo”; but Algiers is different. It is as handsome as Nice; with the added interest of its Arabs and its many Moorish buildings, which style of architecture has been extensively adopted by the French architects. The tram passes first down the Rue d’Isly, the main shopping street, with all our old friends, the magazins du Louyre, Bon Marche, and Galerie de France; passes the new Moorish post office, and turns up the Rue Michelet where stands the University. Beyond is the apartment-house district, new, modern, and of as typical French architecture as anything in Paris.

Thence under the Parc du Galland, where you can get off to see the museum of Arab rugs, weaponry, and pottery, and the large collections of statuary and mosaic and entablature collected from the ruins of the Roman period of North Africa. Continuing on, the tram passes the Summer Palace of the Governor, once the residence of the Dey, tropical gardens that are miles in extent and its buildings ravishing examples of Moorish architecture. There are fine views of all Algiers below as the tram ascends. Gardens are now the rule, each with its imposing villa, some owned by the wealthy sheiks, some by French residents. We pass the St. George hotel, known to society throughout Europe. It is entirely Moorish, and set in tropical gardens that are as much part of the hotel as the interior itself. On, up a steep slope, through the heart of the villa section of the Mustapha Superior. It is a revelation of how beautiful nature and man can he, working in harmony under a mild climate. At the Column one gets off for a stroll through the pineries of the Bois du Boulogne, and thence back to town.

The other tram runs along the Sadi Carnot, giving fine views of the harbor and the beautiful Bay of Algiers. Soon after, it reaches a mean and ugly industrial section, beyond which lies the Jardin d’Essai. This is, to my mind the finest tropical park this side of Suez. I haye seen Peridenia in Ceylon and Buitenzorg in Java. Of course the Jardin d’Essai has none of the cathedralesque grandeur of those two; but everything is here on a smaller scale, avenues of blue bamboo, thickets of traveler’s tree islands of papyrus in the water gardens, the blue and pink lotus, palms of all the seven-teen species, imposing boulevards of great banyans with their aerial roots dropping down to soil. The gardens of the Azores are simply nothing to it! So take your choice; see Algiers in extenso, or see a wonderful tropical garden some two square miles in extent.

If the steamer stops two days, the second morning is generally devoted to the famous autobus trip up the gorges of the Chiffa and a visit to the Ruisseau des Singes, with a stop for lunch at Blida. The gorges are wonderfully scenic and were once the theater of much hard fighting with the tribes of the Tell; later of equally hard engineering toil in pushing the rail-road through this gap. Monkey Brook is so named from its colonies of rhoesus apes, which have liyed here unmolested since the French occupation. They are quite tame, and come down out of the trees in troops to be fed by tourists. Blida is 3300 feet above the sea and is the center of a vast agricultural region of roses and oranges and olives. It was the military center of the first French push into the interior, with the final object of capturing those ancient Roman outposts, Boghar, Djemila, and Timgad. Bloody battles were fought in those mountain ranges to the south. In 1839-40 they were de-fended by the Beni Salah, and Blida was a place of raids and campaigns. These Berber tribes took a deal of subduing. But peace will have her victories! and Blida of to-day is one of the most striking.

One visits the Holy Wood and the marabout of Sidi Yaouh, buys leather embroidery work, ruminates on the strange mutations of time by which this old Arab town, founded in 1553 for the pleasure of a pirate chieftain, Ahmed el Kebir, brother of the great Khair ed Din, finally settled down to become a beauty spot for tourists and a great fruit-producing center for the world.

The trip to Blida and return by Cook’s auto-bus costs fifty francs and takes the whole day. If you have not that much time at your disposal, I would recommend a bus ride to Bouzarea, price six francs return, leaving the Place du Gouvernement at ten o’clock and two, returns at one and three. This is a spectacular scenic trip, through deep green gorges and climbing the eminences of Bouzarea some miles west of Algiers. perched on the hillside a short walk from the central square is the famous Albert tea house, an old Moorish villa converted. The views from its terrace are magnificent, the villa itself a curiosity. You are served tea in an alabaster court of slender columns and surrounded by a glory of tiles. It is the handsomest regional spot near Algiers, and everybody goes there for smart teas.

If traveling on one of the regular boats, a very good plan is to stop over a month at Algiers and see something of the Sahara. The stopover costs but two dollars, and another steamer will be along presently. You will see no camels anywhere near Algiers, no sand, no mud-walled villages. But they are all within easy reach. You may take the bus to Bou Saada, two days and a night for the whole trip, return trip 220 francs, and get your fill of mud-village life, Ouled Nail girls, Bedouins, and palmeries. Or, better, take the 8:18 train in the evening from Algiers to Biskra, price 148 francs second class. You get off at El Guerra at 7 :45 in the morning, after a snowy night climbing up through the passes of the Grand Kybeles. Presently the Constatine-Biskra train comes along and you have a morning crossing the Tell, that high and cold plateau that was once the granary of Rome and now does the same service for France. About one o’clock you arrive at Biskra and have all the Desert and its sights and camels and caravans at your disposal.