Hello dear Sparkfriends,
This trip was about ‘going back’ to a country that is very much part of me but where I had never been... I always knew I would go to Algeria one day. It took me 44 years!
My mother and grandmother were what is called ‘pieds-noirs’ (‘black feet’): French people who lived in Algeria. My grandmother moved to North Africa with her parents when she was 4, in 1915. My mother was born and grew up in Algeria until they had to leave in 1950, heartbroken (my grandmother had miraculously escaped being killed and they realized it would get even worse).
The first picture of this blog is the view of Algiers from the Catholic Basilica Notre-Dame d’Afrique (Our Lady of Africa)... you can see why Algiers was called ‘Alger la Blanche’ (‘Algiers the White’)... All the buildings are painted white!
Here is Our Lady of Africa, which was inaugurated in 1872.
The inscription on the wall above the Black Virgin says: ‘Our Lady of Africa, pray for us and for the Muslims.’ Today, foreigners represent 95% of Catholics in Algeria. Most of the Algerian Christians are Evangelical Protestants.
I could have started this blog with the Casbah, as this is the oldest part of Algiers (the oldest of the 600 + buildings are from the 17th century!)... Some 50,000 people live in the Casbah today.
There are many beautiful fountains, decorated with tiles... The one above is called ‘the colored fountain’. Looking at the tiles on many fountains and houses was a treat...
... There were so many beautiful architectural details!...
Sadly, although the Casbah is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is in a terrible state. Each year, people die under buildings that collapse. The white arches you see below are all that is left from a house.
I liked a tiny little cemetery we visited next to a mosque...
Although most of the tombs were fairly recent (from a few years to a few decades old), it felt ancient and was very atmospheric. I hope I captured some of this in my pictures.
In lower Casbah, near the sea (we started at the top and slowly went down all the little streets and many stairs!)...
we passed by the Ketchaoua Mosque, founded in 1446. The French had transformed it into a church and destroyed its minaret. It became a mosque again after Algeria’s independence in 1962.
It looked like it was being renovated. I hope so as it badly needs it!
We ended our visit with one of the markets...
I was very lucky to be able to visit the Casbah with a friend of my friends in Algiers, who was born in the Casbah and still lives there. She was a great guide! I wouldn’t advice visiting the Casbah without someone to guide you.
Our visit ended there that day, but if you follow the buildings by the seaside...
... you’ll reach one of the most famous buildings of Algiers, ‘la Grande Poste’ (the Great Post office). One of the things on my list for my next visit is to go inside! It is very beautiful and well worth a visit. When she spoke about her childhood in Algiers, my mother often recalled how ‘la Grande Poste’ had been painted with camouflage paintings during WWII because it was so white it could be seen from far away and might have been bombarded.
My mother and grandmother lived in the heart of French Algiers, rue Michelet (now rue Didouche Mourad, but according to my friends most people still call it ‘rue Michelet’). My hotel was just round the corner from rue Michelet, and I went for a walk to take some pictures before I left for the airport this morning... It was an emotional time for me... but I will definitely go back!
My friends in Algiers said if I had known the precise address where my mother lived, they would have come with me to knock on the door of the apartment, so that I could have a look at it. I read that many ‘pieds noirs’ coming back to Algiers to see where they used to live received a warm welcome. “We always knew you would come back one day, so we kept this box full of your pictures for you”, said the current owner of one of the apartments, who was still living in the French family’s pieces of furniture. (My mother didn’t leave in a hurry, as she left before the war as such started... But still, isn’t it amazing?)
I also received a warm welcome everywhere I went (and not only from my friends, who took me to various places in Northern Algeria as you’ll see in my next couple of blogs, and were just wonderful!)... I hadn’t been too sure what kind of welcome to expect from people I didn’t know, given the bloody war that opposed the French and the Algerians until the independence in 1962. I shouldn’t have been worried.
Please understand I am not saying all is well in Algeria and it is the safest place on earth. I am just saying I had been very scared to go (mostly because of my family’s history and all the emotions that were coming back as my trip was approaching), and I was wrong to expect to be faced with resentment.
As I walked up rue Michelet, I saw the door to one of the buildings was open... I was glad as I could have a look, it was so beautiful!
On rue Michelet also there were many architectural details to look at... very different from the Casbah, but interesting nonetheless!
As I am sure you understood, this trip to Algeria was very special to me... I look forward to sharing more about my trip in the next few days! Thank you so much for reading! I have missed you all and will do my best to interact with many of you this week (until I leave for meetings in England on Thursday). Have a beautiful week!
If you want to read more about my trip to Algeria...
Kabylie - Algeria Part 2:
Tipaza - Algeria Part 3: