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Algiers - Algeria Part 1

Sunday, May 19, 2013

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 left in 1950.

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 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.

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:
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    emoticon emoticon emoticon for sharing! emoticon
    973 days ago
  • PHOENIX1949
    emoticon emoticon
    974 days ago
    1033 days ago
    Perlette, I understand how much you would like to be able to see the building of your parents' shop... Here is a website I found useful and which lists most of the shops on rue Michelet before the independance:
    I hope you can find the shoe shop of your parents there. Then once you know the address it will be easier to find it on Google Earth.
    All the best to you!
    1817 days ago
    Merci Claire!! Thank you for the memories. I was born in ALGER in 1940 and then was raised in Paris. I'm trying to get some help. My family had a shoe store on Rue Michelet not far from La Grande Poste. However I don't remember the address and trying to see it on Google Earth. Can You , or any of your readers, help me? I assume by your headline you live in Paris? I lived at 120 Blvd Voltaire and how I miss it! Mon nom--Perlette emoticon emoticon
    1817 days ago
    lovely place Algeria is, my mother did her DNA and she is part North African so I can relate to learning and knowing your history~
    1821 days ago
    How wonderful that they welcomed you! I too remember that "come with me to the casbah" line - and if I go, I'll be sure to take a guide! The tiles, the architectural details - it's so beautiful. And imagining someone saving keepsakes for a family that might return...I choke up just thinking about it. I don't think my family will ever be able to go back to Zimbabwe...
    Attending one of the evangelical worship services there would be so interesting. I'd like to go to a Mass there as well...
    Thanks for sharing - I'm catching up, on to the next two blogs...
    1822 days ago
  • KAREN91
    Claire, I never realized how beautiful Algeria is before looking at your blog. It must have been special to visit there after hearing your mothers memories of it years before. It was exciting to see the Casbah for a strange reason. When I was a child cartoon characters always said to each other in a humorous way "come with me to the casbah". My friends and I would repeat that to each other having no clue that there was a real casbah. When I was grown up I knew there was a casbah but had no idea what it looked like until now. emoticon
    1825 days ago
    I'm glad that you were able to go back home dear.
    1826 days ago
    Well.. just imagining what you probably felt when visiting your mom's land made me cry... I so wish I could give you a hug right now...
    What stunning pictures... what sentiment!
    Love ya'...
    1826 days ago
    I'm so glad I found your Algiers blog, Claire! How very special for you. I hope you do get to go back soon armed with your mother's old address. That would be such fun for you. And thanks so much for the peek into the Casbah. What a storied area. And yes, the architectural detail is fascinating.
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    1827 days ago
    Claire I am so happy that you got to go and visit this AMAZING place. These photos are breathtakingly beautiful! The architecture is just STUNNING. How special this trip must have been for you.


    1827 days ago
    all so very pretty, glad you had friends with you as you were going through all the "stuff" inside..
    1827 days ago
  • RAMONA1954
    Thank you for taking us with you on this very emotional journey. Such beauty. I had no idea at all about Algeria, it has just been a name and place on a map until now. Thank you for sharing these wonderful sites with us. Safe travels.
    1828 days ago
    LISALGB: Indeed, the tiles are handmade. Some of them are over 400 years old.
    1828 days ago
    Such a beautiful place. I had no idea it was lovely there. I am in awe of the tiles. I'm sure they are handmade/hand painted.
    You are so blessed to travel to such wonderful places.
    1828 days ago
    It is amazing. What a remarkable saga. Thank you so much!
    1829 days ago
    Wow !!

    My cousin's partner is a pieds-noirs, they always say that to him for fun.

    Is your mother still alive that you could share the photos with her?
    1829 days ago

    Comment edited on: 5/24/2013 5:54:36 PM
    Your pictures are spectacular, Claire, especially the tilework and architectural details of the buildings. It's such a shame that the buildings in the Casbah are being allowed to deteriorate, but the area where your family lived is still very beautiful. And isn't it amazing how similar markets (and people working in them) are, no matter what country you are visiting?

    The strongest feelings that your blog inspire, though, are the thoughts about Algiers being where your mother grew up, and where your grandmother lived until the war forced them to move. Did your mother talk a lot about her life there? And did your grandmother perhaps live with you after your parents were married? I hope that you can somehow find out exactly where your mother's family lived, and perhaps visit it someday.

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful trip with us,
    Hugs, Gail
    1831 days ago
    Thank you for sharing your trip and pictures with us. I love to travel and you just gave me the opportunity to see a place that I may never have the opportunity to visit.
    1831 days ago
    I'm very happy that you were able to visit Algiers and that you let us accompany you. The photographs were beautiful. I especially love the ceramic tile decoration on the buildings. You are so right about not going to the Casbah without a guide. I visited the Casbah in Tangiers and if I had not had a guide I would probably still be wandering around trying to find my way out! It is the very definition of a labyrinth.
    1831 days ago
  • JACKIE542
    Loved al the building all the architectural details are amazing. I am glad you got to go back and see where your mother and grandmother lived and be where they were. So interesting to think you could go to where you use to live and they may still have some of your belongings.
    Thank you Claire for sharing, must have been very emotional for you. emoticon
    1832 days ago
    It sounded like you went home to where a piece of your heart is, even though you'd never been there before...
    1832 days ago
    What a lovely city, and a wonderful story. I am so glad you were able to visit, and I thank you for posting the photos. Absolutely beautiful!
    1833 days ago
    Dear Claire, I am so pleased you had the opportunity to go to "the land of your birth" if you will. I do hope you take another opportunity and with friends in tow will be able to go to the home where your mother and grandmother lived. I believe we have a beautiful sculpture outside the Algerian Embassy here in Ottawa. I was going to stop and take a picture of it with my phone the other day and decided to continue on with my drive. If I have my camera with me I will make it a point to take a picture of the sculpture for you. Nan
    1833 days ago
    Que de souvenirs pour votre famille.. Oui, le départ a dû êre vraiment très dur. Je n'avais pas réalisé la beauté de l'architecture de la vieille ville. Excellentes et émouvantges photos. Merci Claire!
    1833 days ago
  • BAKER1009
    emoticon pictures Claire, thanks for sharing!! Love the food pictures (market)!
    1833 days ago
  • MILLIE5522
    Absolutely stunning. I feel so lucky to experience Algiers through your eyes. emoticon
    1833 days ago
  • JUNEAU2010
    My eyes are stinging with tears! Your blog resonates deep in my heart and I am not sure why. The pictures are gorgeous! I would love to see Algiers! How fantastic!

    If I ever get to visit places that my antecedents came from (Norway, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, etc), I will have a similar emotional experience!

    Thank you for sharing, for taking us on your trip!
    1833 days ago
    Claire, I am so very glad that your trip to Algiers went so well. The pictures that you posted are so beautiful. These really allowed us to see Algiers with you. Such a beautiful country, very exotic! Take care and enjoy your trip to England! emoticon

    1833 days ago
    Sometimes as Americans we forget other people in other countries have family members who came to our country from other countries. I'm glad you went where your mother and grandmother lived and experienced the wonders of Algiers. Looked like a fantastic trip and glad you had such a great experience. It is also eye opening to find there are other types of blackfeet. I live near Blackfoot, Idaho and Blackfoot was one of the Native American Groups who lived in the area.
    1833 days ago
    Wow Claire thanks for taking us with you on your journey to Algiers. What a beautiful city. I really enjoyed the architectural details, and the history of the city. I did not realize it was the "White City", and it is so lovely with the white buildings and the colorful tiles. Great blog, and great photos! Thank you for sharing.

    1833 days ago
    I really didn't know that Algeria was so beautiful! Thank you for sharing this with us.
    1833 days ago
    Trop jolie! Merci pour nous avoir ammene avec toi!!
    1833 days ago
    Beautiful! Wonderful pictures.
    How emotional and exciting it must have been to go back to your roots, so to speak.
    Your blogs are amazing!
    1833 days ago
    Welcome home! I'm so glad to hear your trip went well. I have never seen pictures of Algeria, it has incredible beauty. The Basilica is quite lovely, and by looking at the sanctuary I see that they were still celebrating Easter too. Easter time just ended yesterday with the feast of Pentecost.

    You took such great pictures of the architectural beauties, the craftsman ship, the hours of labor on the door at the end and the lovely tiles everywhere brought color to the exterior of white buildings.

    Do you have memories of your grandmother talking about living there? I was wondering how she went there in the first place. Is a love story involved or a work arrangement? I have no memories of 3 of my grandparents- who died before I was born, or when I was very small, my maternal grandmother I knew fairly well.

    So glad to have you back!
    1833 days ago
  • LEW0213
    Thank you, Claire, for sharing your trip and your pictures with us. I am learning so much just reading your blogs. Gorgeous pictures!!

    Thanks again, I'm looking forward to your next blog, Linda
    1833 days ago
    Thank you for taking us on another one of your adventures! I love traveling the world through your eyes! What a beautiful place!
    1833 days ago
  • NAN041
    Claire, You outdid yourself..
    many thanks, Nan
    1833 days ago
    Thanks for taking me on a wonderful tour. I can just
    imagine the emotions you felt. I experienced the same
    when I first went back to Rhodes. I did knock on the door
    of the apartment where I was born and that was very
    emotional for me. I really enjoyed your pictures and the
    commentary. I now have a clearer picture of Algeria as
    all I remember is what I read in the papers about how
    unsafe it is etc. I am pleasantly surprised to see a beautiful
    city (Algiers). Loved the architecture and the Casbah looks
    like an amazing place. Looking forward to more of your travels.
    emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1833 days ago
    I love architecture; so I particularly enjoyed this blog. The exquisite tile work, the mustached man corbel, the arches - all fantastic.
    I'd be interested in why the French were called "pieds noirs".
    I also felt there is a story behind your story - living in Algeria must have been an incredible time in your family's history; and the subsequent potential violence and leaving must have permanently changed your family dynamic. You should write this story! Has this exodus had an influence on your chosen career?
    I look forward (as always) to your next blog, Claire.
    1833 days ago
    Beautiful photos of a beautiful place. I'm so glad you had such a good experience and that all your fears were unfounded. it is always difficult going back to your past. Am looking forward to the rest. I've never been to Algeria, but I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Morocco a few years ago.

    Thanks so much for sharing such an emotional time.
    1833 days ago
    First of all, I'm so glad you're back safe and sound! I was really worried knowing how much this trip had stressed you. But I now understand the emotional significance of it and the uncertainty involved.
    It looks like a beautiful place. And it's great that you got the chance to visit a place that is connected to your family history! I'm glad it proved to be such a nice experience for you. I'm looking forward to the next blogs.
    1834 days ago
    Claire, Ce blog est vraiment fantastique! Merci pour le partageant avec nous. Je suis très heureuse que tu as passé tel bon moment en Algerie.vraiment fantastique emoticon
    1834 days ago
    You must have a very interesting job so you can visit such exquisite places. Thanks for sharing! I had no idea about Algiers. emoticon emoticon
    1834 days ago
  • DR1939
    Beautiful. I love North Africa. The tile work is exquisite.
    1834 days ago
    Dear Claire - you are a wonderful writer and photographer. I am so happy to read your views of the world. Thank you for the vicarious travels around the world, so fun for me!
    1834 days ago
    beautiful pictures of Alger La Blanche thanks
    1834 days ago
    Thank you CLAIRE, I know the feeling of going back in time. It is exhilarating and sad at the same time. My grandmothers home was full of memories of being poor, loved and happy. To others it was just a row of brick house. No beauty to it but a lot od love inside the stark walls. I really enjoyed your writing and your message, as well as your photographs. Another fabulous blog . Thanks for sharing HUGS. emoticon emoticon BLOG emoticon emoticon
    1834 days ago
    I'm traveling.....with you...keep Sparkin'!!
    1834 days ago
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