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Algiers, Algeria

Travel enthusiast Maciej Mońka
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Algiers (Fr. Alger, Arab. الجزائر El-Jezair, i.e. The Islands), is the capital and largest city of Algeria, North Africa. It is situated on the west side of a bay of the Mediterranean Sea, to which it gives its name, in 36 deg. 47' N., 3 deg. 4' E., and is built on the slopes of the Sahel, a chain of hills parallel to the coast. The city consists of two parts; the modern part, built on the level ground by the seashore, and the ancient city of the deys, which climbs the steep hill behind the modern town and is crowned by the casbah or citadel, 400 ft. above the sea. The casbah forms the apex of a triangle of which the quays form the base. There are many public buildings of interest, including the entire casbah quarter, Martyrs Square (Sahat ech-Chouhada ساحة الشهداء), the government offices (formerly the British consulate), the "Grand", "New", and Ketchaoua Mosques, the Roman Catholic cathedral of Notre Dame d'Afrique, the Bardo Museum (a former Turkish mansion), the old Bibliotheque Nationale d'Alger -- aTurkish palace built in 1799-1800 - and the new National Library, built in a style reminiscent of the British Library. The main building in the casbah was begun in 1516 on the site of an older building, and served as the palace of the deys until the French conquest. A road has been cut through the centre of the building, the mosque turned into barracks, and the hall of audience allowed to fall into ruin. There still remain a minaret and some marble arches and columns. Traces exist of the vaults in which were stored the treasures of the dey. The Grand Mosque (Jamaa-el-Kebir الجامع الكبير) is traditionally said to be the oldest mosque in Algiers. The pulpit (minbar منبر) bears an inscription showing that the building existed in 1018. The minaret was built by Abu Tachfin, sultan of Tlemcen, in 1324. The interior of the mosque is square and is divided into aisles by columns joined by Moorish arches. The New Mosque (Jamaa-el-Jedid الجامع الجديد), dating from the 17th century, is in the form of a Greek cross, surmounted by a large white cupola, with four small cupolas at the corners. The minaret is 90 ft. high. The interior resembles that of the Grand Mosque. The church of the Holy Trinity (built in 1870) stands at the southern end of the rue d'Isly near the site of the demolished Fort Bab Azoun باب عزون. The interior is richly decorated with various coloured marbles. Many of these marbles contain memorial inscriptions relating to the English residents (voluntary and involuntary) of Algiers from the time of John Tipton, British consul in 1580. One tablet records that in 1631 two Algerine pirate crews landed in Ireland, sacked Baltimore, and carried off its inhabitants to slavery; another recalls the romantic escape of Ida M`Donnell, daughter of Admiral Ulric, consul-general of Denmark, and wife of the British consul. When Lord Exmouth was about to bombard the city in 1816, the British consul was thrown into prison and loaded with chains. Mrs. M`Donnell -- who was but sixteen -- escaped to the British fleet disguised as a midshipman, carrying a basket of vegetables in which her baby was hidden. (Mrs. M`Donnell subsequently married the duc de Talleyrand-Perigord and died at Florence in 1880). Among later residents commemorated is Edward Lloyd, who was the first person to show the value of esparto grass for the manufacture of paper, and thus started an industry which is one of the most important in Algeria. The Ketchaoua mosque (Djamaa Ketchaoua جامع كتشاوة), at the foot of the Casbah, was before independence in 1962 the cathedral of St Philippe, itself made in 1845 from a mosque dating from 1612. The principal entrance, reached by a flight of 23 steps, is ornamented with a portico supported by four black-veined marble columns. The roof of the nave is of Moorish plaster work. It rests on a series of arcades supported by white marble columns. Several of these columns belonged to the original mosque. In one of the chapels was a tomb containing the bones of San Geronimo. The building seems a curious blend of Moorish and Byzantine styles. Algiers possesses a college with schools of law, medicine, science and letters. The college buildings are large and handsome. The Bardo museum holds some of the ancient sculptures and mosaics discovered in Algeria, together with medals and Algerian money. The port of Algiers is sheltered from all winds. There are two harbours, both artificial -- the old or northern harbour and the southern or Agha harbour. The northern harbour covers an area of 235 acres. An opening in the south jetty affords an entrance into Agha harbour, constructed in Agha Bay. Agha harbour has also an independent entrance on its southern side. The inner harbour was begun in 1518 by Khair-ad-Din Barbarossa (see History, below), who, to accommodate his pirate vessels, caused the island on which was Fort Penon to be connected with the mainland by a mole. The lighthouse which occupies the site of Fort Penon was built in 1544. Algiers was a walled city from the time of the deys until the close of the 19th century. The French, after their occupation of the city (1830), built a rampart, parapet and ditch, with two terminal forts, Bab Azoun باب عزون to the south and Bab-el-Oued باب الواد to the north. The forts and part of the ramparts were demolished at the beginning of the 20th century, when a line of forts occupying the heights of Bouzareah بوزريعة (at an elevation of 1300 ft. above the sea) took their place. Notre-Dame d'Afrique, a church built (1858-1872) in a mixture of the Roman and Byzantine styles, is conspicuously situated, overlooking the sea, on the shoulder of the Bouzareah hills, 2 m. to the north of the city. Above the altar is a statue of the Virgin depicted as a black woman. The church also contains a solid silver statue of the archangel Michael, belonging to the confraternity of Neapolitan fishermen.

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