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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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(Fr. Alger, Arab. Jezair, i.e. The Islands), capital and largest city of Algeria, North Africa, seat of the governorgeneral, of a court of appeal, and of an archbishop, and station of the French XIX. corps d'armee. It is situated on the west side of a bay of the Mediterranean, to which it gives its name, in 36° 47' N., 3° 4' E., and is built on the slopes of the Sahel, a chain of hills parallel to the coast. The view of the city from the sea is one of great beauty. Seen from a distance it appears like a succession of dazzling white terraces rising from the water's edge. The houses being seemingly embowered in the luxuriant verdure of the Sahel, the effect is imposing and picturesque, and has given rise to the Arab comparison of the town to a diamond set in an emerald frame. The city consists of two parts; the modern French town, 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 kasbah or citadel, 400 ft. above the sea. The kasbah forms the apex of a triangle of which the quays form the base.

Extending along the front of the town is the boulevard de la Republique, a fine road built by Sir Morton Peto on a series of arches, with a frontage of 3700 ft., and bordered on one side by handsome buildings, whilst a wide promenade overlooking the harbour runs along the other. Two inclined roads lead from the centre of the boulevard to the quay 40 ft. below. On the quay are the landing-stages, the custom-house and the railway station. At the southern end of the boulevard de la Republique is the square de la Republique, formerly the place Bresson, in which is the municipal theatre; at the other extremity of the boulevard is the place du Gouvernement, which is planted on three sides with a double row of plane trees and is the fashionable resort for evening promenade. The principal streets of the city meet in the place du Gouvernement: the rue Bab Azoun (Gate of Grief) which runs parallel to the boulevard de la Republique; the rue Bab-el-Oued (River Gate) which goes north to the site of the old arsenal demolished in 'goo; the rue de la Marine which leads to the ancient harbour, and in which are the two principal mosques. A large part of the modern town lies south of the square de la Republique; in this quarter are the law courts, hotel de ville, post office and other public buildings. The streets in the modern town are regularly laid out; several are arcaded on both sides.

The old town presents a strong contrast to the new town. The streets are narrow, tortuous and inaccessible to carriages. They often end in a cul-de-sac. The principal street is the rue de la Kasbah, which leads up to the citadel by 497 steps. The streets are joined by alleys just wide enough to pass through. The houses, built of stone and whitewashed, are square, substantial, flat-topped buildings, presenting to the street bare walls, with a few slits protected by iron gratings in place of windows. Each house has a quadrangle in the centre, into which it looks, and which is entered by a low, narrow doorway. Shops in the native quarter are simply chambers in the walls of the houses, and open at the front. In these shops the few Moorish industries are carried on, such as embroidery in gold and silver thread, the making of kid slippers of every kind and colour, the manufacture of gold and silver ornaments. To European eyes the native city, with its motley throng of Moors, Arabs, Jews and negroes, is the most interesting sight in Algiers. Various squareslare set apart for markets, and here are to be witnessed scenes of the greatest animation.

The public buildings of chief interest are the kasbah, the government offices (formerly the British consulate), the palaces of the governor-general and the archbishop - all these are fine Moorish houses; the "Grand" and the "New" Mosques, the Roman Catholic cathedral of St Philippe, the church of the Holy Trinity (Church of England), and the Bibliotheque Nationale d'Alger - a Turkish palace built in 1799-1800. The kasbah 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) is traditionally said to be the oldest mosque in Algiers. The pulpit (mimbar) 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 principal facade, in the rue de la Marine, consists of a row of white marble columns supporting an arcade. The New Mosque (Jamaa-el-Jedid), 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. 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, consulgeneral 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 cathedral of St Philippe, built on the site of a mosque, is in the place Malakoff, next to the governor-general's palace. In its construction an attempt has been made to produce a building suitable for Christian worship whilst the architecture is Moorish in style. 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 former mosque. In one of the chapels is a tomb containing the bones of San Geronimo. The finding of the remains of the saint in 18J3 afforded striking confirmation of an incident recorded by a Spanish Benedictine named Haedo, who published a topography of Algeria in 1612. Haedo sets forth that a young Arab who had embraced Christianity and had been baptized with the name of Geronimo was captured by a Moorish corsair in 1569 and taken to Algiers. The Arabs endeavoured to induce Geronimo to renounce Christianity, but as he steadfastly refused to do so he was condemned to death. Bound hand and foot he was thrown alive into a mould in which a block of concrete was about to be made. The block containing his body was built into an angle of the Fort of the Twenty-four Hours, then under construction. In 1853 the Fort of the Twenty-four Hours was demolished, and in the angle specified by Haedo the skeleton of Geronimo was found. The bones were interred at St Philippe. Into the mould left by the saint's body liquid plaster of Paris was run, and a perfect model obtained, showing the features of the youth, the cords which bound him, and even the texture of his clothing. This model is now in the museum at Mustapha (see below).

Algiers possesses a college with schools of law, medicine, science and letters. The college buildings are large and handsome. There is also a lycee in which the instruction is similar to that given in France, and in which Christians, Jews and Mahommedans are educated together. The museum (a state institution), formerly housed in the same building as the library, was transferred in 1897 to a new building in the suburb of Mustapha Superieur. In the museum are some of the ancient sculptures and mosaics discovered in Algeria, together with medals and Algerian money. New buildings, to contain specimens of Moslem art, were added in 1903.

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. The depth at the entrance is 72 to 108 ft., and in port from 36 to 66 ft. Two government dry docks are available for merchant vessels. The quays cover 18,000 sq. yds. There are three jetties, north, east and south. Within this harbour is the small harbour of the deys, now transformed into a wet dock. An opening in the south jetty affords an entrance into Agha harbour, constructed in Agha Bay. This Barbour is formed by the projection of a mole, 2500 ft. in length, from the eastern jetty of the old, harbour. It provides extensive quayage with a minimum depth of water of 28 ft. Agha harbour has also an independent entrance on its southern side. Algiers is the chief coaling station in the Mediterranean, having become so largely at the expense of Gibraltar. In other respects the trade resembles that of other Algerian ports. (For trade statistics see Algeria.) The inner harbour was begun in 1518 by Khair-edDin (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. Work on the northern harbour was begun in 1836, on the southern in 1904. Algiers maintains communication with Marseilles by a quick service of steamers, which run the 497 miles across the Mediterranean in twenty-eight to thirty hours. The journey between Algiers and Paris, from which it is distant 1031 miles, is accomplished in about forty-five hours.

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 to the south and Bab-el-Oued to the north. The forts and part of the ramparts were demolished at the beginning of the 10th century, when a line of forts occupying the heights of Bu Zarea (at an elevation of 1300 ft. above the sea) took their place.

Owing to the mildness of its climate Algiers has become a favourite resort for those seeking to escape the rigours of a European winter. The city is well supplied with water and its sanitary state is good. The mistral of the Riviera is entirely absent from Algiers, but in summer the city occasionally suffers from the sirocco or desert wind. The environs of Algiers are noted for their beauty and healthiness. Of the suburbs the most picturesque is Mustapha Superieur, about m. from the centre of the city on the slopes of the hills to the south. Here are the summer palace of the governor-general, many fine Moorish and French villas and luxurious hotels, all surrounded by beautiful gardens. A numerous British colony resides at Mustapha, where there is an English club. Mustapha Inferieur is built on the lower slopes of the hills. Farther to the south is the large Jardin d'Essai, containing five avenues of palms, planes, bamboos and magnolias. 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 Bu Zarea hills, 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. Beyond Notre-Dame d'Afrique is the beautiful Valley of the Consuls, very little changed since the time of the deys. (The valley was in those days the favourite residence of the consuls.) At the Petit Seminaire, on the site of the old French consulate, Cardinal Lavigerie died (1892).

In 1906 the population of the commune of Algiers was 154,049; the population municipale, which excludes the garrison, prisoners, &c., was 145,280. Of this total 138,240 were living in the city proper or in Mustapha. Of the inhabitants 105,908 were Europeans. French residents numbered 50,996, naturalized Frenchmen Spaniards 12,354, Italians 7368, Maltese 865, and other Europeans (chiefly British and Germans) 1652, besides 12,490 Jews. The remainder of the population - all Mahommedans - are Moors, Arabs, Berbers, Negroes, with a few Turks. The vast majority of the Europeans are Roman Catholics. Most of the naturalized French citizens are of Spanish or Italian origin.


In Roman times a small town called Icosium existed on what is now the marine quarter of the city. The rue de la Marine follows the lines of a Roman street. Roman cemeteries existed near the rues Bab-el-Oued and Bab Azoun. Bishops of Icosium - which was created a Latin city by Vespasian - are mentioned as late as the 5th century. The present city was founded in 944 by Bulukkin b. Zeiri, the founder of the Zeirid-Sanhaja dynasty, which was overthrown by Roger II. of Sicily in 1148 (see FATIMITES). The Zeirids had before that date lost Algiers, which in 1159 was occupied by the Almohades, and in the 13th century came under the dominion of the Abd-elWahid, sultans of Tlemcen. Nominally part of the sultanate of Tlemcen, Algiers had a large measure of independence under amirs of its own, Oran being the chief seaport of the Abd-elWahid. The islet in front of the harbour, subsequently known as the Penon, had been occupied by the Spaniards as early as 1302. Thereafter a considerable trade grew up between Algiers and Spain. Algiers, however, continued of comparatively little importance until after the expulsion from Spain of the Moors, many of whom sought an asylum in the city. In 1510, following their occupation of Oran and other towns on the coast of Africa, the Spaniards fortified the Penon. In 1516 the amir of Algiers, Selim b. Teumi, invited the brothers Arouj and Khair-ed-Din (Barbarossa) to expel the Spaniards. Arouj came to Algiers, caused Selim to be assassinated, and seized the town. Khaired-Din, succeeding Arouj, drove the Spaniards from the Penon (1530) and was the founder of the pashalik, afterwards deylik, of Algeria. Algiers from this time became the chief seat of the Barbary pirates. In October 1541 the emperor Charles V. sought to capture the city, but a storm destroyed a great number of his ships, and his army of some 30,000, chiefly Spaniards, was defeated by the Algerians under their pasha, Hassan. Repeated attempts were made by various European nations to subdue the pirates, and in 1816 the city was bombarded by a British squadron under Lord Exmouth, assisted by Dutch men-of-war, and the corsair fleet burned. The piracy of the Algerians was renewed and continued until 1830. On the 4th of July in that year a French army under General de Bourmont attacked the city, which capitulated on the following day (see ALGERIA, History).

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Algiers'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica.​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​a/algiers.html. 1910.