19 December 2015

Five or six-story French colonial buildings dominate the city.
Here is a shot of the Algiers waterfront.

The easily scared US State Dept. says to avoid Algeria. More precise advice from the British Foreign Office says it's fine to visit as long as you avoid the border areas (colored red on its map) where some chaos spills over from neighbors.

Algeria’s civil war with Islamic militants in the 1990s had more or less ended by 2000 and, so far, the autocratic president has maintained a high level of security. Anyway, people here have been friendly and welcoming. And the Algiers area where I have focused is fascinating.

Top: A cell phone company was playing loud pop music in a downtown square. This prompted uninhibited young men to take turns dancing on a nearby platform as onlookers recorded the ad hoc show.
Bottom: Crowds in the street market.
So much continuity in color, height, and style of the French colonial architecture, once whitewashed long ago, throughout the miles of the city center (uninterrupted by jarring modern styles) gave Algiers a nicely unified, slightly faded but pleasant, shabby chic air.

With two talkative students at the Memorial du Martyr (dedicated
to those who fought for Algerian independence from France).

The big, beautiful Le Jardin d'Essai du Hamma, a large, lush park
filled with plants brought from around the French colonial empire
― and filled with crowds of people enjoying the crisp, sunny weather on their day off.
Photo taken from the balcony of the Le Musee National Des Beaux Arts.

The first metro is less than a year old and not yet at all crowded.

After the exodus of a million French settlers in the 1960s,
some Catholic churches became mosques.
Two notable ones that are still active:
Top left: The strange Cathedrale du Sacre Coeur,
a huge concrete silo that is more appealing inside than out.
Top right: The elegant Notre Dame d'Afrique,
perched high on a cliff overlooking the Bay of Algiers.
Bottom: Featured in the apse is the inscription,
"Our Lady of Africa, pray for us and for the Muslims."

A smart law student (uncommonly fluent in English) who gave me a tour around the Hassan Pacha Palace in the Kasbah; a boy walking his younger brother home in the Kasbah.

The Kasbah in Algiers is the classic Arab old town with narrow, winding lanes. This one has not been polished and gentrified for the few tourists and is in varying states of decay.

A few Ottoman palaces in the Kasbah have been restored,
such as Hassan Pacha Palace shown here.

A ship floating midair above the misty Mediterranean.

A smooth, super-highway day trip west of Algiers is Tipasa (or Tipaza), site of another of those many astonishing Roman cities that ring the Mediterranean. A mild, sunny day offered the perfect setting for a leisurely exploration around the ruins with a brilliant guide.

Tipasa lacks the large, striking (often rebuilt) ruins found in places such as Leptis Magna (Libya), Jerash (Jordan), and Ephesus (Turkey) but it's an attractive archaeological and historical venue nonetheless.

Algeria has been surprising ― far more affluent and developed (I'd forgotten about its oil revenues) than I expected. And, despite decades of the official policy (post-independence) of "arabization," Algeria is still far more "French" in language, cuisine, and culture than I expected.

Except for a young Italian woman visiting Notre Dame d'Afrique, I saw and heard no other identifiable North American or European at any museum or other tourist site. That's fine and I enjoy being the novelty. But the dearth was surprising.

While not as outgoing and effusive as Egyptians, all Algerians I encountered were quite polite and welcoming, friendly in a slightly reserved way (perhaps the French influence).

Glad I finally made it to the largest country in Africa and hope to return, remembering that prayer appeal in Notre Dame d'Afrique.