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CHAPTER VI I.
The Dey's palace-Executions—Moorish houses—Their Analogy to Syrian-The British Consul
--Political Agents-A market-Public works—Cultivation-Colony of Del-Abreem- Plain of Metijinh-Intercourse with the Natives-Colonization-- Produce— Society-A Ball—The Opera-Visit to a Mosque-Religion-Moostapha Basha-Commerce—Peculation-Hospitals-Climate-InvalidsA shooting excursion-Game-Occupation by the French--Benefit conferred upon the country_Want of confidence-Achmet Bey-Expense of the SettlementExpedition of 1830—History of the Campaign-The naval attack-Comparison with Lord Exmouth's-Animosity towards the French--Position with regard to England-Concluding observations.
On the 25th we visited the Kassaubal, or Dey's palace, which stands at the upper western extremity of the town. It is the highest spot in Algiers, and was fortified as well toward the town as the outworks, and could have been advantageously used towards quelling any sudden insurrection within the city. It was his last retreat before the French entered; and here were signed the terms of the capitulation, of which the British consul was the mediator. This is now turned into a barrack, and most of the public offices in its vicinity form wine-shops. It is a large pile of building, with a court in the centre, surrounded by a colonnade : in this the exhibitions of wild beasts and the great wrestling matches took place before the Dey and his suite. It is stated that in one of these fetes, the prowess of an athlete so captivated the daughter of the reigning Dey, that she demanded him of her father in marriage ;-her modest request was complied with, and he was forthwith raised to one of the highest offices in the state! The presence-chamber was a little square wooden box, projecting from one of the galleries ; and the hall of waiting for the European consuls was a most miserable hole, not larger than a dog-kennel. It was here the janizaries met to elect the Dey.
On our return, in passing through one of the steep narrow archways, we were pointed out the spot to which unfortunate
victims were hurried to be strangled. It has dungeons ranged on either side, and is now used as a civil prison. The executioner, a most cut-throat looking rascal of a Moor, is still retained in office; we were informed that he was the greatest adept at the garotte or the bowstring in Algiers ; and, far from disliking to be questioned on the subject, he appeared to relish it of all things, and explained, in a most scientific manner, the mode of adjusting the rope, and imitated the struggles of the unfortunate criminals with horrid satisfaction. It was on this very spot that no less than seven Deys—a whole week of them—were once strangled between sunrise and sunset; and their white marabutts, or tombs, are still to be seen outside the wall, near the Bab-el-Ouetta gate. With such an example before his eyes, it is a wonder they got an eighth to fill the Dailik; but it did not always depend on the will of the individual, who was chosen by his fellow janizaries, and who was often carried from his huxter's-shop to the throne. The last Dey was not only the longest in office ever known, but the second who is recorded to have died a natural death. Another dreadful punishment here in former times was, that of Ainging the unfortunate criminal down a slanting wall, from which projected hooks, which, penetrating his body, retained him thus in agony till released by death,
Although the houses appear so mean and prison-like externally, within, they are constructed with great beauty, elegance, and adaptation to this warm country. The outer door, which is generally very plain, though of great strength, leads into a small square hall or reception-chamber, made more gloomy by being completely lined with dark blue tile. This apartment is generally occupied by servants, and, except on very urgent business, farther than this a visitor is seldom allowed. The interior presents a square area or court, with a marble pavement–in the centre of some played a fountain, the spray of which rising high, and caught in alabaster vases, gave a grateful coolness to the whole. This court is surrounded by a piazza, supported by twisted columns of snow-white Italian marble, the arches of which are of the true Saracenic, forming nearly two-thirds of a circle. Colonnades of a similar description rise to two, and sometimes to three stories, having handsome balustrades protecting each of the galleries, the fronts of which are ornamented in mosaics of coloured tiles. All the windows and doors of the
houses look into the court. The rooms are long and narrow, richly carpeted, and surrounded by a deewan, or sofa, on which are placed cushions of the most costly velvets; and the walls and ceilings are beautifully ornamented in stucco. The domestics inhabit the lower story, while the upper is allotted to the master and the hareem. On top, the roof is flat, and protected on both sides by a parapet about breast-high, that looks towards the court. As the city is built on a hill, most of those house-tops not only enjoy a view of those around them, but have a charming prospect of the bay, the shipping, and the lovely villas in the neighbourhood of the town. The arrangement of the house was like that of the ancient Romans, and the present style of architecture in Spain was, no doubt, left by the Moors. The twisted pillar seems to be peculiarly Saracenic; some are double and united, having the twist or roping in opposite directions ; the capital, a corruption of the Ionic, is long and taper, having a bunch of grapes or flowers hanging from the volute, and a leaf of the acanthus rising on either side from the module on which it stands. During the heat of summer there is an awning over the open space at top; this shuts up like an umbrella, or is drawn across from the inner parapet wall. The learned Dr. Shaw conceives that it was from coverings of this kind arose the expression of the psalmist and the prophet Isaiah, of “spreading out the heavens like a curtain.”—Ps. civ. 2; Is. xl. 22. And as this was, in all probability, the description of house used in Judea during the days of our Saviour, and not the present dome-roofed house which the constant warfare of that country has made necessary, in all likelihood it was the removing of such light covering as this that is spoken of in the Gospels, when the people uncovered the house to let down the paralytic.
The residence of the British consul-general is a good specimen of a Moorish house, and many will be the opportunities afforded to the traveller at Algiers of visiting its hospitable interior. I feel that in saying this much I shall but echo the sentiments of my countrymen, when speaking of Mr. St. John and his family. Independent of his character, as an educated English gentleman, much of his attention to strangers is, no doubt, owing to his being one of the few of our consuls who are not engaged in traffic, or bound up with the commercial interests of the country in which they reside. The merchant, who is engaged by ties of pecuniary
interest towards the natives, or perhaps with the government of the station he resides at, cannot have the same feelings towards the country he represents. Were it otherwise, and that our viceconsuls and political agents received an adequate compensation for their services, it would add much to the efficiency and respectability of the office; masters of traders would not have so many causes of complaint of a thousand unnecessary delays and exactions practised on them, especially throughout the Mediterranean; and the dignity of the British flag would be better preserved.
Nothing can exceed the incongruous mixture of nations, tongues, people, and costumes, that Algiers at this moment presents. Turks, Moors, and Kolooglies, Arabs, Bedawees and Kabyles, Jews and Negroes, of the former inhabitants, are here all huddled together with French, Spaniards, Germans, Italians, Maltese, Mahonese, Poles, and Genoese. The colour and expression of the different countenances vary from the fair French or German, to the tawny Bedawee or Kabyle, or the shining black of Timbuctoo. Perhaps no two nations more opposite in character could have come in contact with each other than the gay, volatile Frenchman, and the grave, phlegmatic, taciturn Turk—the contrast reminds one of a monkey riding on a bear.
I have always made it a rule to visit the markets early in the morning. Independent of the productions of the country there exhibited, they show more of the life and character of a nation than any other place I am acquainted with. The daily market of Algiers is held in the Grand Place, and presents a group of motley figures perhaps unequalled; with the various wares exposed for sale—the eternal jabbering of negresses and monkeys—the eloquence of two-penny showmen-Genoese boys grinding hurdygurdies--toy bazaars—gaming tables—mingled with French soldiers, swarthy Arabs, scowling Bedawees, dirty Kabyles, and Jewish shoe-blacks—through all which the Moor stalks with the utmost gravity and contempt.
Fish are in great quantity, and fruit and game plenty at present. The vegetables are some of the finest I ever saw; the cauliflowers of a size that would not be credited by our English gardeners, and the oranges of Bleda are, I believe, the largest any where to be found.
Steamers go twice a week to Marseilles, and London news can be had on the sixth day.
On the 24th we rode ont to the settlement of Del-Abreem, or
COLONY OF DEL-ABREEM.
Deli Ibrahim, the locality of the principal attempt made at colonization by the French. Some of the roads about Algiers are admirably constructed, particularly those leading towards Dowera and Boufaric; they are made on the English plan of Macadamization, and do great credit to their engineer, the late Col. le Merci, and are the only works of permanent utility made throughout the country by the French, since their arrival seven years ago.
Our track lay through a fine open country beyond the immediate vicinity of the town, which is hilly and intersected by deep valleys and ravines. The soil is a rich dark loam ; but little, I may say nothing, has been yet done by improved cultivation to try its powers. The corn is now tolerably well up, but speaks little for its mode of culture, as the plough still in use is the original rude implement of the Arab, being a simple beam, and a coulter attached to a cross-stick, which is tied to the beam—the same, in fact, as that used in Galicia. The consequence is, that the subsoil, often the most valuable, is never turned up. So much might be effected by clearing, draining, and all the modern improvements in agriculture, that I have no doubt it could be made as productive as any land in England. The only perfect meadows I saw since leaving home were in this day's ride. The French are neither an agricultural nor a commercial people; and the few cultivators here are Spaniards from Majorca and Minorca, and some Maltese. In other hands, what a splendid country it could now be made, with English capital, Scotch overseers, and Irish labourers !
This small colony of Del-Abreem was not in a very flourishing condition; the few wooden houses were in the most wretched state, the roofs decayed, and the surrounding palings broken down. It was under the protection of a strong garrison of 1500 Swauves and Spahees, and two forts, on each of which were mounted three field-pieces. With all this, a band of Arab cavalry, belonging to Abd-el-Kadir,* the renowned prince of Maskara, made a descent from the mountains, not twelve months ago, rushed in during the broad daylight, and carried off the greater part of the colonists ; and this, within five miles of the walls of Algiers !!
Within view of this village is the range of block-houses forming
* For an interesting sketch of this remarkable man's career, see Dublin University Magazine for June, 1843.