Algeria – Oran’s Fort Of Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is the place to visit in Oran and the Wikipedia article gives plenty of background information.

santa-cruz.jpg

It’s possible to walk up the hill, but be prepared for steep paths and exposure to sun and wind. Alternatively, take a taxi. The price for going up, the driver waiting and getting you down again depends on the goodwill of the taxi driver and your negotiating skills. We paid the meter price (about 800 Dinar), but people have also paid much more than that.

Santa Cruz 2

Unless you’re heavily interested in Spanish military architecture, the fort itself is not that exciting because it’s mostly empty halls and yards these days.

One goes up there for the views (and possibly the picnic area). You can see all of Oran, the Lion Mountains and Canastel to the east, the big salt lake to the south and more hills and the military port to the west (not photos of the latter though – the military doesn’t take kindly to that).

When we were there the church was still under reconstruction, as is the cable car which might hopefully be running again … soon. Things take time in Algeria, but they get done eventually. So, here’s to our next visit, including l’église and le téléphérique!

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Algeria – Around Tlemcen

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my first trip to Tlemcen. Of course, my friends and I not only spent time in town, but explored some of its surroundings. So here’s a map to put things into context. We went along road N7 up to Ain Fezza and back and to the lake south of the city. The National Park in the southwest is at the top of my wish list.map Tlemcen Area

Scenic stop number one was at the apex of the hairpin on road N7. There’s a spring which is considered powerful for healing body and spirit. The place is nestled in what in ancient times seems to have been a waterfall. The cliffs are towering over a tiny hamlet which only seems to exist to regulate access to said spring. The exciting bit of architecture is formed by an enormous bridge constructed by Gustave Eiffel.

From there, we headed towards Ain Fezza, and then pretty much up the mountains whose cliffs we had just admired. It was freezing cold, but oh joy, there were raptors circling high up in the air!

So, after a picnic with sparrowhawk, Bonelli’s eagle and some local cats we descended down into the caves of Beni Aad. The whole cave system reaches as far as Morocco, but the part accessible for visitors is small. Nevertheless, you can walk around just on your own, take photos, shake your head about the morons who try to leave their signature in the dripstone, and best of all, spot the bats.caves of Beni Aad

Ascending from the fairly warm caves, we ventured into town, did some sightseeing there and then went up the southern hills again to the view-point of Lalla Setti. The views towards north and in the direction of the Med were impressive. Apparently, on a clear day it’s possible to see Spain.Tlemcen northwards

Our last port of call was the reservoir just south of Tlemcen. We stopped at some farmer’s stall to get some free-range eggs, butter and other locally produced food. Yummy! The lake itself was wonderfully quiet and home to some gulls and waders. The perfect place to finish off our tour.

Algeria – A visit to Tlemcen

Recently, we had friends over from Germany and we decided to spend a day in Tlemcen, a city close to the Moroccan border. It’s steeped in history and there’s plenty to do and see. One day is not enough to explore everything, but we got a really good impression – also thanks to a colleague who acted as our local guide.

One thing that immediately caught the eye is the countless minarets, all square brick towers. I still need to find out about the architectural background because I used to think of a minaret as a round and much higher structure.

An amazing surprise was the number of minarets with stork-nests on top, a lot of them occupied or under territorial disputes. It was amazing to see so many White Storks so unexpectedly.

One of the many places of interest in Tlemcen is the Mosque Sidi Boumediene and the adjacent ruin of the palace of the Zayyanid sultan. There are some beautiful remnants of calligraphy in the palace and one can enjoy a view of the city.

We also ventured into the surrounding areas, but that’s for another post.

Oran – The Theatre

Former Opera House and now used for the occasional concert or play, the theatre is way too underused in my opinion. theatre outside

My students tell me that there’s only sparse information available on the schedule. So we were rather lucky because the friend of a friend was going to perform there with a famous Algerian singer, and we managed to get some tickets.

The interior is the same style as the exterior. It’s not exactly what I like in terms of architecture or design, but it’s being kept in good repair.

The singer we saw is Lila Borsali. She sings in Arabic, Amazight and French in a style called musique andalouse in French. Lots of influences from Spain to Turkey make this really fascinating – check out her youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/ekleila.

Oran – National Museum Ahmed Zabana

It’s quite a title for a museum that has a vast area available to display its exhibits. Ahmed Zabana is of local and national importance (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmed_Zabana). I think it’s his photo hanging in the entrance hall. entranceInside the museum, photography is not allowed. Hence there won’t be any pics of all the bones, stuffed animals (including a goat embryo with a double head), swords, painted landscapes, clothes or pottery. You see, the collection is holistic rather than specialised.

On the whole, I think the way the exhibits are presented leaves a lot to be desired. There’s a name, sometimes a year and place of origin. For animals, the Latin name of the species is given. Other than that, next to no context. So not as informative as it could be, and also a bit dull. Having said that, I realise that keeping such a vast and diverse collection must put an enormous strain on the curators even just in terms of day-to-day house keeping. And I also appreciate that all labels are in Arabic as well as French.

My favourite object was a 20th-century bamboo stick from New Caledonia. I guess that’s a reminder of French colonialism – how else would the stick have ended up in Oran? Anyway, it was beautifully and intricately carved with animals like cats and humans.

On the outside, the museum looks very different again. The murals seem to commemorate Algeria’s distant past during Numidian or Roman times. Judge for yourself:

Oran – The Train Station

Today, our excursion led us to (among other sights) the train station. Given that Oran is Algeria’s second largest city, I was surprised how tiny the station actually is. The lack in size, however, is made up for by its beauty and charm.

Notice the differently coloured digits on the clock face. I think the hours indicate prayer times.

Next to the station, there’s a small restaurant, and everything is kept spotless.

We also ventured inside, and I had the feeling that for some of the travellers we were as much a sight as the architecture was for us. I liked the bilingual timetable and also the old photos of other Algerian train stations on the wall. And the rail network has some ambitious plans for the future!

Because we didn’t have tickets we couldn’t actually see the platforms, but sneaking a glance through the open door showed some well-labelled platforms and another waiting area. Everybody was quite relaxed and seemed rather calm, no running to catch a train, no PA-noise, next to no security guards. Very amiable.

What I particularly liked was the ceiling. And now of course I’m really keen to get on a train to go south, to the mountains, and into the Sahara.ceiling railway station

Oran – The Library

Slowly, but bit by bit, we’re getting to know more of our new home. Today, we had the vague plan to spend the day excursing. We ended up figuring out how to use the local tram, and bought an enormous scratching post for our felines. However, we also managed to visit the library. Actually, according to my guidebook, The City Library.

Waving down a taxi was easy, but telling the driver in my limited French we wanted to go to La bibliotheque (not la librairie – that’d be bookshop) was a wee bit trickier. He understood the words, but didn’t seem to know the place. So I resorted to pointing to the picture in my guidebook: oui, la cathédrale!entranceThe building used to be a cathedral, and it’s actually also not that old. So we got there, and then we were a bit uncertain if we’d be allowed to sneak a view and maybe a photo of the interior. No problem at all!

As you can see, it is a bit different. Although it was very unlike what I had imagined, after a few minutes in there I could see the charming side of the place. Some people were reading, some had a look around like us, some were just chatting and having a good time.

The books were an extremely intriguing and eclectic collection. Mr Feynman’s collected lectures on quantum physics were totally unexpected, especially with the low-tech filing system at hand.

I felt it was half an hour well-spent. This library (I don’t know if there are others) is quite out-of-the-way for us, but if I lived anywhere close by, I’d visit there regularly. And for those among you who can read Arabic, here’s a bit more information.history