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.
Former Opera House and now used for the occasional concert or play, the theatre is way too underused in my opinion.
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.
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. Inside 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:
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.
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!The 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.
In my last post about Oran (https://spockisworld.wordpress.com/2017/09/07/oran-on-the-edge/) I mentioned the ubiquitous plastic rubbish and how nobody seems to care. I stand corrected, at least regarding the latter thoughts. Last weekend I saw quite a crowd of people gathering in the forest near our home. What I thought was a running event turned out to be the local version of a beach clean! So, yes, lots of rubbish, in particular way too much plastic, but people notice and act.
Oran is also a place where lots of construction is taking place. My colleague told me that many of these sites are in Chinese hands. That’s not exactly a cause for happiness among Algerians, because jobs on those sites also go to Chinese workers. The park within this particular construction area seems to be a favourite spot among young people, especially couples.
From the same spot, but looking west one can see the building where my school is in – the complex with the green dome, half-hidden behind the three buildings-to-be. Then you
get just an idea of the port, and beyond that is the target for a weekend excursion: a hill with an Ottoman fortress on top. Stay tuned!
Thanks to two lovely Scottish ladies I spent a wonderful day in Bath. There’s so much to see and do that this was really just a taster. Foodwise, by the way, I can highly recommend Comptoir Libanais.
Bath is town full of art and a wide range of architecture. The most famous architectural style is Georgian, like the Circus. The city centre is a world heritage site.
Bath is also the only place in the UK with natural hot springs. It’s possible to go into one of the spas (which I didn’t), or to see how the old Romans did it (which I did). What I admired most at the baths in Bath, however, was a relic of Sulis Minerva, goddess of the hot springs.
My personal highlight was somewhat off the beaten track. Welcome to the Herschel house! Caroline and William Herschel were two astronomers who were famous for their telescopes with home-polished mirrors, and comet hunting. If you feel like walking in their footsteps, you can be a citizen scientist and help with one of the astronomy projects on the Zooniverse platform.