Algeria – Misserghin, Home of the Clementine

Misserghin is a small town just south of Oran on the banks of the salt lake Sebkha. It’s most famous for the Clementine, named after abbot Father Clementine who bred it towards the end of the 19th century. My guide book said one could visit the remains of the abbey, so while my parents were over for a visit we took the opportunity to go exploring.

We hired a taxi for a day (6000 Dinar). The driver had never been to the place but was also curious, and after a bit of asking and some U-turns we eventually found the entrance to the property. I immediately fell in love with the gardens. No abbey to be seen anywhere though, at least nothing that I would have recognized as such.

Turns out, when the French Catholics were here, they made use of much older buildings of Ottoman origin. The people who run the place now have turned it into some kind of agricultural commune, and welcomed us warmly. Communicating was a wee bit tricky since none of us had more than a smattering of French or Arabic and our hosts next to no English or German, but our enthusiasm for gardening and history more than made up for this.

We got a tour of the old office buildings of the abbey plus the stables with very content looking cattle and then we ventured underground. Tunnels! Originally, those had been used to hide from whoever was the enemy of the day. Nowadays, they’re used for growing mushrooms.

Then we were taken for a tour around the fields and the flower garden. Along the way, our hosts explained about the different grains, vegetables and what most people would call weeds and how they’re used as spices or ingredients for a salad. And at every stage we were given some samples to taste or to take with us.

It was incredible. Of course, we also admired a field with young Clementine trees. Fruit growers from all over the world still come to Misserghin to learn about the plant and how to handle it.

clementines

church

 

Towards the end of our tour we visited the old abbey church too. These days, it’s used as a community centre. When we were there, about a dozen people were learning about apiary. It was fascinating to watch how they got the tiny larva out of the honey comb to put it into a nourishing solution – if I understood correctly this is done to produce queen larvae. Tell me in the comments if that makes sense as I know nothing about bee-keeping.

So, a day full of new discoveries and plenty of organically grown food. Many thanks again to our hosts at the now-farm former-abbey in Misserghin.

apiary

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Dinosaur of the week: Woodchat Shrike

woodchat shrikeThis Lanius senator was looking for food in an olive groove in Tafraoui near Oran. The species is in decline because of intense agriculture and thus habitat and food loss, and herbicide and pesticide use and thus more loss of food.

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!