A few years back, I found myself watching Gillo Pontecorvo’s acclaimed ‘Battle of Algiers’. Despite the bloody scenes unfolding on-screen, it was the elegance of Algiers which resonated most. Visiting Algiers affords an opportunity to experience the cultural confluence that characterises much of Africa. In her boulevards and alleyways, the realities of decades of French rule enchantingly merge with the raucous and radiance of North Africa.
Much of the city exhibits typical French architecture, stylized balconies and grand boulevards. There I was, sitting in a cafe on rue Didouche Mourad, sipping a coffee with my pain au chocolat surrounded by architectural glories only paralleled in the streets of Paris. For some, this might be exactly the reason not to visit Algeria. However, it is this framework which provides the context for the heart and soul of Algiers.
Looming behind the resplendent modern city is Algiers’ Casbah, the labyrinth of alleys and marketplaces typical of North Africa. The buildings are tightly constructed, the alleyways maintain an eternal dampness and the street-side memorials remind visitors of the trembling undercurrents of conflict that plague Algeria.
Upon passing an imposing doorway, an elderly woman peeped out from behind her veil. In a most obscure scene, she invited me up to her terrace. After climbing four flights of stairs with a ninety-year old Algerian widow, the grandeur of Algiers and her Mediterranean bay opened before me. The call to prayer began, echoing between the Casbah’s walls and the boulevards of the French center. And there she was, Algiers La Blanche.