The New York Times, January 12, 1879, p. 5:|
FROM THE SEA TO SAHARA.A PLUNGE INTO THE DARK CONTINENT.
A STEEP RAILROAD TO A CITY IN THE AIR—
CONSTANTINE AND ITS QUAINT SURROUNDINGS—
IN THE MIDST OF THE DESERT—SOLITUDE AND DESOLATION.
From a Special Correspondent.
CONSTATINE, Saturday, Dec. 7, 1878.
Constantine, or, as its inhabitants poetically call it, the City in the Air, is undoubtedly the most picturesque spot of Eastern Algeria, which may account for its absolute neglect by the majority of European tourists. But although many pages would be required to do justice to its attractions and those of the ascent thither by rail from the seaport of Phillippeville, the two days coasting voyage to that place from Algeria may be summed up in very few words.
Beautiful as the little towns of the African seaboard undoubtedly are, the whole five of them—Dellys, Bougie, Djidjelli, Collo, Phillippeville—are exactly alike as if originally issued in monthly numbers. In each and all one finds a deep, crescent-shaped bay shut in by frowning cliffs; a vast slope of dark-green mountain, with a little white town pasted on it like a postage stamp; a long, low breakwater, white with lashing waves; a tri-color flag waving majestically over a fort about the size of an inkstand; a kind of miniature "great wall of China," pockmarked with unnecessary loop-holes, running up hill and down dale into places where no enemy would ever think of going, or could do anything if he did; one big new hotel thrusting itself forward from the mass of houses like some white waistcoated John Bull elbowing his way into a front seat at the opera; and a population consisting chiefly of Arab beggars, who, with their gaunt faces and trailing white robes, look as if they had risen from the dead in such a hurry as to have not even thrown off their winding sheets.
But the Phillippeville-Constantine Railway is a sight too good to be lost. It has not, indeed, the breakneck gradient of the Russian railway through the Caucasus, nor does it indulge in the eccentricities of the Brazilian line from Belem to Entre Rios, where I counted seven tunnels in three and a half miles, and where the track makes so sharp a curve at one point that if the train be a long one the passengers in the last car may exchange looks with their friends in the first, across a chasm of unknown depth. But, nevertheless, the ascent is very respectably steep, as may be gathered from the fact of the 57-mile journey occupying 4¼ hours!
Nothing can be more striking than the gradual change from the wide, sunny valley, with its rich vegetation, to the gray moors and bare, stony uplands beyond, ending at last in one great wave of black, craggy mountain, flecked with new-fallen snow. The two highest peaks of this range, poetically known as the Twin Sisters, wear a very grim look under the shadowy twilight which covers the final hour of the way; while the passage of the last ridge before Constantine, when, in the spectral gleam of the rising moon, you look out from your car-window down a sheer precipice of several hundred feet, recalls the nerve-shaking passes of the Chilean Andes.
It must be owned, however, that the improvements introduced by French civilization, while materially enhancing the comfort of the journey, absolutely kill its romance. Lying back in a well-cushioned seat, in a car whose lounges and settees would not disgrace and "Pullman" in America, it is literally impossible to realize that one is actually traversing a range of African mountains which, barely 35 years ago, were all ablaze with the worst horrors of barbaric warfare.
But how shall I describe Constantine? Seen for the first time, in the silence and loneliness of midnight, far up against the moonlit sky, it looks more like one of those phantom cities that haunt the fancy of Gustave Doré than any habitation of living men. Nature herself might seem to have cut it off from the living world by black and hideous chasm that yawns impossibly around it on all sides but one, in the gloomy depths of which one can barely descry a gray, sullen stream winding amid masses of fallen rock, like a serpent shrinking from the light. The most formidable part of this tremendous gap is now spanned, close to the railway depot, by a magnificent iron bridge, over whose balustrades it may well try the strongest head to look down. But, in addition to these natural defenses, this miniature Gibraltar now has a wall of its own, with double gates, which are shut every night at sunset.
It is difficult to imagine a grander spectacle than that which presents itself to any one standing at daybreak upon the western angle of the rampart. As the morning mists roll away like the smoke of a battle, the great masses of wooded mountain deepen from gray to crimson, hilltop after hilltop catching the growing light, till all is one broad blaze of glory. Then, in one moment, the whole expanse of the beautiful valley bursts into view, rock and river, field and wood, village and waterfall, coming forth in all their splendor.
Far down upon the broken rocks, a white-cloaked Arab is herding his black, dwarfish goats, and springing from crag to crag as nimbly as they. On the other side, where a narrow neck of sloping ground bridges the encircling chasm, the camels of a passing caravan are slowly raising their huge, gaunt limbs from the earth, while the long, white robes of their masters are seen flitting spectrally to and fro preparing for the start. Suddenly a shrill bugle-call pierces the air, followed by the quick tramp of soldiers and the roll of a drum. A few minutes later the gates are thrown open and in stream a motley throng of bare-limbed Arabs, laden donkeys, blue-bloused workmen, red-capped native boys, jaunty Spahis in white gaiters and scarlet trousers, and the day is fairly begun.
IN THE SAHARA, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 1878.
I write on the edge of a sun-parched rock, rising abruptly from a wide, sandy plateau, with the black tents of an Arab camp dotting the hot, brassy surface on one side, and the white wall of a little French fort standing jauntily up on the other, in front of which some scores of blue-coated soldiers are waking the echoes with the sharp crackle of their platoon-firing. Just below me a string of laden camels are gliding by a dozen of the stalwart Sahara negroes, whose white robes and dark, leathery faces give them the look of cigars wrapped in paper. On three sides rise the bare, rocky mountains, split by innumerable gulleys, through which we toiled all yesterday; while on the fourth, beyond the dark masses of plumy palms that mark the limits of the oasis, the brightly burning merciless sky, and the dim, unending level of the great desert, melt into each other in the depth of a distance which seems to have no end.
The solitude of the Sahara has hitherto remained tolerably inviolate, but the outer world is now threatening to inundate it more effectually than M. De Lessep's projected canal, and a few years more will make its northern border a fac-simile of Hood's country churchyard, which was "crowded with young men striving to be alone."
The railway from the port of Bona to Constantine is already open as far as Guelma, very nearly half the entire distance, while the prolongation of the Phillippeville-Constantine track to Batna, the starting-point of all excursions into this part of the desert, has advanced so far that the end of the coming year will probably find it completed. Even the desert itself has been invaded by the wheels of the diligence, which goes from Batna to the oasis of Biskra in 15 hours, stopping at that of El-Kantara to give its passengers a very good breakfast at the snug little white restaurant which clings like a daisy to the foot of the tremendous precipice that shuts in the famous gorge.
At Biskra itself, M. Médan's comfortable Hotel du Sahara, a quaint little toy-house, with a garden as small as itself, affords a very passable lodging to those who have no ambition to go further, but all who can stand the four days' ride across the desert should certainly push on to Tugurt, and see for themselves the little islet of semi-civilized life which represents France's furthest advance into this great sea of desolation.
To attempt a description of the Sahara itself would be as futile as to try to photograph it, although the photographs which I bought at Biskra certainly represent it as well as human skill can do... One may call it vast, barren, lifeless; one may compress its mighty desolation into the hard exactness of so many leagues, so many square miles, but no language can convey the faintest idea of the vastness amid which the proudest European army would be dwarfed like a swarm of ants, the wonderful clearness of atmosphere that makes a palm 10 miles off seem close at hand, the tremendous silence that weighs upon one like a nightmare, the overwhelming lonliness that blots out all sense of human companionship, and makes one feel utterly alone amid a dozen noisy comrades.
As for the "uncivilized Arabs," many of them are becoming civilized, in certain points, quite rapidly enough. I, myself, sat "bodkin" for a whole night, in the coupe of the Batna diligence, between two of these "tameless sons of the desert," whose black eyes and grinning teeth, half-seen through the folds of the huge white burnouse, started out spectrally enough in an occasional glare of lamp-light. There were half a dozen more of them in the intérieur; and when they all emerged together at the half-way station, in the shadowy splendor of the moonlight, the effect was precisely as if a group of dead men on their way to the grave had suddenly jumped out of the hearse and bolted, taking their grave-clothes along with them.
But further away from the outposts of civilization, in the region which is peculiarly his own, this strange outlaw of humanity has a grim picturesqueness still. The great French painter, whose Arab pictures have made his name world-famous, could have wished for no finer tableau than the group which passed me this morning—a couple of mounted Spahis, guarding 10 or 12 captured Bedouins. It would be hard to imagine a more significant contrast than these two opposing types of the same race, the soldier Arab, erect in his saddle, gay with the white and scarlet trappings of civilized warfare, his loaded carbine ready to his hand, every line of his firm manly face expressing the mixture of daring confidence and machine-like exactness which discipline alone can give; the robber-Arab, tattered, barefooted, manacled, swathed in a dirty white blanket, with the matted hair and sullen sidelong glance of a beast of prey.
Another very picturesque feature of the Sahara is its quaint little negro villages, whose gray walls of sun-dried clay, clustering palms, flat-roofed, windowless houses, and white-frocked hobgoblins crouching in low, dark door-ways or slumbering peacefully in the dirt, are an exact copy of the Fellah hamlets of the Nile. These worthy aboriginies still regard all strangers with suspicion bordering upon hostility, while the very dogs, huge gaunt beasts, of a whitish-yellow color, suggestive of an ill-cooked omelette, seem to be good Mohammedans, and fly at every Christian with a heartiness of religious feeling that would entitle them to a high place in the Church of England.
But such evidences of civilization exist only in the oases, which are the islands of this sandy ocean, and along the dreary wastes that lie between the sole token of human life is the whitened skeleton, half-buried in drifting sand, of a horse, a camel, or perhaps a man, recalling the magnificent, unconcious sarcasm of good old Mungo Park: "When I had now been a long time in this trouble, and all hope of being saved was taken away, on a sudden I lifted up my eyes, and beheld afar off a man hanging in chains upon a gibbet; whereupon I knelt down and gave hearty thanks to Almighty God, who had been pleased to conduct me once more into a Christian and civilized country."
unsigned, but almost certainly written by DAVID KER.
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All of Algeria is
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The Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, located in North Africa, is bounded to the east by Tunisia and Libya, to the south by Niger, Mali, and Algeria, to the west by Morocco and Western Sahara, and to the north by the Mediterranean Sea. The capital is Algiers. The area of Algeria is 919,595 square miles (2,381,741 square km), making it the 2nd largest country in Africa and 11th largest in the world. The capital is Algiers. The estimated population of Algeria for July, 2008 is 33,769,668. The official language is Arabic, which is spoken by about 83% of the population; most of the rest speak various Berber dialects.
Agricultural Algeria was the breadbasket of the Roman Empire, after which the territory was ruled by various Arab-Berber dynasties from the 8th through the 16th century. At that time it became part of the Ottoman Empire, ruled from Turkey. In the 1830s Algeria became a colony of France.
After more than a century of rule by France, Algerians fought through much of the 1950s to achieve independence in 1962. Algeria's primary political party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), has dominated politics ever since.
Many Algerians in the subsequent generation were not satisfied, however, and moved to counter the FLN's centrality in Algerian politics. The surprising first round success of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in the December 1991 balloting spurred the Algerian army to intervene and postpone the second round of elections to prevent what the secular elite feared would be an extremist-led government from assuming power. The army began a crackdown on the FIS that spurred FIS supporters to begin attacking government targets. The government later allowed elections featuring pro-government and moderate religious-based parties, but did not appease the activists who progressively widened their attacks.
The fighting escalated into an insurgency, which saw intense fighting between 1992-98 and which resulted in over 100,000 deaths - many attributed to indiscriminate massacres of villagers by extremists. The government gained the upper hand by the late-1990s and FIS's armed wing, the Islamic Salvation Army, disbanded in January 2000. However, small numbers of armed militants persist in confronting government forces and conducting ambushes and occasional attacks on villages.
The army placed Abdelaziz BOUTEFLIKA in the presidency in 1999 in a fraudulent election but claimed neutrality in his 2004 landslide reelection victory. Longstanding problems continue to face BOUTEFLIKA in his second term, including large-scale unemployment, a shortage of housing, unreliable electrical and water supplies, government inefficiencies and corruption, and the continuing activities of extremist militants. The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) in 2006 merged with al-Qaida to form al-Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, which since has launched an ongoing series of kidnappings and bombings - including high-profile, mass-casualty suicide attacks targeted against the Algerian government and Western interests.
Algeria must also diversify its petroleum-based economy, which has yielded a large cash reserve but which has not been used to redress Algeria's many social and infrastructure problems.
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