National Geographic : 1943 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine Spanish forts remain here and there. Oran is too busy to pay much attention to them. Next to Algiers, Oran is the chief port of Algeria. Passing on through Algeria, the country, al though it lies east of Morocco, is far more modern than the "Extreme West-land." The French have been here since 1830. When Americans First Visited Algiers But the Americans were here before that! Doughboys who have recently seen for the first time Algiers' splendid Boulevard de la Republique, built over the roofs of vast warehouses that flank the harbor, may not have realized that Americans paid a visit to Algiers when it was the most notorious hellhole on the Barbary Coast. In fact, they had much to do with changing its character. For about three centuries the corsairs of Barbary-so called because it was the land of the Berbers-had terrorized the seas. Long before the Italians conceived of the Mediter ranean as their own sea, the Barbary States had the same idea, the only difference be ing that they made it work. They closed the Mediterranean and put up a ticket booth at the entrance. Tribute was the admission fee. England paid nearly $300, 000 a year so that her ships might be immune from attack. France paid a million francs a year, besides many rich presents. Holland, Sweden, and Spain also paid heavily. The young and weak American nation had, for a time, no choice but to follow suit. Up to 1802 more than two million dollars of American money went as tribute to the four Barbary powers. Even this blood money did not insure safety. Ships and cargoes were confiscated. Crews and passengers were thrown into vile prisons and held for ransom. The prisons of this city alone were built to accommodate 20,000 Europeans and Americans, and were full. Thousands starved to death or died of disease. The powers maintained special con suls in Algiers and Tunis for the express pur pose of conducting ransom negotiations. In thousands of cases the required ransom was not forthcoming. Then the white prison ers were put on the slave block and sold to the highest bidder. It is estimated that, in all, 600,000 Christians were enslaved. The descendants of American slaves may be found in North Africa today. Cervantes was a slave for more than five years. The pirates extended their depredations to the Atlantic. They responded to a threat from the British fleet by boldly announcing that they would land in England and drag Englishmen out of their beds. They went ashore at Penzance and kidnaped 60 men. They raided the town of Baltimore in County Cork and made off with more than 200 Irish men, who were sold at auction on the Bar bary Coast. They even ravaged the coast towns of Iceland. When Capt. William Bainbridge of the U. S. Navy took the customary "presents" to the Dey of Algiers in 1800, the Dey ordered him to run an errand for him to Constantinople. "The English, French, and Spanish captains have always done this service for me," said the Dey. "You also pay me tribute, and you also are my slaves." The American captain had to obey or lose his ship. Decatur Refuses to Pay Tribute But American patience was wearing thin. The showdown came when in 1815 Com modore Decatur with an American squadron defeated the Algerian squadron near Carta gena, Spain, then boldly entered the harbor of Algiers and sent word to the Dey that there would be no more tribute. The Dey, unim pressed, demanded a gift of powder for his fleet. "You shall have the powder," replied De catur, "but the balls go with it." He prepared to demolish the city. The Dey surrendered. He signed a treaty ending the slavery of Americans and renouncing all demands for tribute in the future. A year later Britain exacted a similar treaty. Depredations on other shipping continued, but were ended once and for all when the chief victim, France, took control of the country in 1830. Algiers has since become another Marseille -up to a certain point. That point lies be tween the sparkling, modern, broad-streeted harbor city and the hillside native town. The latter's narrow balcony-shaded alleys twist upward through the half gloom to the moldering citadel where the Dey used to hold court and suspend the heads of executed Christians and criminals over its gate. Algiers is now more than half European.* But a short motor ride will take you up into the near-by Djurdjura Mountains where the people, who live in tiny red-roofed vil lages on the very peaks, are largely untouched either by Frenchman or Arab. They are Kabyles, of Berber stock. In the purest types the skin is rosy and the com plexion fair. They are as agile as their own * See "White City of Algiers," by GORDON CASSERLY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, February, 1928.