town french spanish military fort spaniards
ORAN (Arabic, Wahrdn), the chief town of the department and military division which form the western part of the French colony of Algeria, lies at the head of a bay on the Mediterranean, in 35° 44' N. lat., and almost on the meridian of Greenwich. The population of the town in 1881 was 58,530; that of the commune, including town and suburbs, 59,377. In 1876, when the total for the town, besides 3728 in prisons, hospitals, Jr.c. (5030 in1881), was 45,640, 11,047 were French, 4948 Jews, 4782 natives, and 24,863 foreigners. The town is cut in two by the ravine of Oued Rekhi, now partly covered over by boulevards and buildings. West of the ravine lies the port, and above this the old Spanish town with the ancient citadel looking down on it. On the east side the modern castle and the modern town (built since the Spanish occupation) rise like an amphitheatre, and here, too, are the Moorish houses of the Jews' quarter. Taken altogether, Oran has the shape of a triangle, the sea forming the base, and the angles at north-west, north-east, and south being respectively the Fort de la Moune, the modern castle, and Fort St Andre. Ramparts and forts are mainly of Spanish construction ; to the east they have been rebuilt since the French occupation in advance of their old position. Of the six gates, three are on the west side, two on the south, and one on the east. The modern castle was formerly the seat of the beys of Oran ; it is now occupied by the general in command of the military division, and also serves as barracks, and accommodates most of the military departments. The old castle was the residence of the Mohammedan rulers previous to the Spanish conquest, and continued to be the residence of the governors of the town up to the earthquake of 8th and 9th October 1790. The portion of the building which still remains is used as barracks and a military prison. Immediately behind, the Mourdjadjo hill rises to a height of 1900 feet ; on the way up are passed Fort St Gregoire, the votive chapel commemorative of the cholera of 1849, and Fort Santa Cruz, crowning at a height of 1312 feet the summit of the Aidour. Lastly, Fort de la Moune (so called from the monkeys which are said to have haunted the neighbourhood) rises between the sea and the road from Oran to Mers al-Kebir. In the Spanish town the streets are steep, sometimes even becoming stairs ; the "places" are mere widenings of the street. In the French town the streets are well laid out and fit for carriages, and there are various public squares, notably the Place d'Armes ; the houses too, in spite of the risk from earthquakes, are built in the French style, several stories high. It is only in the Jews' quarter that the houses are of a peculiar type, - one-storied, with white-washed or red-washed walls, and enclosing an inner court shaded by a vine. Oran is the see of a bishopric dependent on the archbishopric of Algiers. The cathedral (St Louis) is an ancient mosque which has successively been a Roman Catholic chapel, a synagogue, and again a Catholic church according as the town changed hands. The last restoration was in 1839. A fine picture representing the landing of St Louis at Tunis deserves to be mentioned. The grand mosque (in Rue Philippe) was erected at the end of last century in commemoration of the expulsion of the Spaniards, and with money paid as ransom for Christian slaves. The minaret is one of the prettiest in Algeria. Other mosques have been utilized for military purposes. Permanent quarters have not yet been assigned to the prefecture, the courts of justice, and other civil offices ; the bank alone occupies a building of an imposing character. The military hospital contains 1400 beds. Oran is well supplied with water ; and a number of beautiful promenades greatly increase its attractions. The main peculiarity of the streets is the mixture of races, each with its own type and costume. Arabs, Spaniards, and Turks, successive masters of the town, have all left descendants ; and with these are mingled black-gabardined Jews, Spanish immigrants of recent date in Andalusian garb, French soldiers of all branches of the service, Moors with nonchalant gait, and negroes, who serve as porters and day-labourers for the community. The negroes occupy a whole village on the outskirts of the town. While industrially of no importance, Oran is admirably situated for commerce. From Cartagena to Oran is the shortest passage between Europe and Algeria, and there is regular communication with Marseilles, Cette, and Port Vendres in France, with Barcelona, serves the high halfa (esparto) plateaus. There is also Mere al-Kebir is now reserved for the navy, and a harbour geographical society was founded at Oran in 1878.
If Oran was not already occupied in the time of the Romans, its foundation must be ascribed to the Andalusian seamen who settled there in the beginning of the 10th century. Rapidly rising into importance, it was taken and retaken, pillaged and rebuilt, by the various conquerors of northern Africa. Almoravides, Almohades, and Merinides succeeded each other, and in the space of half a century the town changed hands nine times. At length, in the latter half of the 15th century, it was subject to the sultans of Tlemcen, and reached the height of its prosperity. Active commerce was maintained with the Venetians, the Pisans, the Genoese, the Marseillese, and the Catalans, who imported the produce of their looms, glass-wares, tin-wares, and iron, and received in return ivory, ostrich feathers, gold-dust, tanned hides, grain, and negro slaves from the interior of Africa. Admirable woollen cloth and splendid arms were locally manufactured. The magnificence of its mosques and other public buildings, the number of its schools, and the extent of its warehouses shed lustre on the city ; but wealth and luxury began to undermine its prosperity, and its ruin was hastened by the piracy to which the Moorish refugees from Spain betook themselves. Animated by the patriotic enthusiasm of Cardinal Ximenes, the Spaniards determined to put a stop to those expeditions which were carrying off their countrymen, destroying their commerce, and even ravaginr, their country. Mors al-Kebir fell into their hands on 23d October 1505, and Oran in May 1509. The latter victory, obtained with but trifling loss, was stained by the massacre of a third of the Mohammedan population. From 6000 to 8000 prisoners, 60 cannon, engines of war, and a considerable booty from the wealth accumulated by piracy fell into the hands of the conquerors. Cardinal Ximenes introduced the Catholic religion, with its churches, convents, Inquisition, &c., and also restored and extended the fortifications. Oran became the penal settlement of Spain, but neither the convicts nor the noblemen in disgrace who were also. banished thither seem to have been under rigorous surveillance ; fkes, games, bull-fights, Se., were held. Meanwhile the Turks had become masters of Algeria, and expelled the Spaniards from all their possessions except Oran. The bey, finally settling at Mascara, watched his opportunity ; and at length, in 1708, the weakness of Spain and the treason of the count of Vera Cruz obliged the city to capitulate. The Spaniards recovered possession in 1732, but found the maintenance of the place a burden rather than a benefit, all the neighbouring tribes having ceased to have dealings with the Christians. The earthquake of 1790 furnished an excuse for withdrawing their forces. Commencing by twenty-two separate shocks at brief intervals, the oscillations continued from 8th October to 22d November. Houses and fortifications were overthrown, and a third of the garrison and a great number of the inhabitants perished. Famine and sickness had begun to aggravate the situation when the bey of Mascara appeared before the town with 30,000 men. By prodigies of energy the Spanish commander held out till August 1791, when, having made terms with the dey of Algiers, he was allowed to set sail for Spain with his guns and ammunition. The bey Mohammed took possession of than in March 1792, and made it his residence instead of Mascara. On the fall of Algiers the bey placed himself under the protection of the conquerors. The French army entered the town 4th January 1331, and took formal possession on the 17th of August.