© Sartony Laffitte
This year, it is Algeria itself which is coming to show itself to the metropolis and to foreigners in the Bois de Vincennes, which has become, for once, the setting for the Greatest France. It was fitting, on the day after a grandiose anniversary, that our most prosperous colony, this new France, should present itself to the public with the prestige and authority of its second youth.
The General Government, the Algerian financial assemblies, the Commissariat, whose work is so intelligently presided over by Mr. Edouard GERARD, director of the Office of Algeria in Paris, have done nothing to ensure that their section will stand up to comparison with the buildings constructed by more richly endowed colonies.
The Palais de l'Algérie, as conceived in the plans of M. Montaland, architect of the general government, is striking from the outset by its vast architectural proportions, its ovoid dome flanked by a high minaret. This white mass stands out in a most pleasing way against the foliage of the Bois de Vincennes and the Mediterranean gardens that are built around it.
The two main elements of this architecture, the dome and the minaret, do not imply that the Palais de l'Algérie is a reproduction of any North African monument. On the contrary, we wanted to avoid as much as possible any imitation of this kind, which would lead to results that are truly lacking in the unexpected; the sober and modern style uses the themes of so-called Moorish art, but without slavishly copying them; it retains what is necessary to give the indispensable note of picturesqueness, but without falling into a bad form of exoticism; it strives to reconcile, through a creative effort, the memories of Maghrebian architecture and the current trends of construction in Algeria. On one of its sides, the Palais de l'Algérie even uses a Saharan-inspired decoration whose austere line is not displeasing to contemporary taste.
Under the large dome, at the foot of the earthenware-covered minaret, a wide staircase leads to the main access doors. Once through these doors, the visitor finds himself in a vast rotunda with a vaulted ceiling, preceding a long hall divided into bays by high columns.
It is in this rather solemn setting that an original and harmonious presentation has been made to celebrate Algerian agriculture, vines and wheat, the sources of the fertility of this land, which are the living testimony of French success in North African France. Algerian artists themselves contributed to this presentation in a series of dioramas.
A dozen other rooms, arranged logically but without monotony, beyond the great hall of agriculture, with easy circulation, clearings, the resting place of one or two patios, offer the visitors the picturesque or edifying spectacle of the colony and its development, and allow them to draw without effort and to receive with pleasure the great lesson which emerges from a century of work. They can even find an image of the future and of the still infinite possibilities of France's creative activity in a room specially devoted to the southern territories, those distant lands now so close to us, the Sahara desert which the railways may cross tomorrow.
Finally, in a series of small rooms built on the first floor and opening through arcades onto the hall of agriculture, minds concerned with exact notions have at their disposal a large collection of documentary works, arranged with method and clarity.
On leaving the Palais, visitors have not yet completely left Algeria: scattered throughout the section, various concessions are designed to offer them a new aspect of the colony, entertainment and attractions, and it is to be hoped that their brief stay in the Algerian section will have left them with a vision of an intense effort at civilisation.
Around the Palace, large gardens with Mediterranean essences offer a quantity of flowers, leaves, fresh and delightful perfumes.
Let us not forget the Moorish Café, with its music, singers and dancers, and the indigenous restaurant which complete the cheerful and local note.
The moral lesson that emerges from the visit to the Palace of Algeria is the need to continue the close and fruitful collaboration of the two races whose common work has shaped a country that amazes the world.
The doctrine applied in Algeria since Bugeaud, the one that has made force, but at the same time goodness and justice, felt, this doctrine has placed France in the first rank of colonial powers.
It is good that visitors from all over the world have been able to see this for themselves by visiting the Algerian section, whose Exhibition is particularly worthy of our three beautiful North African departments.
©Livre D'Or - Exposition Coloniale Internationale - Paris 1931