M.Ballu, the architect of the beautiful pavilion of Algeria, was designated for this work by the studies which he made in Algiers, where, for the account of the commission of the Historic monuments, he noted and drew many Arab buildings. His memories served him well.
Look at his work:
His Palais de l'Algérie has its main façade on the Seine, with a large garden on the right; but the vestibule overlooks both the Quai d'Orsay (along the railway line) and the central Avenue des Invalides. This vestibule is surprisingly reminiscent of the Kouba of Sidi-Abder-Rhaman with its three-arched porch. As for the large door decorated with earthenware, it reproduces the mihrab of the Pêcherie mosque. There is a pretty corner here that we recommend to visitors curious to observe the colourful crowd filling the Esplanade: these are two corbelled boxes where it is good to rest after leaving the three exhibition rooms.
In the axis of the vestibule is a large gallery decorated with stained glass windows. It is through this gallery that we reach the three rooms, one for each department, Algiers, Oran and Constantine, or that we go to the official saloon, a pretty room decorated with earthenware and sculptures designed by Mr. Marquette, an Algerian architect of the greatest talent.
To the left of the vestibule, a staircase invites us to go up to the minaret. Tourists will think they have found the staircase of the Algiers Museum. This one gives access to the two loges that we have mentioned and to the gallery on the first floor of the Kouba. What freshness give its earthenware! And what a pretty decoration! Earthenware plays a great role in the whole Palace, and one can be surprised that Western art has not borrowed more from Eastern art in this respect.
The minaret we have just arrived at would be worth a long chapter in itself.
But how many details can the same be said of? Here, for example, is the garden separating the Palace proper from the bazaars of the indigenous industry. The most beautiful plants of Algeria are gathered there, a charming preface to the obligatory walk we are going to make among the Arab shops.
Under the eyes of the public, they are there, the arbicos workers, as our kids call them, who work in twenty ways. Manufacturers of fabrics, embroidery, leather goods, belts, weapons, carpets, turned trinkets, etc., they add a picturesque note to this entrance to the Colonial Exhibition. No less amusing is the part of the Algerian palace situated opposite the Tunisian Section, from which it is separated by a street 5 metres wide, which would be a lot for an African street if the love of accuracy were not to give way to that of comfort and the need for traffic.
For it is crowded here. The Moorish café-concert, with its Moorish and Kabyle women, with its dancers: the famous Ouled-Naïls, the Kabyle house with its purebred meharis, running camels of the beautiful type, attract above all the curious.
And how many other attractions do we forget, without mentioning this street of Algiers, so exact, which skirts the Moorish coffee, and, further, of the sendings of the Jumenteris of Tiaret, work of our soldiers! The director of this Jumenterie, the skilful Captain Grimblot, exhibits mares and foals that will not be admired only by sportsmen.
It is difficult to speak now of the Algerian exhibition itself. It is necessary to see it, and to see it well, in order to reconsider the prejudice that represents the French as a non-colonizing people. In Algeria, with the help of time, and the proximity of the mother country having gradually overcome the timidity of our compatriots, France has taken up and perfected the Roman work. Progress is being made in giant steps, and the three provinces are being transformed agriculturally and industrially every day.
Remember the 1867 and 1878 Exhibitions, reread their old catalogues, their statistics, and compare.
First, there are the wines, the young and already great wealth of Algeria. Some wines have a reputation that a few years in the cellar will increase tenfold. As plantations do not stop, we can predict that within twenty-five years, our African colony will be the main supplier to the tables of the whole world.
And the wine exhibition shows only one side of the production of this blessed soil. Look at the showcases, the trophies cluttering the rooms too small for the shipments from the three provinces. From the indigenous fabrics, let us move on to alfas, textile plants, wools, wood, cork, grains, etc. Let us not forget the marbles, the onyxes, the alabasters, and, if we are afraid of being victims of administrative trompe-l'oeil, of fanciful exhibitions intended to caress our pride as conquerors of North Africa, let us consult, before leaving, the relief maps and the statistics. Then, in order to rest from these figures, we stop in front of the works of artists living in Algeria: paintings, statues, stained glass, earthenware, etc.
Finally, if an overly Europeanised Algeria hinders our nostalgia for exoticism, let us not leave without having seen the desert.
We will find it in the place of honour in the Constantine gallery, whose entire central panel is occupied by the magnificent exhibition of the Société de Batna et du Sud algérien, a French agricultural enterprise in the Sahara.
The Figaro has reported many times on the work of transformation and fertilisation in the Oued-Bir, south of Biskra, work that can be imagined here.
This part of the exhibition is dominated by a monumental arch made of date boxes, of a charming blue colour, and framed by earthenware with arabesques of the most beautiful effect; on the frontispiece, these two elegant mottos stand out: Conquest of the desert, Colonisation of the Sahara. In the archway, a large canvas depicts the burning desert, in the middle of which a bubbling well springs up, with an oasis, a European edge and, at the bottom, the name of this new country of the future: Oued-Bir.
Below, the exhibition proper of the company: maps, photographs, from which the attached view is borrowed, plans of the great oases created by Mr. Rolland and his friends, who have planted the enormous figure of 50,000 palm trees, etc. Opposite, a plan in relief representing in its details a European oasis with a gushing well. A small model of a portable dromedary-borne sounding device accompanies an innumerable collection of all sorts of samples: soil, water, fish from artesian wells; various parts of the palm tree, from the root to the leaves, and derivatives; dates of various varieties and date boxes, baskets, boxes of dates, presented with much cachet (articles that can be tasted and not only admired, by addressing the Café Maure of the exhibition); finally, cereals, vegetables and various plants cultivated in the oases; agricultural instruments of the country, etc. ..
In short, a complete monograph of the Oued-Bir, which will teach the visitor more than a trip to the Algerian South.
© Guide Bleu du Figaro et du Petit Journal 1889