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THE most important inland town in the central province of Algeria is Blidah, which lies at the foot of the Atlas, about thirty-three miles from Algiers, in a south-west by south direction. The intercourse with it is so great that three diligences run in the day, some by the El Biar and Douera road, and others by that which passes through Mustapha and Birkadem. All, however, pass through Les Quatre Chemins. The first important place traversed is Bouffarik (Father of separation), a name given to a slight elevation in the midst of swamps, where at the time of the French invasion a large cattle market used to be held, frequented by Arabs from all parts of the plain. This is now resumed under French superintendence. The market-day is Monday, when several thousands of Arabs may be seen collected together in a large enclosure to the east of the road, a little beyond the town of Bouffarik. In the middle is a caravanserai, and accommodation for the officials who register the sales, -an important regulation in a country where cattle
lifting has begun to be considered a dangerous pursuit, but has scarcely ceased to be regarded as a creditable one. Enormous quantities of sheep, cattle, mules, and horses are collected in the enclosure; but, on the day I was there, I did not see a single camel among them.
When the French first obtained a footing on the south side of the Metidja, there was a considerable breadth of wood covering the country to the north of Bouffarik, and the facility which this and the marshes afforded the natives for menacing the communications between Algiers and Blidah, rendered it a matter of vital importance to remove it. In the year 1833, the desired result was brought about, chiefly by the agency of the Arabs themselves, over whom a young French officer, whose name has since become well known throughout Europe, had contrived to gain great influence. Lamoricière, then captain of a battalion of Zouaves, was the first Frenchman who conceived the idea of gaining the confidence of the tribes. Trusting to his knowledge of the language and his tact, he ventured among the Arabs of the then unsubdued Metidja without any escort; and under his auspices a separate department of administration was formed, which, under the name of the Bureau Arabe, subsequently expanded into the machinery by which the invaders have solved the problem of governing the native population of the whole of their acquisi
tions. He himself was the first head of the new office, and his staff consisted only of a couple of French officers and three native interpreters. The woods of Bouffarik were felled, and the swamps partially drained, by the assistance rendered by friendly chiefs; and the route to Blidah thus effectually secured. European traders even ventured to frequent the Arab markets; but this step seems to have been a little premature. The appearance of the strangers excited ill will, and it became necessary to establish a fortified camp in the neighbourhood, to protect them against sudden acts of violence. For this purpose the Count d'Erlon built a square work in the immediate vicinity of Bouffarik, and furnished it with defences which effectually guaranteed its safety against the attack of any enemy. He was, however, unable to secure the garrison against a much more formidable foe, the pestilential exhalations of the surrounding swamps; and the Camp d'Erlon, as it was called from the governor under whose auspices it had been constructed, acquired the sobriquet of La Cimitière. About four miles beyond Bouffarik, Marshal Bugeaud attempted to form a military colony in an even more inauspicious locality, at Bene Mered. This is much lower than Bouffarik, and more unhealthy; but its position on the main road into the interior, and its plentiful supply of water (for a strong spring rises in the middle of the village), tempt a few French to settle there in spite of the
danger. Over the spring a handsome monument in the form of an obelisk is erected, to the memory of twenty-two soldiers, who, in the revolt of 1842, were surprised there by ten times their number of Arab horsemen. They succeeded in resisting the attack until relieved; but only five of their number survived.
Blidah is said to have had a population of 18,000 a few years before the French invasion. But in 1825 it was entirely destroyed by an earthquake, in which half its inhabitants perished. The panic-stricken survivors at first deserted the locality, with the intention of forming a new settlement farther to the north; but they soon returned to their ancient haunts, unwilling to forsake a spot to which they had been accustomed, and which enjoys the advantages of an ample supply of water and a fertile soil, to an extent unsurpassed by any other town in Algeria. The native population is now under 4,000, having been reduced to that extent by the miseries of war in the first eight years of the French occupation. The town has been almost entirely rebuilt, with rectangular streets and European houses. The immediate neighbourhood is covered with orange and lemon groves, and is a very favourable locality for tobacco, of which the cultivation has lately made great strides. I was told that some land in the vicinity of the town in which this plant was grown paid a rent of 300 francs the hectare (or £4 16s. the acre). This, however, was under peculiarly
CULTIVATION OF TOBACCO.
favourable circumstances for irrigation. What is especially desired is a soil of a light sandy gravel, and
an unlimited supply of water. When these two conditions are secured, the hectare sometimes produces to the amount of more than 2,000 francs.
The expense of cultivation (including irrigation) is estimated at about 1,000 francs the hectare. The leaves of the
plant, where the cultivation succeeds best, are stripped three times in the year. It may be easily conceived that the French are attracted by the advantages of a place which enables them to gratify their desire of acquiring a proprietorship in land without submitting to the irksomeness of agricultural labour. Blidah is almost more French than Algiers itself, and has its theatre, hotels, cafés, and all other appliances of enjoyment which make up the bourgeois' notion of civilisation. The markets within the walls are well supplied with meat, fruit, and vegetables by the Arabs of the neighbourhood; and there is besides a weekly market held every Friday outside the town for the purposes of general traffic between the natives and the Europeans.
From Blidah the road into the interior takes a turn towards the west, and descends in that direction for six or seven miles until it reaches the Chiffa, up the gorge of which the present road to Médéah is carried. For the next twelve or fourteen miles after the ascent commences, nothing can be imagined more romantic