Monday, September 15, 2008

Djamma lihoud / Old Grand Synagogue of Algiers

In 1962 the Algerian Jewish community consisted of 150 000 people. Those were mainly composed of descendants of Jews who fled the devastation of Jerusalem in 930 BC. jc, Berber converted Jews, Jews of Andalusia and a minority of Europeans.

In the casbah, the Jewish population lived in the Jewish-Arab area composed of the high and low casbah, it was bounded by a low-lying area inhabited by Spanish descendants and the area bounded by the rue d'Isly where the major part of the français bourgeois resided.

Many synagogues served as a place of worship in the Jewish community Algiers. The Great Synagogue of Algiers, called after the Grand Rabbi Bloch, is the best known. This building was built in the lower casbah in 1850 in the wake of the street Randon now best known as Amar Ali (aka Ali la Pointe).

(The Synagogue in 1900)

After independence and the departure of the major Jewish Algerian community, this empty place was transformed into a mosque and a minaret was added.

Built in a Moorish style, the building has a large central dome ; from the inside the high ceilings are highly surprising and give a feeling of elevation. On both sides of the square formed by the building, steep wooden stairs lead to small niches that like balconies are decorated with beautiful wooden railings. The front of the building offers a vision of a big door with two columns and two side doors. In the 1990s, a covered ablution area was built on the forecourt of the former Great Synagogue. Although the inhabitants of algiers still call it "the mosque of the jews" (djamaa lihoud) some may find it under the name of "Djamaa Ben Fares".

(By Yann Arthus Bertrand 2006)