1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Oran

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ORAN (Arabic Wahran, i.e. ravine), a city of Algeria, capital of the department and military division of the same name. It stands at the head of the Gulf of Oran, on the Mediterranean in 35° 44′ N., 0° 41′ W. The city is 261 m. by rail W.S.W. of Algiers, 220 m. E. of Gibraltar and 130 m. S. of Cartagena, Spain. It is built on the steep slopes of the Jebel Murjajo, which rises to a height of 1900 ft. The city was originally cut in two by the ravine of Wad Rekhi, now for the most part covered by boulevards and buildings. West of the ravine lies the old port, and above this rises what was the Spanish town with the ancient citadel looking down on it; but few traces of Spanish occupation remain. The modern quarter rises, like an amphitheatre, to the east of the ravine. The place d'Armes, built on the plateau above the ravine, is the centre of the modern quarter. It contains a fine column commemorative of the battle of Sidi Brahim (1845), between the French and Abd-el-Kader. The Chateau Neuf, built in 1563 by the Spaniards, overlooks the old port. Formerly the seat of the beys of Oran, it is occupied by the general in command of the military division and also serves as barracks. The kasbah (citadel) or Chateau Vieux, used for military purposes, lies S.W. of the Chateau Neuf. It was partly destroyed by the earthquake of the 8th and 9th of October 1790. On the hills behind the kasbah are Fort St Gregoire, a votive chapel commemorative of the cholera of 1849, and Fort Santa Cruz, crowning at a height of 13 12 ft. the summit of the Aidur. Fort de la Moune (so called from the monkeys said to have haunted the neighbourhood) is at the western end of the harbour, and commands the road from Oran to Mers-el-Kebir (see below). Fort St Philippe, south of the kasbah, replaces the old Castle of the Saints of the Spaniards. There is subterranean communication between all the ancient forts. The cathedral, dedicated to St Louis, and built in 1839, occupies the site of a chapel belonging in the days of Spanish dominion to a convent of monks of St Bernard. The Grand Mosque (in rue Philippe) was erected at the end of the 18th century to commemorate the expulsion of the Spaniards, and with money paid as ransom for Christian slaves. Other mosques have been turned into churches or utilized for military purposes. The military hospital, a large building adjoining the cathedral, contains 1400 beds. A house in the place de l'hopital, now used by the military, was once the home of the Inquisition; it was built at the expense of Spain in 1772. The museum formed by the Oran Society of Geography and Archaeology (founded in 1878) has a fine collection of antiquities.

Oran is the seat of a large trade. There is regular communication with Marseilles, Cette, Barcelona, Valencia, Cartagena, Malaga, Gibraltar, and the various ports on the Barbary coast. The railway to Algiers is joined at Perregaux (47 m. E. of Oran) by the line from Arzeu to Saida and Ain Sefra which serves the high plateau whence esparto is obtained. There is also a railway to Sidi-Bel-Abbes and Tlemfen. The export trade is chiefly in esparto grass, cereals, wines, olive oil, marbles, cattle and hides. The imports include manufactured goods, coal and other commodities. The inner harbour, or old port, contains two basins, one of lo acres and another of 60 acres, formed by the construction of a pier eastward from Fort de la Moune, with two cross piers. In consequence of the growing importance of the port and the decision of the French government to make Oran the chief naval station in Algeria, it was decided to build an eastern harbour. This outer harbour, on which work was begun in 1905, lies east of the old port and is about double its size. The least depth of water in the old harbour is 18 ft., the average depth in the new harbour is 30 ft., the depth at the entrance being 40 ft.

The population of the city in 1906 was 100,499, of whom 21,906 were French, and 23,071 Spanish. There were also 27,570 naturalized Frenchmen, mostly of Spanish origin. There is a negro colony in the city, numbering about 3000, included in the census in the native population of 16,296. Including the garrison and naval forces the total population of the commune was 106,517.

Four miles west of Oran a small promontory forms the harbour of Mers-el-Kebir, formerly a stronghold of the Barbary pirates. The promontory is strongly fortified and crosses fire with a battery erected to the east of Oran. A road along the east coast, cut for the most part out of the solid rock, connects Oran and Mers-el-Kebir.

Attempts have been made to identify Oran with the Quiza, and Mers-el-Kebir with the Portus Magnus, of the Romans. There are, however, no Roman ruins at Oran or at Mers-el-Kebir. The foundation of Oran is more properly ascribed to Andalusian Arabs, who settled there in the beginning of the 10th century, and gave it its name. Rapidly rising into importance as a seaport, Oran was taken and retaken, pillaged and rebuilt, by the various conquerors of northern Africa. Almoravides, Almohades and Marinides succeeded each other, and in the space of half a century the city changed hands nine times. In the latter half of the 15th century it became subject to the sultans of Tlem.fen, and reached the height of its prosperity. Active commerce was maintained with the Venetians, the Pisans, the Genoese, the Marseillais 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. Admirable woollen cloth and splendid arms were 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 conduct of the Moslem refugees from Spain. Under the influence of these refugees the legitimate trade of the town gave place to piracy, Mers-el-Kebir becoming the stronghold of the pirates.

Animated by the patriotic enthusiasm of Cardinal Ximenes, the Spaniards determined to put a stop to these expeditions which were carrying off their countrymen, destroying their commerce, and even ravaging their country. Mers-el-Kebir fell into their hands on the 23rd of 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 Mahommedan 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 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; contemporary accounts speak of constant fetes, games and bull-fights. Meanwhile the Turks had become masters of Algeria, and expelled the Spaniards from all their possessions except Oran. The bey of 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, the neighbouring tribes having ceased to deal 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 the 8th of October to the 22nd of 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 the Spanish government having made terms with the bey of Algiers, he was allowed to set sail for Spain with his guns and ammunition. The bey Mahommed took possession of Oran in March 1792, and made it his residence instead of Mascara. On the fall of Algiers the bey (Hassan) placed himself under the protection of the conquerors, and shortly afterwards removed to the Levant. The French army entered the city on the 4th of January 1831, and took formal possession on the 17th of August. In 1832 a census of the town showed that it had but 3800 inhabitants, of whom more than two-thirds were Jews. Under French rule Oran has regained its ancient commercial activity and has become the second city in Algeria.