Why does Marseille look like Algeria

Oran and Marseille : On the other hand

If you want to clear your head in Marseille in the south of France, it is best to climb the La Garde hill and then to the terrace of the Notre Dame de la Garde church. The locals also call the church la bonne mère, the good mother. From up here you can look down on the shimmering turquoise Mediterranean Sea, the port and the neighboring districts.

If you want to clear your head 990 kilometers southwest in the Algerian city of Oran, the best thing to do is to climb Mont Murdjadjo and then to the terrace of the Santa Cruz Church. This church is also called la bonne mère. From above you can look down on the turquoise shimmering Mediterranean Sea, the port and the neighboring districts.

Marseille and Oran are an hour and a half flight apart. But it doesn't take much to recognize the obvious parallels in the appearance of the metropolises. Even more, it is biographies that inseparably link the two cities.

Jocelyne Quessada lives in Marseille. But when she closes her eyes, she doesn't have to strain to see her home in Oran. For example, the narrow street, not far from the old port in the city center “La Marine”, where the 73-year-old used to live. The former teacher has only fond memories of life back then, at the end of the 1950s, she says. At least until that Thursday in the summer of 1962, when Jocelyne Quessada was forced onto the boat to Marseille. She calls this date the "terrible day".

Now she is sitting in the sparse office of the “Amicale des Oraniens à Marseille”, the Oranians' association in Marseille. She wears a red orange ring on her right wrist. It clicks loudly whenever she gets a little upset and hits the glass table.

July 5, 1962

That “terrible day”, says Jocelyne Quessada, was July 5th, 1962. After eight years of war between the colonial power France and the indigenous insurgents, Algeria declared its independence. Several hundred thousand people had already perished, many were shot, poisoned by chemical weapons or died under the guillotine. Now the soldiers of the National Liberation Front (FLN) were seeking revenge, also in Oran. In the middle of the "Place d’Armes", the place of arms with the Paris obelisk, which stands for the victory of the French in the conquest of Algeria, a mass demonstration took place.

Afterwards, a number of participants streamed into the alleys of the old town, to the houses of the "Pieds Noirs", the black feet. This is what the immigrants from Europe were called because many of them wore black leather boots when they docked in the old port of Oran in the 19th century. Jocelyne Quessada was also considered a black foot, although she was born in Oran - her parents were Europeans from Andalusia. She was lucky. Many others were massacred that day, and Jocelyne Quessada had to leave for France.

Like Germany, France brought its own war guilt to displaced persons who no one wanted to have. Especially not in Marseille. "Our overcrowded boat waited a day and a night off the coast because the union refused to let the workers let us into the old port," said Quessada, recalling her arrival. In total, after Algeria's independence in 1962, hundreds of thousands of pieds noirs had to settle in southern France. Some moved on to Alsace, northern France and Paris. Most, however, stayed on the Mediterranean. Jocelyne Quessada is happy to be in Marseille. It is a little consolation to live here: “It's almost like in Oran.” Marseilles city center “Le Panier” actually sees Quessada's old home in “La Marine” with its hills, its narrow, little streets and modest, colorful houses strikingly similar.

Marseille and Oran: between beach promenades and social buildings

Around 1.7 million people each live in the metropolitan regions of Marseille and Oran. Almost all of them have a so-called migration background. Because the migration history of both cities goes back much further: Since its foundation by the ancient Greeks, Marseille has also been a port for newcomers from all over the world; Oran, on the other hand, is the gateway for many European immigrants to North Africa; Spaniards and Italians settled here long before the French emerged as colonial rulers in 1830.

In the outskirts of the two coastal cities, in Marseille in the north and in Oran in the west, social buildings tower up towards the sky. Here as there, questionable in terms of urban planning, they have been raised for the brand new immigrants, that means: for everyone who has lived there for three generations or less. In Marseille they are the Maghrebians, especially from Algeria. In Oran there are rural refugees from the villages in western Algeria. The Corniche, the beach promenade and the center not far from the old harbor look like a different, distant world from the social buildings in the outskirts. As is so often the case, this applies equally to Oran and Marseille.

To home page