Dismantling a World: French Military Monuments in Algeria

By Susan Slyomovics
Submitted to Session P4729 (The Preservation of Historic Architecture in North African Cities, 2017 Annual Meeting
Archit & Urb Plng
LCD Projector without Audio;
In Algeria, monuments from the era of French colonialism met several fates: they were preserved intact, stored locally elsewhere (warehouses and cemeteries), entirely destroyed, seemingly disappeared, replaced with Algerian counterparts, or “repatriated” to France. In addition, the public squares in which they were erected were often architecturally repurposed and rearranged to accommodate post-independence commissioned Algerian monuments after Algerian independence from France in 1962.

This presentation focuses on a few case studies of military monuments, war memorials and their surrounding public spaces that were created in colonial Algeria to commemorate the combat veteran. These monuments often included the role of the conscripted Algerian” native” who also died for France in large numbers during two world wars. One of my examples concerns the 10-metre high column topped by sculptures of three soldiers first erected in Oran, western Algeria in 1927. In its partial repatriated form in Lyon, France, a reconstituted war memorial of Oran with the figurative representation of three soldiers became a site for commemorating the lost French Algeria with increasing number of memorialization days by decreasing numbers of the those “repatriated” settlers. In Oran, the remaining column supporting the memorial was transformed into a monument to the martyrs of the Algerian revolution. What are the ways these multiple and multi-sited versions of the same war memorial become a lieu de mémoire? Was the post-independence Algerian state project to revamp colonial-era monuments an example of the decolonization of architecture and space, or yet another instance of culture wars and the politics of recognition? And why, in the last decade, have local Algerian associations for the preservation of the urban architectural heritage, taken up the cause of preserving colonial era monuments and architecture?