Abd el-Kader, an unmissable exhibition in Marseille
Marseille

Abd el-Kader, an unmissable exhibition in Marseille

Fancy a cultural trip to Marseille? From 6 April to 22 August, Le Mucem will be hosting an unreleased exhibition all about Abd el-Kader, “the thoughtful, ferocious, and gentle Emir”, as Victor Hugo once called him.

Marseille is the perfect place for a cultural city break, and the right bank of the Old Port is a winning combination of tradition and modernity. Just a stone’s throw from Le Panier, the oldest district in France, you’ll find the city’s ‘golden triangle’ of museums. In June 2022, a replica of Cosquer Cave will join Le Mucem and the Regards de Provence Foundation under the watchful eye of the magnificent Cathédrale de la Major. Le Mucem, that is, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, is the closest you’ll find to the sea and other banks of the big blue, promising a wonderful trip through time and space during spring and summertime in Marseille.

© Julie Cohen

From 6 April to 22 August, Le Mucem is offering a stop-off in Algeria, in the Maghreb, with the “Abd el-Kader” exhibition. This year, the country is celebrating 60 years of independence. However, the project to reunite these two coasts of the Mediterranean dates back to 2019, when creator Christian Delorme, who’s been interested in Abd el-Kader for some fifteen years, met Jean-François Chougnet, the president of Le Mucem.

expo Abd el Khader mucem
Henri-Félix-Emmanuel Philippoteaux, Portraits présumés du Chérif Boubaghla et de Lalla Fatma n’Soumer conduisant l’armée révolutionnaire, 1866, oil on canvas

On the second floor of the museum, there are close to 260 works and documents from French and Mediterranean collections both public and private, retracing the life of Emir Abd el-Kader, born in the south of Oran in 1808. He was a combat leader, exiled prisoner, and learned religious Sufi, but his life, nevertheless, is little known. This exhibition is testament to his harmony of contradictions.

Jean Baptiste Ange Tissier, Abd el-Kader, en pied, 1853, oli on canvas

A key figure in Algeria’s history

Camille Faucourt, one of the exhibition’s two commissioners, introduces Abd el-Kader as “a multi-faceted character. The goal of this exhibition is to collect a large range of objects and records, so we can compare sources from the two different banks of the Mediterranean and shed light on this character, who seemingly led a thousand lives. […] Abd el-Kader was one of the great minds of his time.”

When France made the Regency of Algiers surrender in 1830, extending its conquest to other territories, Abd el-Kader spent fifteen years leading the resistance in the West of the country. He laid down his weapons in 1847, but in 1860, he played an active role in saving thousands of Christians from being massacred in Damas.

Léon Belly, Pèlerins allant à la Mecque, 1861, oil on canvas

As Emir in Algeria, he fought to resist the conquest. Thanks to his creation of independent capitals outside of the Ottoman Empire, he’s considered the founder of the first national State. This accolade was enshrined in 1966 in a ceremony organised by President Boumédiène, positioning him as a central figure in Algeria’s history.

A Marseille-Algeria round trip in one exhibition

It’s not just Abd el-Kader’s military past that history has remembered. He was learned, religious man and said to be a mystical person with a fascinating charisma, as well as a figure of tolerance and political clairvoyance. The Suez Canal is just one of many notable examples. As Florence Hudowicz, commissioner of the exhibition, recalls: “He became interested in the Suez Canal project after meeting Ferdinand de Lesseps, who shared his belief that opening up a new path for exchange between East and West would allow relations between these two worlds to rebalance, thereby bringing harmony. That was the visionary aspect of this individual. So, it’s fair to say that for his time period, even if it were not considered so, Abd el-Kader was a figure of mediation and reconciliation. He tried to establish dialogue at every step.

Marie Éléonore Godefroid, Abd el-Kader (1807-1883), 1843-1844, oil on canvas

Shedding light on this great man establishes yet another form of dialogue between France and Algeria. In a unique political context, the writing, photos, artifacts, and newspapers from the era – some of which have never been unveiled – pass down a treasure trove of memories and a message of unity.

Pilgrimage canteen, Algeria, 18th-19th century, terracotta

So, why not head to Marseille during the May bank holidays? Don’t miss the exhibition events from 5 to 7 May, such as the Acid Arab concert on 5 May at Fort Saint-Jean. From Wednesday 25 to Friday 27 May, the literary festival “Oh ! Les Beaux Jours” will be recounting its own connection to Algeria.

Le Mucem, a museum facing the Mediterranean

After all this cultural (re)discovery, why not take the chance to explore the rest of the capital of architecture and nature that is Le Mucem? This cultural site, which opened in June 2013 when Marseille was the European Capital of Culture, links tradition with modernity. On one side there’s the J4, a gem of architecture from Rudy Ricciotti and Roland Carta. You can easily get lost in this perforated labyrinth, with its unique views of the sea. Have a drink or relax on the deckchairs for a chilled-out break on the rooftop terrace, something the locals really enjoy doing.

© Julie Cohen

After braving the dizzying footbridge over the water, it’s time for some history. Fort Saint-Jean was constructed in the 15th century, and was classed as a historic monument in 1964. Firstly, the Tour Carré was constructed by King René, and it offers one of the most beautiful views of Marseille’s Old Port. The Tour du Fanal came later, which is the one you can see in all its splendour from Palais du Pharo, which faces it, or from the gardens of Fort Saint-Jean. The food and shopping market, which only takes place in the summertime, isn’t the only reason the locals love this part of Le Mucem – it’s also because of its gardens.

The “Jardin des Migrations”, overhanging the sea, is a change of pace from the nature in the city. During spring and summer, your stroll along these fortifications will be punctuated by the aromas of the flowers and the brush here.

It’s an unmissable location, perfect for visiting with your partner or family during your trip to Marseille!

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