Algeria (Fr., L'Algerie; Sp., Argel), a North African colony of France, between Morocco on the west and Tunis and Tripoli on the east, its southern boundary extending as far as the French "sphere of influence," fixed by the "understanding" of 1890 at the northern limits of Bornu and Sokoto in the parallel of L. Chad. But the portion under civilised government is about 155,000 square miles, with a Mediterranean coast-line of 630 miles. It is divided into (1) Tell (Arab. Tal), a mountainous region with broad valleys or plains, cultivated and settled; (2) Sersous or steppes, with brackish "Shotts" or lakes without outlet; and (3), still farther from the sea, the Sahara, or oasis-dotted desert. The highest point of the Aures, an offshoot of the Atlas (q.v.), is Shelliah, 7,611 feet. For purposes of government the colony is divided into the departments of Algiers, Oran, and Constantine (the capitals of which are the three cities of the same name), sending six deputies and three senators to the French Chamber. The unsettled districts are under military rule, the medium of connection between the natives, the Government, and the colonists being the Bureaux Arabes. The chief towns are Algiers (q.v.), Oran (60,000 inhabitants), Constantine (35,000), Bona (20,000), Tlemcen (18,000), Mascara (15,000), Philippeville (14,000), Mostaganem (12,000), Bougie (6,000),and Setif (6,000). The principal rivers are the Shelif, Summan, Harrash, Isser, Seybouse, Wad-el-Kebir, Mazafran, and Rummel; but none of them are navigable, none form estuaries or great deltas, and the smaller ones are in summer almost dry or are lost in the sands before they can force a way for themselves from the Steppe in which they rise to the Mediterranean, into which most of them fall.
The population comprised in 1891 271,101 French, 47,564 Jews (since 1871 citizens), besides Spaniards, British (chiefly Maltese or Gibraltarines), Germans, and other Europeans. The Mohammedans numbered 3,572,684 of the total 4,124,732, and included Kabyles or Berbers - the true aborigines largely mixed with the debris of the Roman and Vandal colonists, mostly mountaineers, and the Arabs or nomad descendants of the invader who drove the Berbers into the mountains. There are also some negroes, whose forefathers arrived as slaves, but the Turks and their progeny by native mothers ("Koolooghis") are not now recognised as a class distinct from the town Arabs or "Moors." The Jews, who have absorbed a large share of the trade and financial business, were in Algeria at an early date, though most of them are sprung from those driven out of Spain and Portugal."
The climate is hot in summer and mild in winter. Frost and snow are almost unknown, except on the high plateaux, and on the loftiest parts of the Tell, where the cold is severe, and the snow, which lies on the loftiest summits until June, often deep. Rain, wind, and cold usually come from the N.W. The N.E. blasts are rare and innocuous, and the mistral, by the time it reaches Algiers, is robbed of its virulence. The sirocco is in winter only a warm desert breeze, but in summer it is a fiery blast. The average rainfall is about 36 inches, and the rainy days in the year 80. June, July, August, and September are almost rainless, and the last two extremely warm. October and November are summer-like months, with occasional heavy rains. April and May form the most delightful period of the year, and from December to March the weather is like that of a fine bright autumn. At Algiers the thermometer ranges between 112° in August to 32° in January, the mean of 13 years being from 78° in August to 54° in January.
The Fauna of the eastern portion resembles that of Sicily and Sardinia; that of the west is more like Spain. The lion, panther, serval, hyaena, jackal, golden fox, and genet are still common. Moufflons and gazelles are frequent, and the Barbary monkey is troublesome in places. The Barbary deer is found in the forest, of Beni Saleh, and near Ghardimaou. Camels, horses, and sheep are numerous; goats and cattle pasture in the uplands. The ornithology and ichthyology resemble those of Southern Europe, but of the fresh-water fish five are peculiar to Algeria. Tortoises, chameleons, scorpions, and lizards abound, but of the snakes the horned viper of the Sahara and plateaux is the only venemous species. Invasions of locusts (q.v.) and crickets are frequent and destructive.
The Flora number about 3,000 species. Most European grains, fruits, and vegetables can be grown. The fig and orange are staples, the date is the harvest of the oases. Vines and tobacco are extensively cultivated. Alfa and esparto grass are with corn, cereals, early fruits, and fibres extensively exported, especially from the high plateaux; while the forests yield pine, cork, oak, pistachio, carub, myrtle, olive, mastic, etc. In general the flora is that of Southern Europe, and like it is in greatest perfection in spring. During the hot months it dries up, but roses, violets, and geraniums bloom all through the winter.
The mineral wealth includes beautiful marbles, iron, salt, onyx, lead, copper, calamine, cinnabar, and there are numerous hot springs, some of which, like the Hammam Meskoutin, attract the numerous invalids who pass the winter in Algeria.
After being successively under the Romans (A.D. 20), Vandals (429), and Arabs (647), with periods during which the Spaniards and the Sultan of Morocco held portions, most of Algeria fell under Turkish control (1520), when Algiers became a nest of pirates until 1830, when it was seized by the French, who after hostilities and revolts lasting till 1881 established their rule throughout the entire country. Since then, railways, telegraphs, roads, and other public works have been constructed at an enormous cost, the safety of travellers insured, and civilisation extensively diffused; though even yet Algeria is, as a colony, only a qualified success. Playfair's Handbook and the Guide Joanne are the best route books, but Playfair's Bibliography (R.G.S., 1880), though not complete, contains the titles of 4,745 other publications on Algeria.