The Ahmed Zabana National Museum in Oran
Spending some time in the museums of your holiday destination is a great way to gain insight into the history and culture of the people who live there. In the Algerian city of Oran, the Ahmed Zabana National Museum is of particular interest, as it outlines the tumultuous history of the region when activists used many avenues to gain independence – a goal finally achieved in 1962 with Algeria’s independence being declared on July 5 of that year. In addition to the history section of the museum, there are some interesting natural history exhibits, as well as the works of a number of Algerian and foreign artists.
Oran is known for its superb architecture, which reflects both the Spanish and French influences. The building in which the museum is housed is a good example of the architecture found in Oran. It stands well above street level with a wide flight of steps leading to the entrance dominated by four two-floor high pillars. Inside the museum, the first floor is dedicated to telling the story of Algeria’s battle for independence from a local perspective, bringing the harsh reality of conflict into perspective with a list of names of local people who were executed by the French in the period from 1954 through to 1962. Born in 1926 near Zahana, located about 32 km from Oran, Ahmed Zabana is remembered as one of the heroes of Algeria’s war of liberation, and the museum is named in his honor. This loyal Algerian separatist was actively involved in the outbreak of the war, and was executed by guillotine on June 19, 1956, in the city of Algiers.
The natural history collection the museum includes a shark, giant lobsters and squid, all of which were caught in the bay, along with other creatures which have been preserved by means of taxidermy. The art and culture collection includes a variety of ancient sculptures, along with terracotta pieces and expertly crafted mosaics. The extensive collection of paintings housed in the Ahmed Zabana National Museum includes 18th century works with mythical themes, along with pieces by 20th century Algerian artists and works by French Orientalists, most notably Eugene Fromentin (1820-1876). This talented artist, who studied for some years under the renowned French landscape painter, Louis Cabat, was one of the first to compile a pictorial representation of Algeria, which he did from the impression the country made on him during his visit in his youth. He was able to reconnect with the country that had made such an impression on him, when he visited Algeria in 1852 with a party of archeologists. Fromentin’s subsequent works reflect a deep understanding of this North African country, and are considered to be both works of art and an important contribution to ethnological science.