Climate and Healing
“The invalid generally comes abroad at great personal inconvenience, and he is willing to sacrifice every consideration to the vital one of health. Until lately he almost invariably selected Algiers as his residence; now he begins to ask himself the question whether he ought not to go to Biskra— to choose, in fact, between Europe and Africa. ”
- Murray’s Guide to Algeria and Tunis
Given the idea that “like the conquest of a country, colonisation should proceed inland from the sea,” regions further inland than Algiers, such as Biskra, could not promise visitors the comforts of complete European occupation. Many fewer French settlers resided in Biskra than in Algiers. Murray’s guide recommends those who traveled to Algeria for health purposes to make the journey into the “country” of Algiers to escape entirely the perceived unhealthiness of towns during the Industrial Revolution, and instead ascend onto the level ground atop the Mustapha hill.
Many other travel books sold to colonial settlers and European citizens compared the northern, coastal regions of French-occupied Algeria and Tunis to Europe itself. Why so? It is because Europe’s domestication of the natural resources of their colonies symbolized their “civilization” of foreign cultures and practices, and thus signaled to hesitant colonists and other Europeans that they could feel safe traveling to these reigions. Murray’s Guidebook details this connection clearly in the Colonisation, Agriculture, Forests section:
“France has indeed done much for it, and the world owes her a debt of gratitude for having converted a country which on the sea-coast was a nest of pirates, and in the interior a chaos of anarchy, into a colony…requiring only tranquillity, population, and good government to make it what it once was, the granary of Southern Europe.”
Thus portraying colonial territories as a “mere continuation of the south of Europe, with a very similar fauna and flora” assured Europeans that their visit would not expose them to the “dangers” of foreign colonies. These dangers did not only include the idea of “climate shock” then associated with moving from cold European climates to warmer colonial regions. They also included the risks of catching foreign disease and encountering supposedly hostile native peoples, such as “nests of pirates.” The civilizing mission is seen not only to benefit potential travelers, but also the existing society of native Arabs, Jews and Moors by bringing “good government.”
In Tunisia and Algeria, Europeans and natives alike sought to cure afflictions ranging from syphilis to rheumatic and arthritic diseases at Turkish and Roman baths, built upon thermal hot springs.
According to Murray’s guidebook, at the Hammam R’Irha, visitors can soak in waters of contain “chlorides of sodium and magnesium, as well as sulphates of soda, magnesia, and lime” while they drink from the waters of another spring mixed with wine. Afterwards, they are “recommended to go to bed for an hour.” However, at this bath as well as many others that the French came to control and operate, separation between European “colonizers” and Tunisian/Algerian “colonized” peoples were further reinforced. Murray’s guidebook advises readers to visit only the bath located in the basement of a French hotel in the area, rather than those in the Civil Hospital (these are “devoid of comforts”) or those below the Civil Hospital (as they are “confined solely to the use of Arabs”). The cost to enter private baths was 1 franc and 50 cents, a price higher than that of the public baths. This also enforced separation between wealthy visitors and less wealthy locals, though elite residents of various nationalities sometimes did find themselves in the same bath.