Charles Célestin Jonnart became the French governor in Algeria in 1903. For him, the authority of French colonisation needed to be reflected in the architecture of Algier’s most important buildings, places with which the French administrators, business people and Pieds Noirs ex-pats could identify.
Architects J Voinot and M Tondoire were asked to design a public postal and telephonic institution that would serve this part of the French empire. Normally I suppose a post office would not thrill the hearts of citizens and tourists, but this building really was the centre of turn-of-the-century modernity. And to show you how central to the French empire this building was to be, you could have once found a Joan of Arc statue near by (although it was later moved to France).
Grand Post Office, Algiers
I cannot find anything about Voinot and Tondoire, but I can see what remains of their taste. The massive building, monumental and glistening white from the outside, took eight years to complete. It has a large cupola, two imitation minarets, the principal frontage which included three arches, a gallery on high, broad marble staircase, stalactites and engraved stucco. The ceiling of the principal room was and remains an architectural jewel. Even the main mailbox, used since people starting mailing letters here 100 years ago, retains its lovely floral mosaics.
Mailbox with mosaic surrounds
Was this French architecture or Algerian? What are we to make of the original inscription: “God is victorious”? This neo-Moorish taste was definitely intended to appeal to the Muslim community, with the added hope of bringing the two communities closer together at the turn of the century. Presumably Charles Jonnart had no inkling of the bitterness Algerians would increasingly feel about French control of their country.
Grand Post Office, central hall
In the interwar period, néo-Moorish designs became somewhat obsolete. But the Grand Post Office remained the dominant monument in Algiers' landscape, a symbol of early French colonial control. The most useful blog I found was Algeria Travel, for example the post on Algiers.