Geographically there are
2 Kabylie, the Grande Kabylie or "Djurdjura" and the Petit Kabylie or
The events that concern us here are those that took place in the Djurdjura, the
region of Algeria
that submitted last to French rule.
The terrain is difficult; snow covered mountains, forests and inaccessible
gorges. A territory that not even the Romans ventured into.
Between the time they first debarked at Sidi Ferruch and the final submission
of the Grande Kabylie the French were to wait 27 years.
The stages of the march
of conquest were marked with symbolic place names; Tizi Ouzou, Souk-El-Arba,
In 1857 the submission of the Djurdjura tribes put Algeria fully under French rule.
On the nineteenth of May 1857 Marechal Randon had taken command of the troops
at Tizi-Ouzou and used this as a base for his operations into the heart of the
Randon was determined to strike a major blow and planned an offensive against
the Beni-Raten, the most powerful tribe in the Kabylie.
The campaign was short and bloody. By the 25th of May the Beni-Raten
surrendered. The cost had been heavy, Randon's column had suffered 600 men
killed or wounded. The Beni-Ratan had lost 500 men killed in action and 800
The first phase of the operation had ended successfully and Randon now saw the
need to establish a fort in the middle of the Kabylie from which he could exert
control over the area. A road would also be needed from the new fort to
After the engineering
corps had studied the terrain it was decided that the best location was at
From this point on the construction of the fort proceeded rapidly. 3 days after
the decision to build at Souk-El-Arba had been made General
Chaboud-latours"s surveyors had traced the borders of the fort. Within 18
days the engineers had built a road 25km long and six meters wide from the fort
On the sixth of June the foundations were started and on the fourteenth of July
the first stone was layed.
It was decided to name the fort "Fort Napoleon".
Fort Napoleon was at a height of 961 meters,
an imposing structure with a majestic panorama at its feet.
Settlers began to arrive from the first day and under the local military
commander Souk-El-Arba became a pretty and very modern village.
Based on the Vauban fortress design the walls had a length of 2261 meters. It
had a citadel and three detached block houses. The construction took place
During this period the territory
of Fort Napoleon was
under the command of the fortress commander, a colonel who acted as mayor of
the village as well.
A number of shopkeepers
arrived and installed themselves close to the military post. Bit by bit a
European village centre was formed.
Vineyards were planted on the plateau and slopes around Souk-El-Abra, in 1900
they were to cover 8,700 hectares and produce 30,000 litres of wine.
In 1865 Empreur Napoleon III visited the fort. He wanted to see the progress
Marechal Randon and his men had made in the Kabylie.
In Europe the clouds of war were gathering as tensions between Germany and France increased.
In July 1870 the 4,000 men of the Zouave garrison left for France to join the Army of the Rhine.
Arriving from France were
472 aging members of the home guard/Militia of the Garde Mobile de la Cote d'Or
who were to garrison the fort and surrounding area for the duration of the
hostilities in Europe.
In view of the coming events it was to prove a bad miscalculation on the part
of the French.
In spite of the submission of the Kabylie there were still elements within the
region who actively worked to gain their independence. The Franco Prussian War
weakened the French hold on Algeria
for a period of time and the locals did their best to profit from this state of
Marshall MacMahon had alerted the French Government in June 1869, that
"The Kabyles still stay restive until the moment they see a possibility to
chase us from their country". In the months leading up to the insurrection
"Tijmaain" took place. These meetings, forbidden by the French,
occurred in many of the villages. The insurrection broke out on the sixteenth
of March 1871. Mohammed Amokrane ("El Mokrani") and Sheikh Aheddad
("El Haddad") were at the head. The whole region was up in arms and
the south and east of the Grande Kabylie fell under their control. The
insurrection lasted 10 months and cost the life of 20,000 insurgents. The
French Army raged a pitiless war. Admiral Gueydon had 100,000 men and all the
supplies he needed. It was more than Randon had had in 1857. Not only the
insurgents but also the population was targeted; villages were wiped out,
families decimated. Land was confiscated to be redistributed to settlers.
Thousands of captives were deported to Cayenne
and New Caladonia where the captured communards were to settle. Some captives
were press ganged for service in Madagascar.
On the eleventh of April 1872 El Mokrani, the head of the insurrection, sent El
Haddad to Ait Idjeur where he made a speech in the market place calling for an
insurrection to get rid of the French oppressors.
All the villages of the Fort
Napoleon sector rose in
revolt. It was the debut of the hostilities and the beginning of the siege of Fort Napoleon.
The siege was to last 62 days, part of the fort falling to the rebels.
Left: The Porte du Djurjura, Eastern entrance of the fort
twelfth of May Si Lounis, who had stayed loyal to the French, arrived at the
entrance of the fort with 50 men. He carried a message written on the thirtieth
of April from General L'Allemand announcing that he was leaving Tizi-Ouzou and
heading for Fort Napoleon. On the 24th of June L'Allemand
and his column were underway. It was the anniversary of the 1857 battle of
The Kabylie tribes were routed in spite of their large numbers and defensive
positions. Once again the tribes submitted to the French Army. The relief
column was able to leave Fort
Napoleon and return to
its bases on the 20th of July 1871.
While these events were underway the French Army in Europe
had been beaten by the Germans. With the surrender of the Emperor at Sedan a Republic was
proclaimed. On the 11th of September 1871 Fort
Napoleon was renamed Fort National.
During this time the Hotel de Ville was built and a Justice of the Peace
Fort Napoleon had begun to lose its strategic
and military importance. The military command relocated to Dellys and the
"Ecole des Arts et Metiers" which had been destroyed during the siege
was rebuilt there as well.
A monument to the "Pacification and Civilisation" of the region by
the Army was built at Tamazirt. Another monument containing the remains of the
French soldiers killed in action between 1857-1871 was built at Echeridene.
A brigade of Gendarmerie was created on the 31st of January 1891. Stationed at
the Fort National it was responsible for the fort
and the surrounding villages in the Djudjura.
of this text is based on a French article by Marcel Hauteja.
Above: The Medaille Coloniale document to the ex Soldat Barault who served in the Garde Nationale Mobile de la Cote d'Or during the siege.
To return to the page on the medaille Coloniale go HERE