Mers El Kebir and Skikda: the “colonies” of Ischia and Procida in Algeria

by Federico Quagliuolo

There is a lot of Procida in Algeria. Precisely in two cities: Mers El Kebir and Philippeville, today Skikda: two places that for over a hundred years were inhabited by islanders which they brought to the African coasts traditions, families and dialects. And even today, among men who speak foreign languages, there are very frequent surnames Scotto, Mazzella, Esposito and Di Meglio.

The first to inaugurate the diaspora it was probably the little one Procida which, with its history of famous navigators around the world, united three coasts of the Mediterranean in the name of San Micheal: Algeria, France and Procida. May 8th, in fact, every Procidan is morally obliged to participate in a procession in honor of the patron saint of the island. Wherever he is, he will try to reach their homeland. It was also added at the end of the 19th century Ischia which, in the fishing village of Sant'Angelo, not surprisingly shares the patron saint of Procida.

Also a beautiful book written by Francois Succoia: Mers-el-Kebir: Procida as love. There are also different associations which are meant to keep strong the identity ties with the Italian origins of French residents and Algerians: “Ischia Family” AND “Procida Family”.

Skikda
The magnificent sea of Skikda

Hunting for corals in areas in crisis

The story began atearly 19th century. The Neapolitan islands have always been the producers of extraordinary navigators who often worked on French ships, based in the port of Marseille. Thus it was that Ischia and Procida became aware of the extraordinary riches enjoyed by Algeria, at the time engaged in the bloody wars of colonization of France: the port of Algiers was one of the coral markets most flourishing in the Mediterranean and many Neapolitan navigators frequented the area already in Bourbon time, driven by the development of Torre del Greco and its coral school.

After the opening of the Port of Ischia, however, Procida began to suffer terribly competition from her neighbor that in 1854 it was equipped with a modern and large port. The Green Island was indeed a destination loved by Ferdinand II, who inherited the passion from his grandfather Ferdinand I.

The Procidan navigators, who have never lost heart, therefore decided to to enter the French trade routes and they began to search work how coral fishermen or hunters. It can be dated to the mid-19th century the first fixed settlement of Procidani in Mers El Kebir overlooking the Spanish coast: first the navigators moved then, finding themselves well between the green vegetation and the delicate climate, they also brought families.

Mers El Kebir Procida come amore
Francois Succoia's book: Mers El Kebir Procida as love

The tragedy of Ischia and the second escape from the islands

The time of the diaspora also came for the Ischia, who were plagued by a tragedy as great as the Casamicciola earthquake of 1883, which completely destroyed the Green Island and forced the escape to the mainland almost all the inhabitants of the island. The disasters for Naples, however, had only begun: in 1884 came the cholera and then the Remediation. The troubles ofGreen Island they passed into the background and the Ischitans, in a territory in crisis, homeless and without prospects, were forced to seek fortunes by relying on the only constant of their life: the sea.

Many went to America or even to the southern routes. Others instead they moved en masse, finding work and a home in Philippeville (now Skikda), which is located in 900 kilometers from the Procidani of Mers El Kebir, on the opposite side of the vast Algerian state. And here it is still today the Di Meglio, Mazzella and Mennella families thrive on the enchanting beaches and emerald green shores of North Africa.

In that period there was a this cultural and commercial exchange between Procida \ Ischia and Algeria at the end of the 19th century Fixed transport lines were activated from Sant'Angelo d'Ischia and from the port of Procida to Algiers.

Mers el Kebir Skikda Procida Ischia
The distance between Mers el Kebir and Skikda. The stars on the map are the provincial capitals of Campania, which can help us understand the distance from the Algerian coast

The expulsion of the Europeans

The Algerian people were for one hundred years old French colony and it was so influenced by its culture that we can still see the consequences of this today historical and cultural mix. It was even granted the French citizenship for all Algerians, effectively unifying the territories.
But no one on African soil had forgotten the bloodbath brought by France in the 19th century wars of conquest, where about a third of the indigenous population died.

The reaction of hatred and revenge brood in the heart of independence movements arrived with one of the more sensational and bloody wars arrived immediately after World War II: the conflict in Algeria which ended in 1962: the African country became independent at a very high cost and, as expected, i anti-French movements they soon made life impossible for former settlers.

So it was that many Franco-Algerians were forced to return home and this also happened for the descendants of Ischia and Procida, who however they had been missing from Italy for more than a hundred years, many of these were born on Algerian soil. So, without even knowing how to speak Neapolitan or Italian and no longer having family ties in Italy, they chose how new destination Marseille. Precisely a La Ciotat, at the end of the French Riviera.

San Michele Arcangelo
San Michele Arcangelo, a cult that unites the Mediterranean. This is his statue of Procida

San Michele Arcangelo unites France, Procida and Algeria

Times have changed, centuries have passed, but unfortunately the conflicts in Africa have not subsided. This story, however, survives in the crowd of emigrants returning home from all over the world of procession of May 8 in Procida.

On this occasion St. Michael the Archangel is venerated, protector of Procida, with folk songs known by heart by all the islanders. Still, if you look carefully between the many faces worked by the sea, typical of the navigators of the island, there are still some people from today North African traits that they pay homage to the saint in common with distant French words.

De Procida ton ile aimée
Noble et glorieux protecteur
Tu l'as en tout temps consolée
Dans la tristesse et el malheur

-Federico Quagliuolo

References:
Bibliography on Procida Family
https://www.abbaziasanmicheleprocida.it/ita/
Francois Succoia, Mers el Kebir, Procida as love, Naples, 1986

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