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IWP alumnus Zak Allal performs piano concert at Villa Montfeld

IWP alumnus Dr. Zak Allal plays a piano concert at Villa Montfeld.

IWP alumnus Dr. Zak Allal was honored to give a concert during his tour entitled “One Piano, One Monument” at the Residence of the United States Ambassador to Algiers: Villa Montfeld.

Villa Montfeld: A historic property

Villa Montfeld is registered as a culturally significant site by the U.S. Department of State for its cultural and historical value. It occupies 5.1 acres on the northeast slope of a range of coastal hills that frames the city of Algiers, and it is considered one of the most beautiful American residences in the world.

The Secretary of State’s Register of Culturally Significant Property was founded in 2000 as a White House Millennium Project. It is similar to the National Register of Historic Places that is maintained by the Secretary of the Interior for domestic U.S. properties. It is an honorific listing of important diplomatic overseas architecture and property that figure prominently in our country’s international heritage. These include chanceries, U.S. ambassadors’ residences, and office buildings. Currently, there are twenty-six Department properties on the Register.

History of Villa Montfeld

Villa Montfeld

Villa Montfeld was built between 1853 and 1863 and underwent remodeling operations between 1876 and 1895, transforming its architectural style (neo-Gothic) into neo-Moorish. The remodeling was supervised by Benjamin Bucknall, an English architect of the Gothic Revival in England and Wales. Bucknall lived in Wales, but, in 1978, he settled in Algiers permanently, where he changed his style to neo-Moorish architecture. Bucknall reputedly benefited from the gradual demolition of the lower Casbah (a historical residential area of Algiers) to acquire antique tiles, pillars, arches, and other decorative features from old Turkish and Moorish houses and used these items at Montfeld. A road, the Chemin Buchnall, was named after him. The villa was acquired by the U.S. Government on June 13, 1947. It became the Consulate General and then the Embassy after the official recognition of independent Algeria by the United States on September 29, 1962.

Assistant Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamed Sedik Benyahia, in Algiers. Photo credit: Mehdi Algérien Patriote.

Between 1979-1981, Algeria served as a mediator in the Iran hostage crisis. In 1979, a secret meeting between senior American and Iranian officials was held at Villa Montfeld, with the mediation of Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamed Seddik Benyahia. Assistant Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who was commuting from Algiers to Washington, D.C., chose Villa Montfeld as his headquarters. Algeria’s mediation led to a deal under which the hostages would be released in return for an unfreezing of Iranian assets and a lifting of sanctions. The signing of the Algiers Agreements on January 19, 1981 in the Montfeld Villa led to the liberation and the arrival of the 52 hostages in Algiers on January 20, 1981 on an Air Algerie flight from Tehran. The operation led also to the sale to Algerian army of large Hercules C130 carriers from Lockheed, as well as the return of six MiG-21s captured by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967.

Zak’s concert at Villa Montfeld

The U.S. Ambassador’s wife, Ms. Karen Rose, thanked Zak Allal for performing after dinner at the residence Villa Montfeld. She said: “His concert on Wednesday, May 8th, 2019 honored the history and cultural significance of Villa Montfeld, including its role as a setting for Algerian and American diplomatic relations.” Her statement on Facebook may be found here. Videos of the preceding dinner may be found here and here.

Ms. Karen Rose, Dr. Zak Allal, His Excellency Ambassador John Desrocher