An Algerian proverb says: “Algiers would not be so white if it was not for the blue of the sea and the green of its gardens” . Algeria has several prestigious towns. Annaba is the town where Saint Augustine lived, taught and was laid to rest.
Ibn Khaldoum invented sociology whilst living in Bejaia as Prime Minister of sultan Hafside Abu Abd Allah. Bejaia is also the birth place of the wax candle. In fact, bougie, the French word for candle, comes from the name of the originating place of this item. The Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci introduced the Arab numbers to Europe from Bejaia where he received his education.
The town Oran has inspired Jules Verne’s “Clovis Dardentor” and Albert Camus’ “The Plague”. Briska is the location for André Gide’s “Si le grain ne meurt” (If It Die). Constantine and its high bridges nestled between reefs and canyons and Ghardaïa that is part of the world heritage are also sights worth the detour.
Yet, none of them come close to Algiers. If Algeria is the light house of Africa then Algiers is the light of the light house. According to the legend, the town was founded by 20 of Hercules companions that decided to settle down. Ever since, from the Romans to the Vandals, the Spanish to the Portuguese, the French to the Dutch, the English to the Americans, every maritime power that there was, has tried to control the strategic port of Algiers.
The sea and most particularly the port is crucial to the town of Algiers. In fact, the town’s name says it all. El Djezaïr, the original name given to the city of Algiers in 970 by the Berber leader Bologhin Ibn Ziri means the island.
Since then the port of Algiers has been vital to the city. To this day, the city of 6 727 806 inhabitants (The town’s 4.4 millions + its outskirts) is not only the capital city of Algeria. It is also the economic hub of the country with its harbour aiming to reach the benchmark of 20 million tonnes of merchandise processed per year. Nevertheless, Algiers is far more than just a harbour. It is the sum of all the civilisations which met here to create the most beautiful mosaic. The town’s architecture is engraved with evidences of all those that have come, gone or stayed.
The most obvious place to start experiencing Algiers would be the Kasbah or fort. Originally built on a hill by Romans, it was first transformed into a fortification by the Turks. The narrow streets going downhill are paved with colourful stands, shops and open markets.
Algiers is also very particular for its art and craft tradition. The carpet weaving, the local jewellery making, the pottery and sculptures, the leather work which produces among others the world renowned Algiers’ sandals are some of the techniques that have been passed on from one generation to another. The Kasbah just like the rest of Algiers boasts some architectural wonders. The fishermen’s mosque right at the shore has been blessing the sea and those that earn a living from it since 1660. Next door is the big mosque (Djamaa El Kebir). The Princesses’ Palace (Dar Azizza) and the Mosque Ketchoua (1794) facing each other are also not to be missed. The Palace of Raïs, proof of the Turks’ visionary ambition to stretch the Kasbah all the way to the sea also awaits.
As far as gardens are concerned, from the medina, one should head to the Martyrs’ monument, not just for the significance of the 92 metres monument dedicated to the martyrs of the Algerian Revolution but because it is the perfect place to observe the Jardin d’Essai.
Although Algerians are 99% Sunni Muslims, the country and Algiers for that matter are not all mosques. Annaba has the Saint Augustine church where the holly man rests. But, Algiers has Lella Myriam Basilica. Dominating the Western part of town, the church has on its wall the words: “our Lady of Africa, pray for us and the Muslims” written in French, Arab and Berber. Although only built in 1910, Algiers Post Office, built to accommodate both French and Algerian architectural influences also deserves to be listed among the city’s architectural wonders. A trip to Algiers would not be complete without a visit to its museums. The oldest of them, the Antiquity and Muslim Art National Museum, inaugurated in 1897 is one of the oldest museums in Africa. It covers 2500 years of Art in Algeria. The Popular Art and Traditions Museum and The Bardo National Museum are also highly recommended whilst the site of Tipasa and the remains of its past Roman glory is an outdoor history lecture.
So, like many travellers before, let the light of the light house guide you to this mesmerizing continent of Africa that we are privileged to call home.