The whitewashed city of Algiers is a big, bustling destination on the dazzling Mediterranean coast. The thousand-year old city was a thriving pirate base in the 16th century before later becoming a cherished French colonial center. Since Algeria gained independence in 1962, the capital has been the cultural, political and economic hub for the diverse country and is now Northwest Africa's largest port.
The Kasbah is the city's main tourist attraction, founded on the ruins of a Phoenician commercial outpost. The hillside quarter later blossomed into a small Roman town, stretching down toward the sea. Today, the area is marked by gleaming whitewashed houses that stand like sugar cubes just steps from the sea. These houses gave Algiers its nickname as “La Blanche,” or “the white one,” and the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. Even with that recognition and the government's designation of the Kasbah as a protected landmark, the quarter has fallen into disrepair. The narrow streets wind past crumbling courtyards, deteriorating buildings and long-overgrown gardens thick with weeds.
Still, certain areas of the Kasbah manage to survive and even thrive. The area is particularly notable for its high concentration of historic mosques, and the area surrounding them remains quite picturesque. The Ketchaoua Mosque, flanked by two minarets, was built in 1794 and is the best-preserved. Other notable mosques in the area worth a visit include the El Kebir Mosque and the Mosque el Djedid.
The Kasbah is also home to one of the city's grandest former mansions, Dar Hassan Pacha. Named after the original owner, an 18th-century ruler, the mansion features ornate plasterwork, colorful painted-wood ceilings and beautiful wall tiles.
Another interesting sight in Algiers is the Martyrs' Memorial, dedicated to locals killed during the war for independence. The iconic concrete monument consists of three palm-like sections that join in the middle and reach heights of over 300 feet. The stylized palms are topped with a 25-foot tall Islamic-style turret capped by a dome. Under each palm stands a statue of a soldier, and the monument rests on an esplanade that includes an eternal flame, amphitheater and crypt.
Underneath the Martyrs' Memorial is the National Museum Moudjahid, dedicated to the struggle against colonialism. The detailed exhibits take visitors through a timeline of colonialism and the independence movement, beginning with the French invasion of 1830. The written information is in Arabic, but the overall meaning of the exhibits is easy to grasp. The lowest level of the museum is a sanctuary, where silence is requested and a shrine is inscribed with Quran verses.
The nearby Bardo Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography highlights the early history and ethnography of Algeria in stunning detail. The large collection includes Neolithic stones and pottery, prehistoric rock carvings, fabulous fossils and ancient urban artifacts. The upper courtyard is especially a delight, featuring lush gardens and a cooling pool providing much-needed relief on hot days.
Above the hustle and bustle of the city sits the Notre Dame d'Afrique, a Byzantine-inspired basilica holding a statue of the Virgin Mary. With the Pope's permission, the statue was crowned “Queen of Africa” in 1876, and the church remains a pilgrimage site for the faithful.
Algiers Geographical Location
Algiers is the largest city in Algeria and is located on its central northern edge facing the Bay of Algiers.
The population of the metropolitan area is approximately 5 million.
Arabic is the official language of Algeria and Berber has been declared a national language although many official matters are conducted in French.
99% Sunni Muslim
1% Christian and Jewish
Islam is the official religion of Algeria and while the constitution allows other religions to be practiced it cannot interfere with Islamic practices. Marriagesbetween non-Muslim men and Muslim women are not recognized by law.
The Algerian Dinar is the official currency of Algeria.
Algiers experiences a Mediterranean climate with wet and cool winters and dry, hot summers.
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