The Statesman’s Yearbook Online

edited by Dr Barry Turner

CITY PROFILE: ALGIERS

Image courtesy of wikipedia

 

INTRODUCTION

Algiers is the largest city and capital of Algeria. Overlooking the Bay of Algiers, the city is well known for its white buildings, hence its nickname Alger la Blanche (Algiers the White). Since independence in 1962 its population has rapidly expanded and the city has become an important political, economic and cultural hub for the country.

KEY HISTORICAL EVENTS

The Phoenicians established a port in the bay around 1200 BC, and by 146 BC Algiers (then known as Icosium) had been integrated into the Roman Empire. The city then underwent a series of conquests by various invading forces in the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries. The roots of modern Algiers may be traced to 950 when the Berber leader Bologhin Ibn Ziri revived the city as a commercial centre and gave it its modern Arabic name.

Between the 13th and 15th centuries, the Hasfid and Mermid dynasties wrestled each other for control of Algiers, but by 1514 the biggest threat to Algiers was posed by Spanish forces who had fortified the island of Peñon in the Bay of Algiers. In response, the city turned to the Turkish Khayr ad-Din Pasha, or Barbarossa, to drive the Spanish from the area. By 1529, having achieved his objective, Barbarossa placed Algiers under Ottoman rule. It signaled the start of 300 years when Algiers acted as base for the Barbary pirates. Numerous attempts by the Holy Roman Empire and British, Dutch and American forces failed to remove the pirate threat over the coming centuries and it was only with the French capture of the city in 1830 that piracy was extinguished.

French colonial rule remained in place until Algerian independence was declared. During World War II, Algiers acted as headquarters for both the North African Allied Forces and the French provisional government under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle. By the 1950s Algiers had become the focal point of the violent struggle for independence against France. After this was achieved in 1962, Algiers looked to become a modern socialist capital, and in the years that followed many of the Europeans resident in the city departed.

French colonial rule remained in place until Algerian independence was declared. During World War II, Algiers acted as headquarters for both the North African Allied Forces and the French provisional government under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle. By the 1950s Algiers had become the focal point of the violent struggle for independence against France.In Nov. 1954 the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) declared warfare against the French administration.Frequent bombings in public spaces during the Battle of Algiers in 1956-7 resulted in many civilian casualties and the city was under siege in 1960. Fighting in Algeria lasted eight years until a ceasefire was called in March 1962. De Gaulle pronounced Algeria an independent country on 3 July. The war, which involved the use of torture, left long-standing scars in both French and Algerian societies. Following independence Algiers looked to become a modern socialist capital, and in the years that followed many of the Europeans resident in the city departed.

In recent years Algiers has been marred by violence. The civil war between the state and Islamic fundamentalists gripped the country for a decade until 2002 and resulted in the deaths of approximately 200,000 people throughout the country. Furthermore, bombings linked to al-Qaeda occurred in the capital in Dec. 2007. High unemployment, a growing gap between rich and poor and a large and restless youth population has fuelled a desire for greater freedoms and change. Inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, anti-government rallies broke out in the capital in Feb. 2011 demanding that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika step down.

The Algiers region has experienced numerous natural disasters including a flood in 2001 that killed more than 700 people and an earthquake in 2003 that caused much destruction and took several thousand lives.

TERRITORY AND POPULATION

Algeria's capital city is located on the Mediterranean Sea, in the north-central part of the country. The city extends for 16 km along the Bay of Algiers on the Mediterranean coast and is set against the tree-lined Sahel Hills. The city consists of three sections. The modern, spacious and cultured French section occupies the lower part. The old, labyrinthine Kasbah, which dates back to the early sixteenth century, sits above it. Despite becoming a UNESCO world heritage site in 1992, it contains some of the worst slums in northern Africa. The third part is made up of new suburbs, created to house the population overflow from the city centre.

The population of the city was 1,519,770 at the 1998 census, having increased from 884,000 in 1960. By 2009 it is estimated to have risen to 3·5m.

Residents speak Berber, Arabic and French

GOVERNMENT

The Wali, or governor, is chosen by the president and serves as the administrative head of the Algiers province. The current Wali is Mohamed Kebir Addou.

ECONOMY

Algiers is the financial centre of Algeria and home to the country's only stock exchange. With the largest port in northwest Africa, the city is also the country's main harbour and shipping centre. Major imports include raw materials and industrial goods, while principal exports include wine, fruit, vegetables and iron ore. Other important industries are oil refining, metallurgy, chemicals, engineering and consumer goods.

With economic success in the mid-2000s, plans were proposed to redevelop the coastal strip east of the port area of Algiers. The Emirati developer Emaar intended to change the face of Algiers the same way it did in Dubai. New architectural projects include shopping areas, apartments and the third largest mosque in the world. However, facing widespread poverty and high levels of unemployment, many of the city's residents were cool to the project and little progress has been made to date as a result of the global financial crisis and economic downturn.

TRANSPORT

ETUSA (urban and suburban bus transportation for Algiers) operates the bus service in Algiers and the surrounding suburbs. A tramway opened in early 2011 and after 30 years of construction, a metro system opened later in the year. Houari Boumedienne Airport is located 17 km southeast of the city.

CULTURE

Festivals

The European Cultural Festival, in which artists from 16 countries come to the city to perform their music, takes place in May.

Places of Interest

For tourists, the architectural and cultural mix of old and new and east and west is intriguing. The French section is spacious and open with a cathedral and university as well as museums, galleries and theatres. Notre Dame d'Afrique is an impressive Roman Catholic cathedral which mixes Roman and Byzantine styles. The Bardo Museum holds Algeria's ancient sculptures and mosaics.

The Kasbah is home to a labyrinth of lanes, picturesque houses and richly decorated mosques. The Great Mosque, dating back to the eleventh century, is the oldest mosque in Algiers. The New Mosque, built in the seventeenth century, is shaped as a Greek cross. Prior to 1962, the Ketchaoua Mosque was the Cathedral of St Philip.

Located on the heights of Algiers, the iconic concrete structure of the Monument of the Martyrs commemorates the Algerian war for independence.

Media

Algiers has over 50 local newspapers in Arabic, French and English


Overview of the city


Monument of the Martyrs


The Ketchaoua Mosque