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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Algeria: Authentic, Beguiling, Captivating

Written by Yong Chee Weng
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You’ll be forgiven if you don’t know much about Algeria apart from its recent participation in the 2010 World Cup. Despite being the second largest African country, spanning from the Mediterranean into the Sahara, and the world’s fourth largest natural gas exporter, this country remains relatively unknown. Yet, its seeming obscurity is what makes it beguiling — a jewel to be discovered.


Pointe El Ketanni

Algeria turns its page on its violent history, and looks forward to a peaceful, prosperous and developed future.

Algiers – Capital of Algeria – steeped in history

Countless numbers of people have ruled Algiers, including the Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Berbers, Byzantines, Spanish, Barbary, Ottomans, and French. Today, Algeria turns its page on its violent history and looks forward to a peaceful, prosperous, and developed future. Much of the city center remains in Algiersits colonial form— whitewashed buildings with distinct blue windows and railings. Modernization clashes with old world charm. Globalization tries to find its place amidst Islamic and traditional cultures. Elderly men still gather every evening outside for their games of dominos on cardboard boxes while youths stand nearby fidgeting with the latest mobile phone models. Downtown, a sleek black BMW 7 series drives by while two men walk with a sheep in tow to be slaughtered later for a family celebration. Western fast-food has made little inroads against mom’s delicious homemade couscous.

TheCasbahThe Casbah


Established by the Barbary pirates, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is described as ‘one of the finest coastal sites on the Mediterranean’.



The center of Algiers is compact, built against the slopes that reach down to the Mediterranean shores, making it extremely suitable for walking tours. The Casbah, the original fortified city established by Barbarossa in the 16th century, is a fascinating labyrinth of steep narrow alleyways. Unlike many world historical sites that have been restored, this UNESCO World Heritage Site remains essentially in its original form, keeping its authenticity and transporting visitors into an old world. What is more fascinating is what lies behind the closed doors. With a local guide, you’ll get a chance to go behind these doors to see the jewel of the Casbah, artisans still at work in their small workshops crafting gold jewelry, copperware, shoes, and clothes with simple tools. At the bottom of the Casbah is the reverberating Place des Martyrs, ever busy, ever crowded, flanked by three historical mosques – Djeema Ketchoua, Djeema El-Djedid, and Djeema El-Kebir – each unique in its designs. Right smack in the center of that square is a recently commenced archaeological dig determined to find the origins of this city.


Djeema El-Djedid

The ‘New Mosque’ was built in 1660 under Ottoman occupation. Strangely designed as a cross, local legend has it that the architect was a Christian, and supposedly executed for his trickery.

“Sadly, all that the world knows about us is terrorism,” laments Delilah. She has been through the colonization period, fight for independence and black years of terrorism in the 90s. “Algeria today is so peaceful and beautiful. Global media only tells bad news, portraying our country as dangerous and rife with terrorism. This is not true. We welcome visitors,” she adds passionately. In the last decade, Algeria has enjoyed increasing peace and stability, with terrorism now confined to the eastern Kabylie Mountains and southern borders with Mauritania, Mali and Niger. These places remain off limits to tourists.


Old Port

The original 16th century Barbary pirates’ harbor, now a small fishing port.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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