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Displaying items by tag: El-Atteuf

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.


PointeElKetanni

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.

DjeemaElDjedid

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.

OldPort

Old Port

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

 

 

Ghardaia – Northern gateway to the Sahara, a thriving desert pentapolis, home to the world’s remaining Ibadite Muslim sect

GhardaiaGhardaia Just 600km south of Algiers is a totally different world altogether.

Ghardaia, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is another facet of Algeria’s jewel, easily accessible by road or flight (€7/$10 by public bus / €13/$18 by shared taxi / €48/$67 by internal flight). Located in the M’Zab valley, the five ancient cities of Ghardaia, El-Atteuf, Beni Isguen, Melika and Bou Noura are built on hills with the characteristic spiked mosque minarets at the peak.

 

ElAtteuf

 

 

El-Atteuf

The first city founded by the Ibadites in 1013 while fleeing from their persecutors. The harsh desert proved to be a safe haven. It’s amazing how they managed to adapt and flourish here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BeniIsguenBeni Isguen

 

Practicing traditional Ibadite customs, a conservative form of Islam, married women are clad entirely in white with only one-eye exposed when in public. The Mozabites are the world’s only remaining Ibadites.

 

Melika

Melika

The mystical tomb of Sidi Aissa where local women still gather to pray, seeking divine help. At the back is the simple Ibadite cemetery. Instead of tomb stones, they mark their graves with family pottery.

“How do you survive in a place where temperatures soar to 45oC (113 Fahrenheit) without air-conditioning?” one may ask. The answer lies in the thousand year-old unique architectural designs. Tightly built houses with TraditionalGuesthouseshadowed alleys, low ceiling interiors, usage of palm trunks and desert plaster, and natural ventilation system help to keep the houses cool and fresh in summer and warm and cosy in winter. There are a few traditional guesthouses set amidst the oasis that allow visitors to experience firsthand these homes, complete with home-cooked Mozabite food and traditional life. In the night, do what these desert people have done for a thousand years – stare peacefully at the starry sky and contemplate life.

 

A mystical sight, somewhat eerie, is the beguiling one-eye women of Beni Isguen. Practicing traditional Ibadite customs, a conservative form of Islam, married women are clad entirely in white with only one-eye exposed when in public, and men wear grey baggy pants. Bajou, a Mozabite, will marry his fiancée next year. “Mozabite women normally marry at 19, and men at 23, all within the Mozabite clans,” he explains. “If a man marries a non-Mozabite woman, then one Mozabite woman will be left without a husband. So we must marry only within our own clans.” Known as astute businessmen all over Algeria, Mozabites are also very hospitable and friendly. You will certainly feel very welcomed here.

 

Traditional Oasis Dam

 

Traditional oasis irrigational dam

One can tell whose farm is getting water by looking at which spike on top of the dam is in water.

 

MozabiteCarpets

Mozabite carpets

Brightly colourful, each pattern on the carpets symbolizes something such as life, love, etc.

 

 

DesertDatesDesert Dates

 

 

So sweet you’ll be forgiven if you thought they were soaked in sugar. It’s all 100% natural.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SolidifiedMilk

 

 

Solidified milk

Before the invention of refrigeration, milk was solidified in order to store it. It is still used today by nomads and travelers. The solid milk is crushed and mixed with hot water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DyedWool

Dyed wool

Used for making hand-woven carpets, a speciality of the Mozabites.

 

Constantine – Set precariously on the 175m gorge of Rhumel River, former capital of the Numidians

Located on Algeria’s north-eastern end, Constantine serves as a good base to visit the many Roman ruins in this region. Visitors can get here by internal flight from Algiers (€35/$49) or direct from France. Algeria played an integral role in the Roman Empire, supplying grain, gold, olives, slaves and even wild animals for the amphitheaters. Its archaeological discoveries can be found in many museums around Europe, including the Louvre.

 

Constantine“Having seen Roman ruins across Italy and Spain, I wasn’t too keen to see more. But I was wonderfully surprised when I saw entire Roman towns laid out before me. I could really sense and imagine myself going back 1,700yrs because everything is in its original condition, not restored. Perhaps not so pretty to some, but you can’t beat its authenticity,” said a tourist.

 

Two gems you should discover here are Timgad and Djemila, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, described as one of the most perfect expressions of Roman colonisation power and African beauty.

Constantine’s old Ottoman-influenced town itself is a wonderful place to discover on foot. Crossing some of the suspended bridges on foot will offer you breathtaking views, provided your legs don’t go wobbly. For lack of space, homes were built right to the edge of the gorge. In springtime, the slopes are covered with colorful wild flowers, adding to the magical feel.

 

 

 

MellahSlimaneBridge

 

Mellah Slimane Bridge

100m above the Rhumel River, feel it sway as you walk across.

 

 

 

 

In Short

 

Constantine EndarticleFor a country so diverse geographically, culturally, and historically, yet relatively untouched by globalisation, Algeria is definitely a jewel to be discovered. To sum it up in three words: Authentic, Beguiling, and Captivating.

 

Traveling Tips

Take a local tour to fully enjoy Algeria. They’re inexpensive and will save you a lot of problems with language (English isn’t used, only a minority speak French in major cities, and the majority speak Algerian Arabic and local Berber dialects). My Unique Holidays provides English / French-guided tours of Algeria www.myuniqueholidays.com

Practical Information

Flights into Algeria include Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa and Qatar Airways.

Recommended local hotels in Algiers include Hotel Albert 1, Hotel Suisse and Hotel Samir.

Further reading Lonely Planet: Algeria

©Yong Chee Weng

 

CasbahArtisan

 

Casbah artisan

Traditional artisans continue to plough their trade in the centuries-old homes of the Casbah, like this copper artisan. Faithfully hand crafting his copperware, this is the only trade he has known for the last 40 years.

 

 

 

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