The capital city of Algeria and the most important
Mediterranean port of northwest Africa, Algiers has a population of over
3 million, making it the largest population centre in the country. Algiers
is located on the Mediterranean coast, set against forested mountains and
overlooking a bay. Once one of the most romantic cities in Africa, encompassed
by the legendary whitewashed Casbah, Algiers is now a major modernized
city with all the metropolitan trappings.
Algiers is the site of Icosium, a legendary city founded by 20 companions of the mythical hero Hercules. Icosium remained a small coastal trading post throughout the Phoenician and Carthaginian eras. In 146BC Icosium became part of the Roman Empire, remaining so until the 5th century AD when it was conquered by Vandals. The town became a part of Byzantium before the Arab conquests in the 7th century.
The city, originally called Al-Jaza'ir, was established by the Berber ruler Bologhine Ibn Ziri in about AD950 and soon became an important trading centre. In ensuing centuries it fell under the influence of successive conquerors and their dynasties, including the Hafsids in the 13th and 15th centuries and the Merinids in the 14th century.
The Spanish seized Al-Jaza'ir in 1510 but in 1518, while still under Spanish rule, the city declared itself as part of the Ottoman Empire. Citizens sought out the fabled pirate Barbarossa to drive the Iberian Catholic interlopers out. After a 13-year battle he finally wrested control of Al-Jaza'ir from them in 1529.
The battle-scarred city was re-fortified and turned into Barbarossa's base of operations, remaining a Barbary pirate enclave for three centuries despite repeated attempts by the British and Spanish to drive them out. Finally, Captain Stephen Decatur of the United States Navy attacked Al-Jaza'ir, forcing the city's governor to sign a treaty guaranteeing the cessation of pirate attacks on all US ships. When Barbary piracy continued to plague European shipping, a combined Anglo-Dutch naval force attacked Al-Jaza'ir and destroyed the Algerian fleet.
It was only after 14 June 1830, when the French conquered Al-Jaza'ir, which was by then known as Algiers, that the city ceased being a naval base for Barbary piracy. What was initially intended as a limited military occupation ended up lasting for 132 years until independence in 1962. Throughout the French colonial period Algiers underwent dramatic changes. The Casbah walls were torn down and wide European-style boulevards replaced many of the city's winding streets and alleyways and the city spilled beyond its original perimeters.
Algiers played a strategic role in World War II as the headquarters of De Gaulle's Free French army, remaining an important operations centre from 1943 until the conclusion of the war. Throughout the world liberation movements emerged in the aftermath of the war and by the beginning of 1957 Algiers was at the epicentre of the Algerian war of liberation.
With the coming of independence in 1962 Algiers became the capital of the new republic. Since independence Algeria has played an important role within Opec, the non-Aligned movement, the Organization of African Unity and the Arab League. The city has played host to important regional and international conferences and summits during a period of dramatic growth and change for the Arab world.
Algeria's revolutionary socialist credentials, combined with its cosmopolitan heritage, have placed the country in a pivotal role time and again in East-West and inter-Arab confrontations.
Modern Algiers :
The modern city of Algiers is formed of two parts. The lower part is the French-built new town with wide boulevards, and all the cultural trappings of colonialism -- an opera house, cathedrals, theatres, museums, galleries and cafes. The new town is also the site of the city's educational institutions including the University of Algiers.
The Casbah or old city forms the upper part of Algiers, replete with labyrinthine passageways and a 16th century walled fortress.
With the growth of the population and emigration from the countryside since World War II, suburbs have spread beyond the perimeters of the city. Algiers forms the hub of Algeria's transport links: the main international airport is there; all roads and railway systems emanate from Algiers; and it continues to be a major Mediterranean shipping centre.