Adventures in Algeria (Anna Cottle, ITP Coordinator)
I’ve just come back from an amazing 9 day trip to Algeria and wanted to share some of the fascinating culture, sites, history and people I experienced here. We started the trip in the capital city of Algiers (Al-Jazaïr) – the political, economic, and cultural centre of the country on the Mediterranean coastline. A turbulent history can be seen in the rich architecture of socialist-era monuments, French-built streets and boulevards, endless apartments and the streets of the Casbah. Luckily, a friend from Algiers showed us around the labyrinthine Casbah, making sure we didn’t miss hidden highlights and wonderful viewing points. I recognised some streets from scenes in the 1966 film, Battle of Algiers and the image below shows the ruins of a building bombed in 1957, killing the four martyrs featured in the film.
Next, we took a flight to Ghardaia which is the main of the five cities in the M’zab valley in the Sahara. The cities, founded by the Mozabites, of Berber origin, are Ghardaia, Bounura, Beni Isguen, Melika and Al-Atteuf and each have a mosque surrounded by narrow streets of houses.
The remarkably well preserved medieval architecture is spectacular and the area is an official UNESCO World Heritage Site. Warm toned buildings mix with brown/red desert soil and contrast with brilliant blue skies; these villages perfectly blend into the landscape and surrounding nature. A different guide, always born in the village, showed us around each site, explaining the structure and planning.
I then had my first desert experience, driving out to the nearest sand dunes, passing camels and date palm groves along the way in the Saharan Oasis – I am now an experienced sand dune runner and had lots of fun clambering up and down the beautiful, disorientating sand!
The final destination, before heading back to Algiers, was Constantine in Northeast Algeria – the third largest city and located on both sides of an almost 200 metre gorge that splits the city in two. During Roman times, the city was named Cirta and was renamed “Constantina” in honour of emperor Constantine the Great. From here we visited two incredible Roman ruins; Timgad and Djemila.
Timgad, lies on the northern slopes of the Aurès mountains and was created as a military colony by the Emperor Trajan in AD 100. It’s grid-like structure is a great example of Roman town planning. On the way back to Constantine, we stopped at the impressive mausoleum-temple seen on the right. Both are UNESCO heritage sites and the second of the two, Djémila, is located 50 km north-east of the town of Sétif. An establishment of an ancient Roman colony founded during the reign of Nerva (96 – 98 A.D.), the architecture was much more sprawling here, (see below) and I also saw the most incredible mosaics I have ever seen, during these visits, inside the onsite museums.
Back to Algiers next and our aforementioned friend drove us out to the Kabylie mountains he grew up in, a couple of hours from the city. This was my favourite day and I felt extremely lucky to have been shown this special place by someone with such knowledge of the culture, landscape and Berber people. The views were stunning – luscious green forests, cacti, olive groves and mineral waterfalls surrounded the mountain villages we visited, some abandoned, some still inhabited. Traditionally, silver jewellery is made in the mountains and I was also able to witness a local jeweller creating one of his pieces in a workshop overlooking the beautiful mountains. I bought a few trinkets to bring home, of course!
This was one of the most interesting, unique places I have visited so far yet I feel that I only saw a small percentage… maybe I will have to go back!