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The city of Algiers, the eponym of our country Algeria, is a city of many names, many masters.1 It’s prominence has endured through a procession of empires due to its enviable situation as a seaport for eager traders. A recent writer observed that, with a little encouragement from its present overlords, Algiers would be the San Francisco of the Mediterranean.2
The images above are from banknotes of our country. Select an image for its story.
The city of Algiers is also known as Alger la Blanche, “Algiers the White”, for its renowned white buildings climbing up the steep slope of the Atlas Mountains from the seaport to the pinnacle. A 19th century illustration is reproduced below. Alger la Blanche, is of course, French, and the titling hearkens back to the era of French dominance from 1830 until independence in 1962.
“Algiers” means the islands, in Arabic. It is named for the four islands just off this east facing shore on the western edge of a large bay of the Mediterranean. From ancient times it has beckoned traders as an ideal natural harbor.3
“Algiers” is a shortened form of an earlier name signifying the Islands of the sons of Mazghana, recalling the influence of the noble Berber peoples in times past.
In the Greek era, the town was known as Icosium, meaning the twenty, and was explained as the town founded by twenty of the companions of Hercules. Hercules had visited the Atlas mountains during his celebrated Labors. during the celebrated Labors of Hercules. It’s easy to see why. Four islands just offshore on the western edge of the bay of alondro made for an beautiful natural harbor since the days of old. The town changed hands over the centuries many times as political dominions rose and fell. The natural harbor continued to be the attraction of empires
The name Algiers, the islands, in arabic was adopted in 1529 when Spaniards were expelled by the Ottomans. The Ottoman Turk corsair Barbarossa ruled the region largely autonomously from Constantinople; and, in time, turned Algiers into the chief base for the notorious Barbary Pirates, which continued for three hundred years.
Numerous attempts by multiple countries were made to dislodge the pirates. The fledgling United States of America paid tribute money to the Barbary Prirates for a time. The first war of that young country was against the same to end the practice. But it was the French who finally brought the age of the Barbary pirates to a close when they took Algiers in 1830.
European Colonial Algeria…
The city became the administrative center of the French colonial empires in North and Africa. In the dark days of WW2, Algiers served as the Allied forces headquarters in North Africa. In the darkest days, when Germany was occupying France, the city was the provisional capital of the French people.
Algiers is built on the slopes of a line of hills running parallel to the Mediterranean for 10 miles. They are known as the Sahel Hills. The city faces east and north and forms a large amphitheatre of dazzling white buildings that dominate the harbour and the bay. The city takes its name (Arabic: “The Islands”) from several small islands that formerly existed in the bay, all but one of which have been connected to the shore or obliterated by harbour works. Pop. (2008) 2,364,230; (2007 est.) urban agglom., 3,354,000. 4 One can imagine early sailors, as your sailing west and see four islands on the other side of the north opening by, that is the best harbor i the region. And so the trading posy grwa dn became known as the four islands.
Algiers is the capital. white buildings ascending steeply from the white capped shores in triangular fashion as a lightnouse, unintended homage to its ancient roots as a safe haven and vaulble enriching trading post amongst our forebeares.
1962 is said to be the year that France declared Algeria to be independent, whatever that means.
The Arab Spring…
Algeria, while experiencing unrest, did not see the radical upheavals to its system of governance that occurred in numerous brethren Arab States.
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- but whereas empires have fallen, (those many masters), the city endures…which begs the question, precisely who is master of whom?
- ” If God were to grant Algeria an overdue break, and lift her out of the grasping claws of President Bouteflika’s clique and beyond the fists of its tiny extremist minority, Algiers would be the San Francisco of the region, gateway to deserts, mountains and coasts beyond reckoning. ” https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2010/sep/04/algiers-city-break-algeria
- that harbor combined with the areas culture lead a travel writer to call the modern city potentially “the San Francisco of the region” https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2010/sep/04/algiers-city-break-algeria