Algiers (Fr. Alger, Arab. الجزائر El-Jezair, i.e. The Islands), nicknamed Alger la Blanche ("Algiers the White") from the glistening white of its buildings as seen sloping up from the sea, presenting a striking appearance, is the capital and largest city of Algeria, North Africa. It is situated on the west side of a bay of the Mediterranean Sea, to which it gives its name, in 36 deg. 47' N., 3 deg. 4' E., and is built on the slopes of the Sahel, a chain of hills parallel to the coast.
The city consists of two parts; the modern part, built on the level ground by the seashore, and the ancient city of the deys, which climbs the steep hill behind the modern town and is crowned by the casbah or citadel, 400 ft. above the sea. The casbah forms the apex of a triangle of which the quays form the base.
There are many public buildings of interest, including the whole casbah quarter, Martyrs Square (Sahat ech-Chouhada ساحة الشهداء), the government offices (formerly the British consulate), the "Grand", "New", and Ketchaoua Mosques, the Roman Catholic cathedral of Notre Dame d'Afrique, the Bardo Museum (a former Turkish mansion), the old Bibliotheque Nationale d'Alger -- aTurkish palace built in 1799-1800 - and the new National Library, built in a style reminiscent of the British Library.
The main building in the casbah was begun in 1516 on the site of an older building, and served as the palace of the deys until the French conquest. A road has been cut through the centre of the building, the mosque turned into barracks, and the hall of audience allowed to fall into ruin. There still remain a minaret and some marble arches and columns. Traces exist of the vaults in which were stored the treasures of the dey.
The Grand Mosque (Jamaa-el-Kebir الجامع الكبير) is traditionally said to be the oldest mosque in Algiers. The pulpit (minbar منبر) bears an inscription showing that the building existed in 1018. The minaret was built by Abu Tachfin , sultan of Tlemcen, in 1324. The interior of the mosque is square and is divided into aisles by columns joined by Moorish arches.
The New Mosque (Jamaa-el-Jedid الجامع الجديد), dating from the 17th century, is in the form of a Greek cross, surmounted by a large white cupola, with four small cupolas at the corners. The minaret is 90 ft. high. The interior resembles that of the Grand Mosque.
The church of the Holy Trinity (built in 1870) stands at the southern end of the rue d'Isly near the site of the demolished Fort Bab Azoun باب عزون. The interior is richly decorated with various coloured marbles. Many of these marbles contain memorial inscriptions relating to the English residents (voluntary and involuntary) of Algiers from the time of John Tipton, British consul in 1580. One tablet records that in 1631 two Algerine pirate crews landed in Ireland, sacked Baltimore, and carried off its inhabitants to slavery; another recalls the romantic escape of Ida M`Donnell, daughter of Admiral Ulric, consul-general of Denmark, and wife of the British consul. When Lord Exmouth was about to bombard the city in 1816, the British consul was thrown into prison and loaded with chains. Mrs. M`Donnell -- who was but sixteen -- escaped to the British fleet disguised as a midshipman, carrying a basket of vegetables in which her baby was hidden. (Mrs. M`Donnell subsequently married the duc de Talleyrand-Perigord and died at Florence in 1880). Among later residents commemorated is Edward Lloyd, who was the first person to show the value of esparto grass for the manufacture of paper, and thus started an industry which is one of the most important in Algeria.
The Ketchaoua mosque (Djamaa Ketchaoua جامع كتشاوة), at the foot of the Casbah, was before independence in 1962 the cathedral of St Philippe, itself made in 1845 from a mosque dating from 1612. The principal entrance, reached by a flight of 23 steps, is ornamented with a portico supported by four black-veined marble columns. The roof of the nave is of Moorish plaster work. It rests on a series of arcades supported by white marble columns. Several of these columns belonged to the original mosque. In one of the chapels was a tomb containing the bones of San Geronimo. The building seems a curious blend of Moorish and Byzantine styles.
Algiers possesses a college with schools of law, medicine, science and letters. The college buildings are large and handsome. The Bardo museum holds some of the ancient sculptures and mosaics discovered in Algeria, together with medals and Algerian money.
The port of Algiers is sheltered from all winds. There are two harbours, both artificial -- the old or northern harbour and the southern or Agha harbour. The northern harbour covers an area of 235 acres (950,000 m²). An opening in the south jetty affords an entrance into Agha harbour, constructed in Agha Bay. Agha harbour has also an independent entrance on its southern side.
The inner harbour was begun in 1518 by Khair-ad-Din Barbarossa (see History, below), who, to accommodate his pirate vessels, caused the island on which was Fort Penon to be connected with the mainland by a mole. The lighthouse which occupies the site of Fort Penon was built in 1544.
Algiers was a walled city from the time of the deys until the close of the 19th century. The French, after their occupation of the city (1830), built a rampart, parapet and ditch, with two terminal forts, Bab Azoun باب عزون to the south and Bab-el-Oued باب الواد to the north. The forts and part of the ramparts were demolished at the beginning of the 20th century, when a line of forts occupying the heights of Bouzareah بوزريعة (at an elevation of 1300 ft. above the sea) took their place.
Notre-Dame d'Afrique, a church built (1858-1872) in a mixture of the Roman and Byzantine styles, is conspicuously situated, overlooking the sea, on the shoulder of the Bouzareah hills, 2 m. to the north of the city. Above the altar is a statue of the Virgin depicted as a black woman. The church also contains a solid silver statue of the archangel Michael, belonging to the confraternity of Neapolitan fishermen.
In Roman times a small town called Icosium existed on what is now the marine quarter of the city. The rue de la Marine follows the lines of a Roman street. Roman cemeteries existed near Bab-el-Oued and Bab Azoun . Bishops of Icosium -- which was created a Latin city by Vespasian -- are mentioned as late as the 5th century.
The present city was founded in 944 by Buluggin b. Ziri , the founder of the Zirid-Senhaja dynasty, which was overthrown by Roger II of Sicily in 1148. The Zirids had before that date lost Algiers, which in 1159 was occupied by the Almohades, and in the 13th century came under the dominion of the Abd-el-Wadid sultans of Tlemcen.
Nominally part of the sultanate of Tlemcen, Algiers had a large measure of independence under amirs of its own, Oran being the chief seaport of the Abd-el-Wahid. The islet in front of the harbour, subsequently known as the Penon, had been occupied by the Spaniards as early as 1302. Thereafter a considerable trade grew up between Algiers and Spain.
Algiers, however, continued to be of comparatively little importance until after the expulsion from Spain of the Moors, many of whom sought an asylum in the city. In 1510, following their occupation of Oran and other towns on the coast of Africa, the Spaniards fortified the Penon. In 1516 the amir of Algiers, Selim b. Teumi, invited the brothers Arouj and Khair-ad-Din (Barbarossa) to expel the Spaniards. Arouj came to Algiers, caused Selim to be assassinated, and seized the town. Khair-ad-Din, succeeding Arouj, drove the Spaniards from the Penon (1550) and was the founder of the pashalik, afterwards deylik, of Algeria.
See List of Pasha and Dey of Algiers
Algiers from this time became the chief seat of the Barbary corsairs. In October 1541 the emperor Charles V sought to capture the city, but a storm destroyed a great number of his ships, and his army of some 30,000, chiefly Spaniards, was defeated by the Algerians under their pasha, Hassan. From the 17th century, Algiers, free of Ottoman control and sited on the periphery between the Ottoman world-economy and the European one, and depending for its existence on a Mediterranean that was increasingly controlled by European shipping, backed by European navies, turned to piracy. Repeated attempts were made by various European nations to subdue the pirates that disturbed European hegemony in the Western Mediterranean, and in 1816 the city was bombarded by a British squadron under Lord Exmouth, assisted by Dutch men-of-war, and the corsair fleet burned. On the 4th of July in 1830, on the pretext of an affront to their consul - whom the dey had hit with a fly-whisk when he said the French government was not prepared to pay its large outstanding debts to two Algerian Jewish merchants - a French army under General de Bourmont attacked the city, which capitulated on the following day.
The history of Algiers from 1830 to 1962 is bound to the larger history of Algeria and its struggles with France.
In 1962, after a bloody independence struggle in which hundreds of thousands of Algerians died (a million Algerians according to official Algerian history) at the hands of the French army and the Algerian Front de libération nationale or F.L.N., Algeria finally gained its independence, with Algiers as its capital. Since then, despite losing its entire European or Pied-Noir population, the city has expanded massively - it now has 3 million inhabitants, or 10% of Algeria's population - and its suburbs now cover most of the surrounding Metidja plain.