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
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
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 the "Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries" (OPEC), the
non-Aligned movement, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the Arab
League. The city hosted several important regional and international conferences
and summits during a period of dramatic growth and changes for the Arab world.
Combined with its cosmopolitan heritage, Algeria's revolutionary
socialist credentials have placed the country in a pivotal role time and again
in East-West and inter-Arab confrontations.