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Algiers Cruises

Algiers, Algeria

About Algiers

Known as “Alger la Blanche” for the dazzling whitewashed buildings that ascend like stairs from the shores of the Mediterranean, Algiers captivates with its heady mix of ancient and modern cultures.

The city’s strategic location is responsible for its historic appeal. Founded by seafaring Phoenicians around the 4th century BC, the city later became a thriving Roman port. The Turks arrived in the early 16th century and made the coastal town their principal seat of power in the Maghreb.

Under Ottoman rule, the city was encircled by impressive walls, even along the shore. Within, the Casbah was divided in two. On the sloping mountainside (al-Jabal), 50 small communities of Spanish, Jewish, Moorish and other people thrived. In the lower city, the coastal plains (al-Wata) served as the political and commercial center, home to Turkish dignitaries and the elite. The geographic arrangement, if not the social, somewhat remains to this day.

In 1830, the city became the capital of French Algeria. The pieds noirs (or “black shoes,” so named in contrast to the local preference for bare feet) ruled the country for nearly a century and a half, and many Europeans took up residence here. Algerian independence was realized in 1962. Today, the French influence is omnipresent in the city, from the generous boulevards and stately architecture to the numerous patisseries serving up freshly baked, fragrant chocolate croissants.

Algiers Lifestyle and Culture

Nowhere is the city’s Ottoman history more apparent than in the hilltop Casbah. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, its warrens of densely packed whitewashed buildings climb steep, narrow, winding streets.

Once a flourishing fortified city filled with mosques, hammams and souks, the area was largely overlooked during French rule. Today, much of the Casbah has been restored to its former glory and many Ottoman-era palaces now serve as museums. One such example is the Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions. Showcasing the considerable and diverse skills of Algerian artisans, its collections include tapestries, pottery and jewelry.

Then, as now, the Casbah functioned as the cultural heart of Algiers. It was here, in the 1920s, that chaabi music was born; heavily influenced by the music of Andalusia, particularly flamenco, the soulful chaabi is often hailed as the “Casbah blues.” Later, the area became a symbol of Algerian independence, as immortalized in the 1966 film The Battle of Algiers.

A visit to the Casbah today reveals an intimate look at daily life in Algiers. Children kick soccer balls around narrow alleyways. Laundry hangs out to dry in the sun while women in headscarves buy oranges and eggplants from street vendors’ stalls. Merchants lead donkeys through narrow lanes as residents share mint tea and conversation in modest cafés.

Algiers Sights and Landmarks

A popular meeting place for locals, the Grand Poste is perhaps the world’s most majestic post office. Commissioned by the French in 1910, the building’s neo-Moorish design features graceful arches, a marble staircase and an intricately inlaid rotunda.

Perched atop a high cliff overlooking the Bay of Algiers, the neo-Byzantine Basilica of Notre Dame d’Afrique is an imposing sandstone structure. Built in 1872, the church is notable for its gleaming silver dome and colorful mosaic tile border.

Perhaps the most recognized landmark in Algiers, the ultramodern Martyrs Monument offers a stark contrast to the city’s French colonial and Ottoman architecture. Composed of three massive concrete palm fronds, the monument opened in 1982 and commemorates Algeria’s hard-fought war for independence.

Covering nearly 200 acres, the sprawling gardens of Jardin d’Essai du Hamma are among the world’s most picturesque botanical gardens. Meticulously landscaped, it opened in 1832 and features palm-lined pathways, ornate fountains, exotic trees and plants and even a small zoo.

Algiers Entertainment and Activities

Across from the gardens, on Rue Mohamed Belouizdad, you’ll find the National Museum of Fine Arts. Opened in 1830, the museum boasts an extensive collection of works by both Algerian and international artists. Highlights include the acclaimed miniatures of Mohammed Racim, as well as paintings by French masters Delacroix and Renoir, both of whom spent time in Algiers.

At the Bardo Museum, visitors can view art from a much earlier period: Its rock paintings, discovered in the 1930s in Algeria’s Tassili n'Ajjer mountains, date back to the Neolithic period. Housed in a restored 18th-century Ottoman villa, the museum’s architecture is as much of a draw as its exhibits.

Algiers Restaurants and Shopping

Located near the Sacre Coeur Cathedral, the unassuming Maison de Couscous is a favorite with locals. True to its name, couscous features prominently on the restaurant’s menu, served with stewed meat and vegetables. Other North African specialties here include burek, rolled pastries with various sweet or savory fillings, and rechta, a dish with chicken and noodles.

For some of the city’s best seafood, head to Le Dauphin. At this waterfront restaurant, the fish simply doesn’t come any fresher: Guests are invited make their selection from a barrel rolled up to each table. Once a fisherman’s hospital, the neoclassical building features floor-to-ceiling windows with unforgettable Mediterranean views.

The best shopping in Algiers can be found along the tree-lined Rue Didouche Mourad. A lively thoroughfare linking Liberty Park with the seafront, it’s filled with independent boutiques offering everything from leather goods and jewelry to Berber carpets and copperware. It’s also rife with glaciers (ice cream shops), restaurants and sidewalk cafés, where you can sit back and savor a sweet treat or café au lait while admiring the Mediterranean flavor of the area’s blue-shuttered, balconied buildings.