A quick guided tour to some of the treasures of “the treasure of Maghreb”.
Algiers, nicknamed Alger La Blanche (Algiers the White) and El Behdja, is the unspoken treasure of Maghreb. Algeria’s modern civil war saw tourism flee the land, only to bring back solely Algerian nationals in the diaspora that returned.
Yet, to not visit Algiers would be a mistake. With its rich historical and cultural sites, Algiers offers a mix of Arab, Berber, Turkish, French and more, all in one place.
Notre Dame D’Afrique
A cliff top location, this Catholic basilica is a 19th Century Roman Catholic Church and one of the city’s most famous and oldest buildings.
The Notre Dame D’Afrique (Our Lady of Africa) was designed by French architect Jean Eugene Fromageu, taking 14 years to complete and was finally inaugurated in 1872. Despite the decrease in Christians since the end of the French reign in Algeria, the basilica still holds a mass daily at 6pm, with the priests and nuns living only a short walk from the building. The basilica is open to the public, with a small shop inside too.
Visiting the Notre Dame D’Afrique sees you surrounded by children playing football at the foot of the church, candles gleaming through the windows, a Mediterranean Sea view and the calm air.
Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires
The Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires, located in the popular and historic neighbourhood of the La Casbah holds an old wife’s tale and stunning scenery. The building housing these stories is in an area named Socgemah (Souk el Djemaa). Literally translated, it means Friday Market: named with relevance to the markets that happened in La Casbah every Friday by Algerian and North African tradesmen.
Upon entering this resurrected and perfected Ottoman palace, you can sense the history merely from the tiles and colours. Followed by the arches and spiral cases and you have a photogenic documentation right before your eyes. Between the years 1949 and 1962 intense rejuvenation of the palace was undertaken in order to retain its original form.
My visit there was acquainted by a short story about the museum’s informal and local name: Dar El Amia Khdaoudj (The House of Khadjia the Blind). Khdaoudj was the daughter of Hassan Pasha (El-Kheznadji Treasurer to Ben Mohamed Osman Dey). It is said that Khdaoudj was beautiful. So beautiful, that she was stunned by her own beauty. Day in, day out, she would sit at her dresser and stare at her reflection. One day, her vanity led to her blindness. The mirror smashed, and she could no longer see.
Maqam Echahid (Monument Des Martyrs)
The Maqam Echahid is one of Algeria’s most recognisable monuments. This grand testimonial situated in the East of Algiers was constructed by a Canadian company in the 1980s, resulting in three huge concrete palms that come together and soar 92m into the sky. The metaphor behind the height and soaring is a representation of the coming together of the culture, industry, religion and more that signifies what makes the Independent Algeria formidable.
At the edge of each palm leaf stands a statue of a soldier, each representing a stage of Algeria’s struggle.
Maqam Echahid is open all year round, and is surrounded by museums commemorating the war of independence. The mall next to the monument frequently hosts concerts, and at night becomes a lively arena of coffee houses, ice-cream parlours and water fountains.
More than just a picturesque seaside town, Sidi Fredj is actually an important historical landmark as the first place where the French troops landed and began their colonisation of Algeria in 1830.
Sidi Fredj today is now one of the more popular resorts in Algiers and on the Mediterranean coast, offering hotels, yacht rides, fishing, swimming and even wedding venues.
It has natural wonders stationed right on the tips of the coast, with small mountains peaking from beneath the shore, crumbling old Ottoman buildings, French style cafeterias and local fishermen quietly going about their day.
A recommended visit would be during the off peak seasons: October to mid May sees it calm from morning to night, with relaxing views and time to take in all it has to offer.
ALSO READ: The day I discovered the mystery of Algiers