The almost identically named capital city of Algeria
. It's naturally the No. 1 entry point and travel hub of the country, but also offers a few attractions of its own, including some dark ones.
The principal landmark of modern Algiers, and independent Algeria at large, is the gigantic Martyrs Monument
or Makam Ech-chahid
towering over the city on a hilltop location called El Madania. It was inaugurated in 1982, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Algeria gaining independence from France
. The structure, which some say resembles a half-peeled banana, is ca. 300 feet (92m) tall and certainly makes an impression, though not necessarily a positive one for everyone (I'd be inclined to view it more sympathetically, however).
Housed directly beneath the monument is one of the two museums in Algiers that are of particular interest for the dark tourist. This one is called the "National Jihad Museum". Don't get your expectations up too high. It's actually not about any old Jihad ('holy war' in Islam), but just about the one that led to Algeria's independence.
The other museum, called Musee central de l'Armee
, rendered in English as Museum of the Armed Forces, or simply War Museum, is basically about the very same period, the 1954 to 1962 Algeria War against the old colonial power France
, which ended in 1962 when the country gained its independence. It was a nasty war, involving various massacres (even in Paris
) as well as torture (controversially) used as an interrogation method. It was damaging to France at home too, and ultimately led to the collapse of the Fourth Republic (and Charles de Gaulle's return to power, who then proceeded to facilitate Algerian independence). At these Algiers museums the emphasis is naturally celebratory, and with reverence to the Algerian revolutionary "heroes" of the independence struggles.
Labelling is in Arabic and/or French only, but even without a knowledge of either language some of the museums' exhibits manage to speak for themselves, to a degree, in particular the genuine guillotine that's on display in the war museum. There are also a few open-air exhibits, such as fighter planes, army vehicles and a missile.
Opening times: daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed in the morning at weekends).
Admission: a minuscule 20 DZD (= roughly 0.20 EUR / 0.25 USD)
Locations: at opposite ends of the large plaza (and shopping centre) called Riad El Feth, built over (or tunnelled by) the Boulevard Khalifa Oulmane, some three miles south-east of the Casbah.
The Casbah (old quarter) itself may be considered a kind of dark sight … its labyrinthine maze of little alleys and dead ends and crumbling old buildings was for many years more or less a no-go area, too dangerous not only for foreign tourists but even other Algerians from other parts of the city. Today, it is again possible to go on tours of this most original of North African old town centres (which also gave the generic term kasbah to the world to refer to similar such old quarters) – but you will have to rely on a good, trustworthy guide who knows the place well. Waltzing in independently is still considered dangerous.
Getting to Algiers is quite easy, especially by plane, as there are various connections to European hubs such as Paris
, Madrid, Barcelona or Rome. They can be surprisingly cheap too. In addition there are ferries across the Mediterranean e.g. from Marseilles. Getting into Algiers overland from abroad is naturally more tricky.
It is still a somewhat edgy destination overall – the civil war that had been going on in Algeria since the early 1990s only ended in 2002, but troubles continued (including kidnappings of tourists and bomb attacks) until much more recently – though the majority of incidents have more lately tended to occur in the neighbouring countries of Mali, Niger and Mauritania.
In late 2010/early 2011 the wave of "popular revolutions" sweeping across the Arab world also reached Algeria
, although with less drama and violence than especially in neighbouring Libya
. And then things kicked off in Mail and spilled over into southern Algeria ...it still remains to be seen what the outcome may eventually be for the country as a whole.
By the time this new development started, tourism had only begun to slowly regain a feeble footing in Algeria and Algiers, hence facilities are still underdeveloped, with fewer hotels or other accommodation options and fewer foreigner-oriented restaurants than is common in other capital cities.
Getting around should get easier with the city's spanking new metro system, but the best and safest way is still by taxi. Travelling outside Algiers should ideally be undertaken using a tried-and-tested tour operator.