With its status as a populated region dating back to 10,000 BC, Algeria has an interesting history. The Great Sahara desert was once a lush savanna region, aptly named the Green Sahara. Cave drawings from the Capsian period of the Neolithic age depict men hunting elephants, giant buffalos, hippopotamus and rhinoceros.
A great number of significant remains from even earlier (200,000 BC) give evidence of hominid occupation, and Neanderthal tools have been found from around 43,000 BC.
Algeria appears to have been the site of some of the most developed flake tools of the Stone Age, as well, which might indicate a great deal of cultural exchange.
Extensive trade developed between the Carthaginians and the Berbers, but the Berbers were also recruited to military service, enslaved and required to pay the Carthaginians tribute.
By early in the 4th century BC, the largest portion of the Carthaginian army was comprised of Berbers, and in 241 BC, the Berber soldiers rebelled as a result of not receiving payment after Carthage lost the First Punic War. They successfully seized control of most of the North African territory from Carthage.
In the middle of the second century BC, Carthage was destroyed, and Berber influence expanded even more, with their culture attaining a level of civilization that remained unrivaled for more than 1,000 years.
Muslim Arabs brought Islam to Algeria in the mid-7th century, and although the region went through centuries of alternating unification and separation, the new religion became dominant, giving the various kingdoms and tribes at least one thing in common.
Algeria became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1517, and rapidly became home to piracy, which gave infamy to the Barbary Coast. Barbary pirates sank many vessels and took many Christians as slaves until Algiers was conquered by France in 1830.
Even after the Barbary corsairs ceased to be such a major problem in the Mediterranean region, the pirates still ranged as far as Iceland and Newfoundland in pursuit of new slaves.
Between the conquest by France and Algeria’s independence in 1962, the indigenous Algerians suffered greatly, as did their culture. Lands were seized and given to French immigrants, illiteracy became widespread, and epidemics ravaged the populace.
By the time the country gained its independence after a protracted and bloody guerrilla revolution, there was much animosity against the French (and Algerian collaborators) and over one million French fled the country in just a few months. Over 132 years of French occupation and control left its mark, however.
The post-colonial period was peppered with military coups, assassination attempts and corruption. The country was starkly divided on the issue of arabization, an effort to return to pre-colonial culture and language.
In 1991, when the Islamic Salvation Front was victorious in the first round of elections, the Algerian military took control of the country, declaring a state of emergency. A violent civil war erupted, which cost more than 160,000 Algerians their lives. In 1999, the army installed a new president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
- More than 85% of Algeria is covered by the sands of the Sahara Desert
- 98% of Algeria’s exports are petroleum and natural gas.
- 90% of Algeria’s population resides along its 750 mile Mediterranean coastline.
- Algeria is one of the three largest suppliers in the world of helium gas, a byproduct of its oil and natural gas harvesting.
- 99% of the Algerian population is comprised of Sunni Muslims with Berber ancestry.
- For a Berber, work is their life. With the exception of special occasions, there is no acceptable reason to not be working when one is awake.
- When meeting someone for the first time, it is customary for Berbers to kiss one’s hands and fingertips as a sign of respect.
- Many Berbers have no idea what day or month it is, or even what their own age is, as time is considered irrelevant.
- One of the most special social events in a Berber village is a wedding. They are typically four days in length, and several couples will be wed at once.
- Fine, intricate art pieces are made in Algeria, from silver, copper, glass, agate and brass, but never gold, as Algerian superstition holds gold as unlucky to work with.
- The weekend in Algeria is Friday and Saturday. Sunday is a work day.
- Algiers – the capital city of Algeria, with its snow-white buildings, is steeped in many centuries of history, even though there are few pieces of original architecture left intact after many bombardments over the centuries.
- Oran – founded by Moor traders in 937 AD, Oran is an important cultural and educational center in Algeria.
- Taghit – an oasis town in the southwest portion of the country, surrounded by the Sahara desert, this is a memorable place to visit.
- Constantine – this natural fortress is perched on a rocky mountain above the Rhumel River valley, with some spectacular photo opportunities.
- Tlemcen – once the capital of the Berber dynasty, between the 13th and 15th centuries, Tlemcen has much to offer the tourist interested in the blend of Berber, Arab and French cultures.
- Tamanrasset – another oasis town in southern Algeria, with nearly its entire population comprised of Tauregs, a nomadic people.
- Timimoun – this oasis town represents a realistic view of the harshness of desert life.
- Ghardaia – this northern Algeria oasis town experiences high temperatures (40C) in the summer, with high humidity, but the Mzab Valley region is worth seeing.
- Tassili n’Ajjer – Visit the caves and see the 8,000 year old drawings that tell the story of life when the Sahara desert was a lush savanna.
- In Salah – A huge, creeping sand dune slowly covers buildings under its leading edge, while exposing generations-old buildings from beneath its trailing edge. Rate of advance: about 1 meter every 5 years!
How to Get Cash
- With the exception of 5 star international hotels, you are unlikely to find anywhere willing or able to accept your credit cards.
- Most ATMs do not accept foreign cards.
- You can change dollars or euros to Algerian dinars in any bank, but there are no international banks where you can get cash with a debit or credit card.
- Traveler’s checks are not accepted anywhere in Algeria.
- Western Union does not offer fund transfer services into Algeria.
- Bring plenty of cash! But don’t carry it around with you – leave what you can in the hotel safe.
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