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Algiers

ALGIERS

Capital of the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria.

Algiers is located at the northwestern end of a large bay in the Mediterranean Sea. The city's industrial activity is concentrated to the south and east, on the plain of the Mitidja. The region contains 48 percent of the country's factories and 55 percent of its industrial workforce. In 2003, it had a population of 3 million.

The city's origins reach back to the Phoenicians and Romans (300 b.c.e.100 c.e.). Berbers reestablished Algiers in the ninth century, naming it al-Jazaʾir (islands) because of rock outcroppings in the bay. In the early sixteenth century, Algiers was drawn into Castile's overseas expansion and the Ottoman reaction against it. After expelling the Spaniards in 1529, the Ottomans established a corsair principality. At its height in the 1600s, the city, with perhaps forty thousand inhabitants, held as many as twenty thousand Christians for ransom. In the eighteenth century, Western states forced an end to corsair activities and Algiers began to specialize in grain exports. A dispute over payment for grain deliveries to Napoleon led to the occupation of Algiers by the French (1830).

French army rule gave way to French civilian control in 1871. Both the military and the settlers initially erected their residential and commercial structures in the lower part of the Casbah (qasba, citadel), as the pre-1830 part of Algiers was called. In contrast to other areas of North Africa, no new European city center sprang up outside the existing one.

The end of the nineteenth century was a time of rapid population increase (by 41 percent from 1886 to 1896, and then to a total of 155,000 settlers and 45,000 Muslims by 1918) and considerable commercial wealth, particularly from wine exports. Public building included a central train depot and a new harbor (both completed by 1896), streetcar lines (begun in 1896), and municipal and educational infrastructures (water, gas, hospitals, a university). Ambitious plans to turn the entire lower Casbah into a city with wide boulevards were quashed by the military, but the incorporation of the suburb of Mustapha in 1904 opened the way for a more systematic southern expansion. Regional Algiers was born.

In the new city, the French rejected the Arab architecture of the Casbah for French bourgeois classicism, while the residents of the wealthier suburbs opted for imitations of Turkish gardens (jinan) architecture. After World War I, European monumental classicism took over, and in the 1930s functional modernism began to emerge. Construction of a new waterfront neighborhood pushed the Casbah into the hills, where it was greatly reduced in size. The former corsair city was finally cut off from the sea.

During the interwar period, Muslim agriculture in Algeria reached its productive limits on the less fertile lands that the colonists left for the indigenous population. The capital offered alternative employment in the port, shipyards, mechanical industries, and trucking firms. In addition, there were small-scale construction firms, an industry for the processing of agricultural products, and a large administrative sector. French settlers, however, held most of the skilled jobs. Muslim rural immigrants provided the unskilled labor. They crowded into shantytowns in the hills or into the Casbah, which had twice as many people as it had held in 1830, packed into one-quarter as many buildings.

In 1954, overwhelming agrarian inequality and misery triggered the Algerian War of Independence. The war hastened the rural exodus, and around 1956, for the first time, more Muslims than Europeans lived in Algiers. In 1957, the war extended to the city, where it was fought briefly in the Casbah's maze of cul-de-sacs. In 1962, France's President Charles de Gaulle grew weary of the political divisions the war was creating in France, and Algeria achieved its independence. Furious settlers scorched parts of downtown Algiers before leaving the city en masse (311,000 left between 1960 and 1962).

In a mad rush, many of the 550,000 Muslims in town occupied dwellings vacated by the settlers. The new independent government nationalized the vacated housing stock and introduced rent controls. The colonial pattern of urbanization continued: the central city of mixed business and residential structures; the decaying, overpopulated Casbah; the well-off (uphill) and poorer (downhill) suburbs; and the shantytowns in the hillside ravines. Free-market rents continued in the traditionally Muslim quarters, which were composed of mostly low-grade dwellings. Rural-urban migrants flowed into the shantytowns and slums, creating a total of 1 million inhabitants toward the end of the 1960s.

A state-led industrialization program that lasted from 1971 to 1985 provided Algiers with factories for mechanical and electrical machinery, processed agricultural goods, building materials, textiles, wood, and paper. These attracted new masses of migrants. At first, the government neglected to provide adequate housing for the new workers. Uncontrolled urban sprawl moved into Algiers's rich agricultural belt around the bay. When the population reached nearly 2 million in the early 1980s, the government finally began a program of urban renewal. Plans were made to move squatters to solid housing or back to their villages, to rehabilitate the Casbah, and to build subways and freeways to relieve urban grid-lock.

Low world market prices for oil and gas from 1986 to 1992 triggered a severe financial crisis and brought the renewal program to a halt. The subsequent civil war (19922001) between the military, in control of the government, and Islamist challengers brought Algiers extortion rackets, bombings, shootouts, and abductions. Villagers fled from even worse carnage in the countryside, swelling the population of Algiers to over three million during the 1990s. At the same time, many middle-class professionals fled abroad, taking with them much of the city's previously flourishing intellectual and artistic culture. The civil war had abated considerably by 2001, but insecurity continued to a degree in the capital and country. Early in the twenty-first century, unemployment in the city was estimated at 35 percent.

see also algeria: overview; algerian war of independence; de gaulle, charles.

Bibliography


Martinez, Luis. The Algerian Civil War, 19901998, translated by Jonathan Derrick. London: Hurst, 2000.

Peter von Sivers

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Algiers

Algiers (ăljērz´), Arab. Al-Jaza'Ir, Fr. Alger (älzhā´), city (1998 pop. 1,519,570), capital of Algeria, N Algeria, on the Bay of Algiers of the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the leading ports of North Africa (wine, citrus fruit, iron ore, cork, and cereals are the major exports), as well as a commercial center. Industries include metallurgy, oil refining, automotive construction, machine-building, and the production of chemicals, tobacco, paper, and cement. Founded by the Phoenicians and called Icosium by the Romans, the city disappeared after the fall of the Roman Empire. Many of the Moors expelled from Spain in 1492 settled in Algiers. In 1511 the Spanish occupied an island in the city's harbor, but they were driven out when Barbarossa captured Algiers for the Turks. Algiers then became a base for the Muslim fleet that preyed upon Christian commerce in the Mediterranean (see Barbary States). Under the Ottoman Empire, the city's population reached 100,000. The ruling Turkish official in Algeria, the dey of Algiers, made himself virtually independent of Constantinople in the 18th and 19th cent. As European navies repeatedly attacked Algiers, the city's prosperity, which was based on piracy, declined. When French forces captured the port in 1830, Algiers had less than 40,000 inhabitants. Algiers became headquarters for the Allied forces in North Africa in World War II, as well as for Charles de Gaulle's provisional French government. An anti-French uprising in the city in 1954 provided a major spark in the Algerian armed struggle for independence. In May, 1958, Algiers was the principal scene of a revolt by European colonists and the French army that ended the Fourth French Republic and returned de Gaulle to power. During the final months before Algeria won independence (1962), bombings by the French terrorist Organization of the Secret Army (OAS) damaged industrial and communications facilities in Algiers. In 1973 a major conference of nonaligned nations was held there. The city is divided into the newer, French-built sector, with wide boulevards and modern administrative and commercial buildings, and the original Muslim quarter, with narrow streets, numerous mosques, and the 16th cent. casbah (fortress), which was once the residence of the Turkish deys. Other points of interest in Algiers include the observatory, botanical gardens, the national library and museum, the Basilica of Notre Dame, and the Cathedral of Sacré Coeur, which was designed by Le Corbusier. The Univ. of Algiers dates back to 1909. Many of the city's European residents left in the wake of Algerian independence. Algiers has expanded to the south as a result of suburban growth.

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Algiers

Algiers Capital and largest city of Algeria, on the Bay of Algiers, n Africa's chief port on the Mediterranean. Founded by the Phoenicians, it has been colonized by Romans, Berber Arabs, Turks and Muslim Barbary pirates. In 1830 the French invaded and made Algiers the capital of the French colony of Algeria. In World War II it was the headquarters of the Allies and seat of the French provisional government. During the 1950s and 1960s it was a focus for the violent struggle for independence. The old city is based round a 16th-century Turkish citadel. The 11th-century Sidi Abderrahman Mosque is a major destination for Muslim pilgrims. Industries: oil refining, phosphates, wine, metallurgy, tobacco. Pop. (1998) 2,562,428.

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