Tourism experts have ranked Algeria as the world's highest potential adventure travel destination for the decade. Here's what you can discover on your next trip...
Spread across more than 2.3 million square kilometres, Algeria is the largest country in the African continent. While close to 90 per cent of its area remains engulfed by the Sahara desert (the region's biggest draw), the rest of the country still offers immense potential, with intrepid backpackers and world travellers now increasingly making their way to this extraordinary land.
Just a short hop from Europe and the Middle East, the northern terrain boasts snow-flecked mountains, a stunning Mediterranean coastline and some of the most charismatic cities. Among them is Oran, which is one of Algeria's largest and most significant towns, and is known for its incredible charm. It retains the relaxed vibe of the Med, with a sun-drenched coast, while still remaining firmly rooted in its past – a fact evident in its grand monuments and architectural wonders.
Steeped in history
The word Oran comes from"wahran" in Arabic, which means two lions and evokes the legend of the last two lions that were hunted on the Djebel Kar mountain near Oran. A lasting reminder of this heritage are the two lion statues that guard its city hall. According to the analogy, the wild animals that lived in the area thousands of years ago kept approaching the suburbs, just like the invasions Oran was subjected to over the centuries. And it was these invasions that resulted in a mingling of cultures in the city.
While Oran was founded by Moorish Andalusian traders around 937 AD, its history has been influenced by the Ottomans, Byzantines, Romans, Spanish, French and Arabs. Traces of each of these cultures can, therefore, be found everywhere, in its architecture and especially in its food.
Explore on foot
The city of Oran is best explored on foot and one of the most beautiful walks you can take is along the seafront boulevard – Front de Mer. Stretching across two kilometres, it overlooks the port, offering views of the sea on one side and captivating buildings on the other. In the distance, you will be able to view the famous Santa Cruz Chapel and Fort of Santa Cruz straddling the mountains.
A short walk from the waterfront is one of the city's most loved landmarks. The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart was built in the early 1900s but was converted into a public library after the country's independence in the 1960s. The building remains a fine example of Byzantine architecture and is a must-visit when in the city.
A few steps away from the library lies the Place du 1er Novembre, also known as the Place d’Armes. The central hub of Oran and the historic heart of the city, it bears an obelisk that was inaugurated in 1898 in honour of the hundred men of the French army who died in combat during the famous battle of Sidi Brahim in 1845 against several thousand horsemen of the emir Abdelkader. However, when France repatriated the bronze statue at the base of the obelisk after the country's independence, the local Algerian authorities modified the structure and added a bust of the emir topped by a statue called the Glory Obelisk.
More to explore
For brilliant views over the entire city of Oran, take a taxi to the top of Fort of Santa Cruz. One of the most recognised landmarks in the city, it sits high on the top of the mountains and was built in the 16th century by the Spanish after they defeated the Ottomans. Just below the fort is the chapel of Santa Cruz, which was built in 1850 by the French during the cholera outbreak in the city.