Orán: la perla oculta del Mediterráneo
06 March, 2015
Oran is still off the beaten tourist track, which makes it all the more appealing when it comes to planning a trip which avoids scheduled routines and well-worn tourist prototypes. During the French colonial period it was the capital of the Oran Department, and it is currently an important port city and commercial hub and boasts one of the leading universities in North Africa. Sunni Islam is the official State religion, although there are Christian and Jewish minority communities. A visa is required when travelling there.
The Spain Brand in Oran
The capital of western Algeria, Oran occupies a privileged, strategic location in the Mediterranean basin. It is regarded by Spaniards as the most Spanish city in Africa, given the wealth of Spanish vestiges still present right across the region. Indeed, traces of Spain linger in local culture, language and gastronomy. The Oranians eat cocas, a sausage similar to Spanish sobrasada, and claim to have invented the paella, a word derived from the Arabic baiya, consisting of rice and seafood. The city also sports a bullring – now in disuse – which was inaugurated in 1954.
In geographical terms, Oran is the point in Algeria closest to the Iberian peninsula and indeed, on a clear day, the city of Almería can be seen from Oran, or vice versa. Its privileged position has enabled it to build up all manner of land and maritime connections. Its bay opens to the north-east, while the western flank is dominated by the steep Aïdour mountain. The city lies sheltered between the old colonial city and the new developments, which lend it a more modern air. Not to be missed is a stroll down the seafront promenade with its delightful panoramic view of the harbour and the old city. From here you can walk to the interesting Pacha Mosque.
You should not pass over the occasion to visit the famous Santa Cruz Fort. Built atop a mountain adjacent to the city, where it has served as a faithful lookout for over four centuries, this is undoubtedly the masterpiece of Spanish military architecture in the city, and also houses the well-worth-seeing Chapel of the Virgin.
The Place de la Perle (or Plaza de Armas), once the centre of Oran, while the city was under Spanish rule, is another of the prime sightseeing spots. Together with the Spanish Gate, the Casbah, the Porte de Santon, the St Philip Garrison and the Tambour de San José, it is one of the best preserved places from that period, from the 16th to the 18th century. Most striking is this latter monument, due to its important role in the Spanish history of Oran. Radiating from there was a network of underground galleries which ran underneath the old citadel and connected the Qasr el-Bey (Bey Castle) to the Santa Cruz Fort.
The old town features an alcazaba (citadel), a fortified urban enclosure built to house the governor’s residence, to defend a specific area and its surroundings and to garrison troops, making up a small military precinct. The cluster of buildings forming this citadel includes an 18th-century mosque.
The district of Sidi El Houari, the patron saint of the city, is the oldest in Oran. There are guided tours of the walls and tunnels dating from the Spanish period, the Spanish Gate, the Madrid Ramp, la Blanca, la Escalera, the Casbah, etc. In this historical district you can also see the old Saint-Louis school, and the Pacha Mosque, built during the 17th century. Before leaving Oran, make sure you visit the marabout or Moorish shrine of the city’s patron saint, Sidi El Houari and make a wish, as tradition dictates.
This district also houses some of the city’s most important museums. The Ahmed Zabana Museum, formerly known as the Demaeght Museum, has archaeological, ethnological and natural history collections from the Maghreb on display, as well as an exhibition area devoted to Oran. In the archaeology section, the Carthaginian and Roman collections take pride of place. The buildings date from 1933, while in 1986 the museum was taken over by the Ministry of Culture and renamed. It comprises seven sections focusing on Oran and its surrounding region – fine art, the Moudjahid, numismatics, pre-history, old Oran, ethnography and natural history. Another prominent museum is the Moudjahid, located in the USTO district, which is dedicated as a memorial to the struggle for independence during the Algerian War.
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Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación
Photos by Algerian Embassy
06 March, 2015