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“Never was town more nobly placed.” So wrote the great Victorian novelist Edith Wharton on her first night in Algiers. Algeria’s capital still beguiles. ‘La Blanche’ (the white one) is breathtaking to behold. It’s a city that never fails to impress for its bright light, its sweeping bay, and foams of fragrant flowers. But most of all, the Kasbah, the city’s UNESCO-protected, pulsing heart of market squares, medieval homes and dark and dusty cafes.
Algiers is a city of contrasts, ones that reflect its long and dogged history. You can see Ottoman palaces and socialist housing blocks, wide French-style boulevards and labyrinth-like ancient streets in the course of a day. The, cream-colored, colonnaded waterfront of the Bay of Algiers is perpetually alive with lights, boat traffic, fishermen and some brave swimmers - a wildly picturesque, open-arms welcome to the human warmth and brio of the African continent.
The steep, raggle taggle Kasbah of Algiers holds most of the city’s most noteworthy sites. There are several Turkish Palaces near the Ketchaoua Mosque - an enormous structure noted for its mixture of Moorish and Byzantine architecture (it was converted to a church during French Rule, then back to a mosque in 1962). Take a slow walk up to the citadel and Martyrs Monument, which commemorates the end of the War of Independence, for sweeping views of the bay. The city’s most iconic building (besides the hyper modernist Hôtel el-Aurassi) is the Notre Dame d’Afrique, a still functioning Catholic basilica perched on a summit on the outskirts of Algiers. A remarkable neo-Byzantine structure built by the French in 1872, it has a mesmerising, highly ornate interior.
Yet more than monuments and museums, Algiers is place to get lost in and absorb. Sometimes frustrating, often breathtaking and occasionally raw, for many ‘la blanche’ is the most captivating city in Africa.