Alger la Blanche: The White City on the Mediterranean

Why Alger la Blanche? Algiers the White? Gleaming, shiny white buildings against the cerulean Med. That is why.

11 things you’ll love in Algiers

1. The architecture – and it is (almost) all white

Whilst occupying Algeria, the French built large stone buildings. Gorgeous Art Nouveau structures, adorned with wrought-iron balconies. Felt like home, I guess. When Algeria won its independence in 1962, the locals simply kicked the French out and took over the buildings. I would have, too. With a touch of schadenfreude.

Algiers’ authorities are renovating the city. The buildings around and near the central square seem to have been prioritised, all shiny white. Around the corners, along side streets, things are a bit more worn. But charming.

2. Grande Poste d’Alger and Place de la Grand Poste

What? You begin an account of things I’ll love in Algiers with a… post office? Why yes. Yes, I do. La Grande Poste in Algiers is no ordinary post office, you see. It is simply a stunning building from 1910, designed by the French in Moorish style, and a focal point of the city. So much so, the square surrounding the post office – the old and the new – is named Place de la Grande Poste.

Is this the most beautiful post office in the world? I think it probably is.

Unfortunately, La Grande Poste is closed for renovation whilst we are here. It has been a museum since 2015, and does no longer operate as a post office. But fret not, you can still send those postcards. Next door is another building. Much smaller, but also rather lovely. Looks like a little church, doesn’t it? But it is the post office. I pop in, buy stamps and stick the cards in the yellow post box on the side.

Will it work? At the time of writing, 15 days later, the postcards have yet to reach their destination. (Of course, that could be the fault of recipient postal services around the world. More than once, I have had items stuck in postal limbo in Coventry.)

Place de la Grande Poste on an overcast day in June 2024

3. Bardo National Museum of Algiers

OK, let’s move on. To the Bardo Museum, housed in a striking Moorish villa.

I remember visiting the Bardo museum in Tunis, a million years ago, and wonder (aloud, as it turns out), if there is a connection. Indeed there is, says Riad, our knowledgeable guide. The Bardo Museum in Tunis is the work of Hajj ben Omar, a wealthy Tunisian. So is the Bardo Museum here in Algiers, where ben Omar lived in exile.

The Bardo is probably the most important museum in Algiers, focusing on the pre-history and ethnography of the region. You will see fossils, petroglyphs, Neanderthal paintings from the Sahara, and much more.

Up a few blue-tiled stairs is the summer residence, used to host the VIPs of yore.

Outside are gardens and courtyards with fountains and mosaics. When we visit, entertainment is going on in one of the courtyards. School children are performing on the stage. Proud parents in white plastic chairs, are applauding their efforts.

Inside is pretty gorgeous!

4. Djamaa el Djazaïr: La Grande Mosque d’Alger

Continuing right along, we head to the 5-year-old Grand Mosque, the largest in Africa. Hm… that’s a claim I’ve heard before, elsewhere. But no matter. It is certainly monumental, and that is good enough for me. With room for 120,000 worshippers, residences, libraries, a fire station, a police station and 7,000 parking spaces, it is practically a city in its own right, like the Vatican.

We are about to enter, having heard that the mosque has abayas on loan for female visitors. But not today. Their abayas are either dirty or in use by visitors that arrived before us. So we will have to settle for seeing all this grandness from the outside only.

5. Arab Garden

Good thing then, that we can walk across the street to the Arab Garden, to see the mosque from a good photo distance – and also, get up close with models of famous buildings from all the Arab countries, identified by their national flags. Here is a selection. How many do you recognise?

6. Cathédrale du Sacré-Cœur d’Alger

Time for that other religion. Let us have a look at Algiers’ cathedral. Although…

Is it a bomb shelter? A nuclear reactor? A grain silo? 

This is one of the most unique churches I have ever seen – all 1950s contemporary. Kinda Brutalist. And kinda cool.

7. Basilique Notre Dame d’Afrique

For a country where only 0.2% of the population claim to be followers of Christ, there certainly are some imposing church buildings here.

The Neo-Byzanthine Basilica of Our Lady of Africa

The basilica is on a promontory, 124 m above sea level, and you can take a cable car up from Bologhine, near Saint-Eugène cemetery.

Mixing religions and mixing cultures. There is hope for the world!

My favourite thing about Notre Dame, though, is the stunning city views.

8. Maqam e’Chahid: Martyrs’ Memorial

Wherever I am in Algiers, it seems I can see this 92-metre-high monument. This is Algiers’ most iconic structure, built in memory of those who died fighting for Algeria’s freedom. It was opened in 1982, on the 20th anniversary of independence.

The Martyrs’ Memorial in the noonday sun

It is constructed to look like three palm leaves leaning on each other, with an eternal flame underneath. Each of the three sections has a bronze soldier at its base.

Riad, Ellen and a bronze freedom fighter

View of El Madania neighbourhood, seen from the Martyrs’ Memorial

9. Musée de l’armée

I am not normally drawn to things military. It makes me disappointed in the human race, that we haven’t evolved past the need for that a long time ago. But Algiers’ Army Museum is about more than just the military. It gives a vivid – and sometimes uncomfortably brutal – account of Algeria’s struggle for independence from pre-historic times to the present. It is a bit of a challenge, leaving this museum and not liking the French a little less.

The Army Museum is next to the Martyrs’ Memorial and gives a better understanding of the need for the monument. It’s a spacious museum, 17,000 m2 over three floors. Photos are not allowed inside.

10. Jardin d’Essai du Hamma

We take the cable car from the monument down to Algier’s botanical garden by the bay. Hemma Test Garden is an experimental nursery from 1832, in the early years of occupation. The purpose of the garden was to test and study imported plants, especially those that could be used in medicines, and also to serve as a model farm.

Versailles vibes

It is a lovely place for a stroll along palm-fringed lanes.

The most famous tree in the park is a film location from the golden days of cinema:

Tarzan’s tree

11. The Kasbah of Algiers

Postbox at the upper entrance to the Kasbah

Been waiting for this? Thought I would forget? Mais non! The highlight of Algiers is the Kasbah.

A Kasbah is a fortress or citadel in North African cities, surrounded by tall brick walls. To better defend the city, the Kasbah was often built on top of a hill, as here in Algiers.

We enter from the top and work our way down a labyrinth of steep, narrow stairs.

Remains of the original walls of the Kasbah, by the top entrance.

History, tradition, religion, politics…

People have lived here in the Kasbah of Algiers ever since the Phoenicians were here 2,500 years ago, maybe even longer. This is the original quarter of the city, the oldest and most traditional neighbourhood. Along the narrow alleys, in between little shops and cafes, are mosques and ancient Ottoman palaces, some of them converted into museums. History, religion, tradition, politics… it all comes alive here.

Entrance of one of the palaces in the Kasbah. Spot the knockers at the top of the door? Too high for me. But just the right height for a nobleman on a horse. 

In more modern times, Algerian revolutionaries hid here in the Kasbah – and laid plans to get rid of the French occupiers. Walking the narrow lanes and stairways, I can easily imagine them in one of the little open-fronted shops or cafes here, in the back room, plotting.

During the Independence War (1954 – 1966), much of the fighting took place in the Kasbah. In fact, the famous Italian film The Battle of Algiers was shot on location here.

Decades of civil unrest followed, when the Kasbah was not a safe place to wander around, for locals and tourists alike. Today, a guide is still a good idea, but more for telling stories of the Kasbah, than for safety. That said, I would not hesitate walking here on my own. Basic street smarts go a long way.

The symbol means that Muslims lived on this street.

Ram to the slaughter

We are here a week before Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice, in memory of Ibrahim/Abraham’s willingness to slaughter his son Ishmael/Isaac to please Allah/God/Yahweh. Luckily for him, he survived the ordeal. Not so lucky, these sheep. It makes me ill at ease.

Let’s move on!

Snaps from the Kasbah in Algiers

Families live their daily lives in the Kasbah, as they have for thousands of years. Sometimes buildings crumble, and since many houses are connected, other buildings often tumble down, too.

FIFA World Cup African qualifier matches is on. Football is important – playing AND watching. 

Everything is for sale in the Kasbah

12. Djemaa Ketchaoua 

On the first of the many steep stairways in the Kasbah, is an imposing building, Byzantine architecture fused with Moorish. But it is the story that intrigues me. An unusual story of historic justice.

Once, a mosque from the Ottoman era stood on this site. Then, in come the French; they take over and convert the mosque to a cathedral. (What a way to befriend the locals, eh?) A few years later, the building is torn down and replaced with a new cathedral. Ca. 100 years after that, the occupiers are kicked out and the cathedral is converted back to a mosque.

First a mosque, then a cathedral, then a mosque. Full circle.

13. Shopping in Algiers

In Algiers, it is easy to find unique gifts to take home, including some truly beautiful pieces of local arts and crafts: colourful plates, tagines, ceramics, jewellery, scarves, shawls, red coral, leatherwork, wicker baskets, and products made with local olive and palm trees.

Also, dates and delicious sweets.

Local sources reveal that the best dates in town are sold in one of the three stalls next to one another by the lower entrance to the Kasbah, just a few metres from the mosque-turned-cathedral-turned-mosque


On a quirkier note, I suggest you step into one of the perfume shops. I do not mean perfume shops in the ordinary sense, but shops where perfumers make the scents there. (And yes, perfumer is a word, albeit an old-fashioned one.) There is one just metres from our hotel. The man behind the counter – the owner, judging from his self-assurance – shows us a certificate, stating he is indeed a qualified perfumer. He asks which scent I like, then begins mixing and measuring and stirring and shaking, and somehow manages to reproduce my favourite fragrance – at a fraction of the cost.

Place de Martyrs, Algiers

14. Algerian cats

I love cats! I love dogs, too, but somehow cats appear everywhere, they ask no one’s permission and are as photogenic as the Nordic summer days are long. Since we have not had a chapter in the Cats of the World series (as sporadic as all the rest) for a long time, here is a little collage of Algerian felines.

All right, folks – that concludes 11 things you’ll love in the Algerian capital + a few more. Next up here on Sophie’s World, is a day at the coast, with an ancient Roman city and a Mauritanian mausoleum included.

View over La Baie d’Alger – Bay of Algiers

Kasbah of Algiers is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.

Alger la Blanche: The White City on the Mediterranean is a post from Sophie’s World