The city consists of two parts; the modern part, built on the level ground by the seashore, and the ancient city of the deys, which climbs the steep hill behind the modern town and is crowned by the kasbah or citadel, 400 ft. above the sea. The kasbah forms the apex of a triangle of which the quays form the base.
The public buildings of chief interest are the kasbah, the government offices (formerly the British consulate), the palaces of the governor-general and the archbishop -- all these are fine Moorish houses; the "Grand" and the "New", Mosques, the Roman Catholic cathedral of St Philippe, the church of the Holy Trinity (Church of England), and the Bibliotheque Nationale d'Alger -- a Turkish palace built in 1799-1800.
The kasbah was begun in 1516 on the site of an older building, and served as the palace of the deys until the French conquest. A road has been cut through the centre of the building, the mosque turned into barracks, and the hall of audience allowed to fall into ruin. There still remain a minaret and some marble arches and columns. Traces exist of the vaults in which were stored the treasures of the dey.
The Grand Mosque (Jamaa-el-Kebir) is traditionally said to be the oldest mosque in Algiers. The pulpit (mimbar) bears an inscription showing that the building existed in 1018. The minaret was built by Abu Tachfin, sultan of Tlemcen, in 1324. The interior of the mosque is square and is divided into aisles by columns joined by Moorish arches.
The New Mosque (Jamaa-el-Jedid), dating from the 17th century, is in the form of a Greek cross, surmounted by a large white cupola, with four small cupolas at the corners. The minaret is 90 ft. high. The interior resembles that of the Grand Mosque.
The church of the Holy Trinity (built in 1870) stands at the southern end of the rue d'Isly near the site of the demolished Fort Bab Azoun. The interior is richly decorated with various coloured marbles. Many of these marbles contain memorial inscriptions relating to the English residents (voluntary and involuntary) of Algiers from the time of John Tipton, British consul in 1580. One tablet records that in 1631 two Algerine pirate crews landed in Ireland, sacked Baltimore, and carried off its inhabitants to slavery; another recalls the romantic escape of Ida M`Donnell, daughter of Admiral Ulric, consul-general of Denmark, and wife of the British consul. When Lord Exmouth was about to bombard the city in 1816, the British consul was thrown into prison and loaded with chains. Mrs. M`Donnell -- who was but sixteen -- escaped to the British fleet disguised as a midshipman, carrying a basket of vegetables in which her baby was hidden. (Mrs. M`Donnell subsequently married the duc de Talleyrand-Perigord and died at Florence in 1880). Among later residents commemorated is Edward Lloyd, who was the first person to show the value of esparto grass for the manufacture of paper, and thus started an industry which is one of the most important in Algeria.
The cathedral of St Philippe, built on the site of a mosque, is in the place Malakoff. The principal entrance, reached by a flight of 23 steps, is ornamented with a portico supported by four black-veined marble columns. The roof of the nave is of Moorish plaster work. It rests on a series of arcades supported by white marble columns. Several of these columns belonged to the former mosque. In one of the chapels is a tomb containing the bones of San Geronimo. The finding of the remains of the saint in 1853 afforded striking confirmation of an incident recorded by a Spanish Benedictine named Haedo, who published a topography of Algeria in 1612. Haedo sets forth that a young Arab who had embraced Christianity and had been baptized with the name of Geronimo was captured by a Moorish corsair in 1569 and taken to Algiers. The Arabs endeavoured to induce Geronimo to renounce Christianity, but as he steadfastly refused to do so he was condemned to death. Bound hand and foot he was thrown alive into a mould in which a block of concrete was about to be made. The block containing his body was built into an angle of the Fort of the Twenty-four Hours, then under construction. In 1853 the Fort of the Twenty-four Hours was demolished, and in the angle specified by Haedo the skeleton of Geronimo was found. The bones were interred at St Phihppe. Into the mould left by the saint's body liquid plaster of Paris was run, and a perfect model obtained, showing the features of the youth, the cords which bound him, and even the texture of his clothing. This model is now in the museum at Mustapha (see below).
Algiers possesses a college with schools of law, medicine, science and letters. The college buildings are large and handsome. The museum holds some of the ancient sculptures and mosaics discovered in Algeria, together with medals and Algerian money.
The port of Algiers is sheltered from all winds. There are two harbours, both artificial -- the old or northern harbour and the southern or Agha harbour. The northern harbour covers an area of 235 acres. An opening in the south jetty affords an entrance into Agha harbour, constructed in Agha Bay. Agha harbour has also an independent entrance on its southern side.
The inner harbour was begun in 1518 by Khair-ed-Din (see History, below), who, to accommodate his pirate vessels, caused the island on which was Fort Penon to be connected with the mainland by a mole. The lighthouse which occupies the site of Fort Penon was built in 1544.
Algiers was a walled city from the time of the deys until the close of the 19th century. The French, after their occupation of the city (1830), built a rampart, parapet and ditch, with two terminal forts, Bab Azoun to the south and Bab-el-Oued to the north. The forts and part of the ramparts were demolished at the beginning of the 20th century, when a line of forts occupying the heights of Bu Zarea (at an elevation of 1300 ft. above the sea) took their place.
Notre-Dame d'Afrique, a church built (1858-1872) in a mixture of the Roman and Byzantine styles, is conspicuously situated, overlooking the sea, on the shoulder of the Bu Zarea hills, 2 m. to the north of the city. Above the altar is a statue of the Virgin depicted as a black woman. The church also contains a solid silver statue of the archangel Michael, belonging to the confraternity of Neapolitan fishermen.
In Roman times a small town called Icosium existed on what is now the marine quarter of the city. The rue de la Marine follows the lines of a Roman street. Roman cemeteries existed near the rues Bab-el-Oued and Bab Azoun. Bishops of Icosium -- which was created a Latin city by Vespasian -- are mentioned as late as the 5th century.
The present city was founded in 944 by Bulukkin b. Zeiri, the founder of the Zeirid-Sanhaja dynasty, which was overthrown by Roger II of Sicily in 1148. The Zeirids had before that date lost Algiers, which in 1159 was occupied by the Almohades, and in the 13th century came under the dominion of the Abd-el-Wahid, sultans of Tlemcen.
Nominally part of the sultanate of Tlemcen, Algiers had a large measure of independence under amirs of its own, Oran being the chief seaport of the Abd-el-Nahid. The islet in front of the harbour, subsequently known as the Penon, had been occupied by the Spaniards as early as 1302. Thereafter a considerable trade grew up between Algiers and Spain.
Algiers, however, continued of comparatively little importance until after the expulsion from Spain of the Moors, many of whom sought an asylum in the city. In 1510, following their occupation of Oran and other towns on the coast of Africa, the Spaniards fortified the Penon. In 1516 the amir of Algiers, Selim b. Teumi, invited the brothers Arouj and Khair-ed-Din (Barbarossa) to expel the Spaniards. Arouj came to Algiers, caused Selim to be assassinated, and seized the town. Khair-ed-Din, succeeding Arouj, drove the Spaniards from the Penon (1550) and was the founder of the pashalik, afterwards deylik, of Algeria.
Algiers from this time became the chief seat of the Barbary pirates. In October 1541 the emperor Charles V sought to capture the city, but a storm destroyed a great number of his ships, and his army of some 30,000, chiefly Spaniards, was defeated by the Algerians under their pasha, Hassan. Repeated attempts were made by various European nations to subdue the pirates, and in 1816 the city was bombarded by a British squadron under Lord Exmouth, assisted by Dutch men-of-war, and the corsair fleet burned. The piracy of the Algerians was renewed and continued until 1830. On the 4th of July in that year a French army under General de Bourmont attacked the city, which capitulated on the following day.