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Algeria, Africa's second largest country, is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination. It features rugged mountains, occupies a large slice of the Mediterranean coast, has a vast desert and well preserved Roman ruins. Other attractions include museums and mosques in the capital, Algiers, the thriving oasis towns of The M'Zab Valley and the prehistoric cave paintings of Tassili n'Ajjer.

Algeria battled for and won its independence from France in 1962. Thirty years later the military intervened to prevent an Islamist political party from gaining power in national elections. An Islamist insurgency emerged. Most of the fighting took place in the 1990s, although small groups of militants remain. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has ruled the country since 1999. Much of Algeria is now safe for visitors, although there were a series of terrorist bombings in Algiers in April 2007. Tourists are advised to stick to the main roads, especially at night, and to consult the latest travel advisory from the U.S. State Department.

Originally inhabited by the Berbers, Algeria attracted the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Ottomans, the Vandals, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Spanish, and most recently, the French. Today, the influence of the many peoples who inhabited the country is still apparent, especially in the variety of Algerian architectural styles. Nearly all of Algeria's 33.3 million people are Sunni Muslims and a mix of Arab and Berber. Most people inhabit the country's northern region as the Sahara Desert covers the south. Although Arabic is the most widely spoken language, French is also used.

Coastal Algiers is home to three million people and is divided between the old Casbah with its winding, narrow streets and whitewashed houses, and the more Europeanized side that features cafés, churches and opera houses. There are several beautiful beaches near Algiers and the second largest city, Oran. These include Ain El Turk, Les Andalouses, Canastel, Mostaganem and Kristel. There are also well-preserved Roman ruins throughout northern Algeria, in Tipasa, Djemila, and most impressive of all, Timgad. UNESCO has named Tassili n'Ajjer a World Heritage Site because it has 15,000 prehistoric cave drawings and etchings. The artwork depicts climactic changes, animal life and human evolution from about 6,000 BC to the first centuries AD. In addition, unique geological shapes form what has been called ?forests of rock?.

Other sites to visit include the Chiffa Gorges, Sidi Fredj Peninsula and the Turquoise Coast. Towards the south are some fascinating desert towns, including El Goléa, known as the ?pearl of the desert? because of its location in a lush oasis. Tamanrasset offers ancient rock carvings and spectacular desert scenery. Oran is a busy port city that was founded by Andalusian seamen in the first century. It is the home of Rai music and almost all of the country's most popular musicians are from there. The northeastern town of Constantine is a picturesque city surrounded by a deep ravine and bridges, including one of the world's highest suspended bridges. Near the northeastern city of Annaba is the village of Seraidi, located high in the mountains with spectacular views of the coastline and surrounding areas.

During the winter, Algeria is mild and slightly rainy, and during the summer, heat and sandstorms abound, which can delay flights and make road travel more difficult.

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