Saturday, March 10, 2012


Algeria is a mix of Berber, French, Arab, Turkish, and Spanish influence. It can be seen in its cuisine, in its music, in its language, and in the people. While it has a long dichotomous history of being conquered and independent, it is part of what has made its culture so rich.

Since South Sudan has become independent last summer, Algeria is now the largest country in Africa (as far as area goes).  It’s bordered by Tunisia, Libya, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, and the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, it’s only about 100-150 miles across the Mediterranean to both Spain and Italy.  

When it comes to biodiversity, there is a lot of variety. The north of the country near the coast has the most fertile areas, where the vast majority of the agriculture is.  Ninety percent of the population lives in the northern regions of the country.  Rich in natural resources, the Atlas Mountains (and its subranges: Tell Atlas, Saharan Atlas and Aurès Mountains) spread across the northern areas of Algeria. South of the Sahara Atlas Mountains lies the well-known and vast Sahara desert. It’s actually spread across 12 different countries.  To get a better idea of just how big the Sahara Desert is, it would be more or less like cutting out the state of California and dumping sand on the rest of the United States. There are areas that can have no rain for up to 20-year periods of time! There are a few national parks and nature reserves that are now popular destinations for wildlife tours.
The country is actually named after its capital, Algiers. No, not the motel I stayed at when I took a vacation to Florida, but the port city on the Mediterranean. The city metro area has about 5 million people; that’s roughly the size of the entire state of Colorado. The next largest city is Oran, an important city for commerce. It’s also the birthplace of raï music, which we’ll get to in a couple of blogs.

Algeria’s official language is Arabic, but more recently is acknowledging the Berber languages, spoken by the native Berbers who ethnically make up the majority of Algerians today.  French is still understood (leftover from the days when it was ruled by the French) and since it is still taught in schools, many can read and write in French. (I’ve been trying to learn French for several years now. The key is that I took it off of my New Year Resolutions list, and voilà: I finally made it through the Berlitz Basic French book.) English is taught in schools as a secondary foreign language (behind French). 

About 99% of Algerians are Muslim, with the remaining 1% being Christian and Jewish. So, it’s not difficult to understand that Islam is a major contributing factor in the everyday lives of Algerians. Since their independence from France back in 1962, many Europeans have also flocked to Algeria. And in more recent years, there have been a push towards a more conservative society and that’s caused some fighting and issues between the conservatives and the more secular movement of people.

Algeria is a complex country with a complex culture. I’m really excited to delve into some of these cultural topics and its cuisine over the next few blogs. Please keep reading; this should be good.

Up next: Holidays and Celebrations

Wikipedia: “Algeria,” “Algiers,” “Oran,” “List of US Cities by Population,” “Sahara Desert”

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