Cities in Algeria: Tlemcen

Cities in Algeria: Tlemcen Last updated on Monday 19th April 2010

Located 170 miles from Oran, Tlemcen is one of Algeria's great Islamic cities which flourished as an Arab sultanate from 1282 until 1553 when it became part of the Ottoman Empire. The city is still set amidst olive groves and vineyards in one of Algeria's most beautiful regions and is redolent of its traditional heritage, marked by vestiges of Islamic architecture and the memories of the many great Algerian scholars and saints who lived and died there.

There is evidence of prehistoric habitation by cave dwellers in the area of Tlemcen. There are also remains of a Roman military encampment. The first Arab-Islamic settlement on the site was established in the 8th century by Idris I and named Agadir, which meant fortress.

The great Almoravid commander Youssef bin Tashfin made the town his capital in the 11th century and renamed it Tlemcen, building the city's Grand Mosque. Tlemcen flourished as the capital of central Magreb under the rule of the Zianid dynasty which dominated trans-Saharan trade.

Toward the end of the 13th century, the Merinids of Fez waged war against the Zianids for domination of the Magreb and laid siege to Tlemcen in 1299 and started constructing the city of Mansourah outside the walls of the city. The siege lasted until 1307 when the Merinid commander was assassinated and the Merinids withdrew from Mansourah.

The struggle between the Zianids and Merinids continued for decades and Tlemcen was besieged again between 1337 and 1359 until finally it fell and the Merinids returned to rule from Mansourah. The Zianid dynasty steadily declined during the 15th century, falling under Spanish influence and finally succumbed to the Ottoman rule. Throughout this period Tlemcen was dominated alternately by the Merinids of Fez and Hafsids of Tunis.

In 1555 Tlemcen was taken over by the Ottomans and suffered a period of neglect. The French invasion of Tlemcen in 1830 divided the city into two camps, the pro-French Kouloughlis, the mixed-race descendants of Turkish-Arab intermarriages, and the Berber and Arab partisans of Emir Abdel Kadir.

The Tlemcenis managed to fend off French occupation for over a decade until the city fell in 1842; but by then Tlemcen had been infused with the spirit of Algerian nationalism.

One of the city's sons, Ahmad Messali Hadj, founded Algeria's first independence movement in 1924 and became the leader of the MTLD (Mouvement pour le'Triomphe des Libertés Démocratiques) which produced many Algerian revolutionary leaders.

Useful Information

Telephone area code: 07

Post Office: avenue Colonel Lotfi, open 8am-6.30pm Sat to Wed, and 8am-4pm Thurs

Tourist office: ONAT, 15 rue del'Independence, Tel 208801

Camping: Municipal campsite, set in olive groves 2km west of the city.

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