In downtown Algiers, a chance discovery is shedding light on two thousand years of the Mediterranean port city’s history. Ruins dating from the French colonial period to the Ottoman and Roman empires, and perhaps as far back as Phoenician/Punic civilization, are being uncovered just yards below the surface. Archaeologists made the finds during excavation for a new subway station in busy Martyrs Square.
A team including 20 Algerian and 8 French archaeologists hope to learn about Algeria’s ancient past. So far they have found an Ottoman-period blacksmithing shop, complete with forge, iron tools, cannonballs, and a primitive pistol, 2.3 meters underground. The weapons recall the era of the Barbary pirates, who used Algiers as a base to terrorize Mediterranean shipping in the 1500s to 1800s. Archaeologists also unearthed a medieval cemetery with skeletons intact, and farther down, an early Christian basilica from the AD 300s to 400s. The bases of several columns of this Roman-era building have been uncovered, revealing a spacious mosaic floor.
The Casbah district, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has witnessed archaeological excavations before. In 1940, coins were dug up that dated from the third century BC, when the site was the Phoenician outpost Ikosim (later the Roman town of Icosium). Archaeologists want to keep digging in hopes of finding more traces of the Punic period, as well as evidence of the Amazigh, indigenous North Africans who lived alongside the area’s occupiers. Algiers officials hope to incorporate the unique archaeological finds into the new metro station’s design.
- Subway Excavation Uncovers Glimpse of Algeria’s Past
This article describes archaeological discoveries from the French colonial, Ottoman, Roman, and possibly earlier eras that lie beneath present-day Algiers.
(Source: Reuters, August 17, 2009)
- Metro Station in Algeria’s Capital: Link to the Past
This Web site includes pictures of the archaeological excavations in Algiers, Algeria’s capital.
(Source: AFP, August 12, 2009)
- Algiers History, 4000 BC–1000 AD
Use Google’s interactive time line to explore the rich past of Algiers, traces of which lie below the city of today.
(Source: Google; accessed August 30, 2009)