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BETWEEN TIPAZA & ALGIERS

cherchelThe 100km of coast between Cherchell and Algiers has some good beaches, all of which can be busy in summer and full of washed-up refuse at any time. If you are going east to Annaba or Bejaia, or west to Oran, you will find better beaches. Thirtyone kilometres from Tipaza, heading east
towards the capital, the highway turns inland, while the N11 hugs the coast, passing the resort village of Zeralda. There are two good, popular beaches Les Sables d’Or and Palm-Beach Plage between here and the next resort, Sidi Ferdj. Formerly Sidi Ferruch, the resort has the dubious distinction of being the place where the French landed their army on 14 June 1830, and where the Algerian president now has a villa. There is a range of accommodation (021 376778; www.sidiffredj-hotels.com), built around a pleasure port which has a range of facilities, including port, nightclub, shops and companies running motorboat excursions out to sea (count on at least DA3000 an hour for a boat holding five passengers). Most places like the hotels around Tipaza, are state-owned, run down and up for sale. Among the restaurants, if you can’t wait for the city, are Le Vivier (021 376910; mains DA700-900), a fish restaurant tucked away from the main drag and overlooking the sea, and the more 0central Le Corso (021 376910; mains DA500-900), serving Algerian dishes including couscous and brik. Both restaurants serve alcohol.

 

Cherchel

cherchellUnlike Tipaza, where the ruins were exposed before the modern town could infringe too far (although there is always tension been conservation and development), Cherchell (ancient Caesarea) has less to show of its glorious past. The small town is, however, a delightful place to visit: it’s slow, a little sleepy, well shaded with great sea views,and its museum ranks as one of the finest in the country.

Remains from a 5th-century BC Punic settlement have been found and Caesarea obviously flourished long before Tipaza, as it is mentioned as a town and port in a periplus (nautical guide), written in the 3rd, perhaps even the 4th century BC. It rose to prominence in the 1st century AD thanks to the Numidian King Juba II. His father, Juba I, resisted the rise of Rome in North Africa and when his army was defeated by Julius Caesar, preferred suicide to the humiliation of being taken in triumph to Rome. His son, Juba II, was taken to Rome, where he was ed- ucated in the conqueror’s house and after 44
BC, by Caesar’s nephew, Octavius Augustus. He showed great intelligence and aptitude and by the end of his studies, wrote a book on Roman archaeology. He was also a war- rior and fought alongside Augustus at the Battle of Actium, at which they defeated the combined forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Juba married their daughter Cleopatra Selene and returned to North Africa as King of Mauretania. Caesarea, their capital, flour- ished in this period – ‘most splendid Caesa- rea’ it was referred to at the time – and Juba lived an exceptional life, worshipped as a god by his own people and honoured as far away as Athens, where a statue was raised in his honour. But following Juba’s death in 23 BC, Caesarea’s story follows that of other settle- ments along this coast: adopting Christianity (it was visited by St Augustine in AD 418) it was overwhelmed soon after by the Vandals, enjoying a brief resurgence under the Byzan- tines and then sinking into obscurity. By the
10th century it was described as a town of great antiquity with a port and the debris of ancient buildings, much like today.
The main inland road from Tipaza crosses some beautiful countryside of lush fields and old trees that shade the road. Closer to Cherchell, you will see pieces of ancient columns and capitals along the road, and the remains of the great aqueduct Juba II built to bring water from a source 35km away. At the eastern entrance to the mod- ern town, the remains of the amphitheatre and eastern baths lie just off the main road. This road follows the ancient road to the centre of town and the place des Martyrs, site. The wide plaza, shaded by hundred- year-old fig trees, was one of the ancient forums: this one, from the 3rd century AD, was a later addition. Remains of columns line the modern square and a copy of a monumental Roman fountain crowns its centre. The ancient port, the site’s original attraction, is still used by local fishermen. If you need a guide, multilingual Abdelkader Bensalah (071 427 426) is a local archae- ologist who knows a huge amount about the town’s sites and Algeria’s antiquities.
Leading off the place des Martyrs, the museum (adult/child DA20/10; 9am-noon & 2-5pm Sun- Fri) houses some of the finest sculpture in the country, much of it from the reign of Juba II. Among many highlights are marble busts of the royal family, who wear the royal band across their foreheads, and an exceptionally rare portrait of Juba’s late mother-in-law, the famous Cleopatra of Egypt. A colossal statue of a Roman emperor, probably Au- gustus, is wonderfully carved, especially the breast-plate with figures including a deified Julius Caesar. The finest of the sculptures, though, is a statue of a naked Apollo in fin- est white marble (a copy of a 5th century BC Greek original), believed to be by the master Phidias. The collection of mosaics is equally stunning and includes a scene of Odyssesus and his followers passing the sirens, and a vivid portrayal of agricultural scenes. Cher- chell has provided such a rich source of an- tiquities that, in spite of the export of many pieces before and during the colonial period (now in museums across Europe), there is too much to contain in the original 1908 building. A second, larger museum (same ticket, same opening hours) was opened in 1979 at the mosaic park (left-hand side of the road as you enter from Tipaza) to dis- play mosaics, sculpture and glass from an- tiquity and the early Islamic period. Marked
‘Nouveau Musée’, it stands next to military barracks, flanked by Roman columns.
The ancient theatre can be reached by continuing along the main road, away from Tipaza, and taking the third street on the left, rue du Théâtre Romain. The theatre is believed to be another of Juba II’s con- structions. If it is, then it is one of the ear- liest surviving Roman theatres. The stage has survived, the capitals of the theatre’s columns can be seen in place des Martyrs, some of its statues are in the museum and you can see where seating was arranged for
5000 spectators, although the stones are said to have been taken to be used as pave- ments by the French.
Return to the main street along rue Youcef Khodja. On the left, at No 25, Herboristerie ibn Sina (077 211323) is a third-generation business where Kamel Djebbour and his son Amine distil essential oils and prepare tisanes, herbs and spices á l’ancienne. If the shop is closed feel free to ring the bell – they live above the shop.
Further down the street on the right, are the remains of Caesarea’s first forum, now enclosed between buildings behind a railing. The site was discovered by chance in 1977, when a statue was discovered when builders started digging the foundations for a new cultural centre. An Algerian-British team excavated the site over two seasons and, as well as the forum, revealed a church and re- mains of earlier Punic settlement. Down this street on the right, the family-run Restaurant Cercle de la Fraternité (071 544223) serves the freshest of fish and delicious salads, soups and desserts in a large, bright room, beneath mementoes of members of the Cherchell football team, who died in the independence struggle between 1948 and 1950.