Annaba’s excellent natural port and its proximity to fresh water and some very fertile farmland drew the Phoenicians here in the first place and have ensured the city’s continuing prosperity. Today, its port handles the majority of the country’s considerable mineral exports. But alongside business, Annaba has preserved its sense of history and culture. The city where St Augustine chose to live out his last years, known variously over the centuries as Hippo Regius, Hippone, Annabe, Bône and now Annaba, has a reputation for being a quiet haven, in spite of the fact that in 1992 President Mohamed Boudiaf, recently returned from 28 years in exile to head a reconciliation government, was assassinated here. Annaba saw little of the violence that scarred other cities during the ‘black years’ of the 1990s and many families moved here from Algiers and the west.
Theport, the steel mills and tourism, centred around the stunning remains of nearby Hippo Regius and, in the summer, the beaches, provide the majority of work opportunities. Annaba is Algeria’s fourth largest city, with a sizeable university. Ringed by hills, close to some goodbeaches and with an elegant colonial-period centre, the city makes an excellent start or end point for a tour of the northeast
The Phoenicians settled beside the natural port some 3000 years ago, connecting this part of the country with Carthage (in today’s Tunisia) and a string of trading colonies that stretched across the Mediterranean. Since then Numidians, Romans and Vandals, Byzantines and Arabs, Ottomans and French have all fallen for the site, with its natural defences and ready supply of food and fresh water.
The original settlement, Hippo Regius, later known as Hippone, lies a mile south of the present city: in antiquity, there was more of an inlet, since filled in by silt from the seybouse river the numedian have developed the settlement, but Hippo Regius flourished most under the Romans, becoming a municipality under Augustus and then elevated to a colony under Hadrian. Its wealth then, as now, rested on its port Hippo Regius shipped wheat that fed Rome. But of the ancient settlement’s many stories, the most poignant is that of St Augustine. Christianity first appeared here in the mid-3rd century Bishop Theogenes was martyred in 259 but Augustine was not baptised into Christianity until he was 33. Four years later, in 391, the Christians of Hippo Regius chose him as their priest, and he was soon elevated to bishop. Under Augustine, and particularly after Rome fell to the Visigoths in 410, the city became one of the key centres of Christianity. Shortly after Augustine’s death in 430, Hippo Regius fell to the Vandals and began a rapid slide into obscurity
The settlement was moved to its present site presumably to escape flooding in the 11th century and in the 16th century was given its present name by the pirate Kheireddin Barbarossa. When he took the town in the 1520s, he is said to have noticed the abundance of jujube trees, called Annabe in Arabic. Ottoman rule did little to advance the town, when it became subject to Constantine. But after the French invasion of 1832, Annaba renamed Bône was developed into a modern city and major port. British and American forces used it as a base during WWII, which led to it being heavily bombed from 1942 to 1943.
The modern city revolves around the Cours de la Révolution, a large open space, covered in trees and lined with grand buildings, leading down to the port. The colonial city has seen much development since independence, and has spread north, west and south of here, while due east of the Cours lies the older Ottoman town. The remains of ancient Hippone and the Basilica of St Augustine lie just over 1.5km southwest of the Cours.
Bône la Coquette (the Elegant) they used to call it, and the centre of town has retained some of its charms. The Cours de la Révolution was the centrepiece of the French city and remains the bustling heart today. A long, broad street, its lanes separated by a broad, tree-shaded esplanade, it also boasts the city’s most elaborate architecture, where, with buildings such as the Amphorae and the Lion & Caryatid, colonial architects vied to outdo each other in the extravagance of their façades. In the middle, palms and giant fig trees provide shade for a number of popular outdoor cafés, where the city’s elderly and idle while away the day. Here too is the Hôtel d’Orient, the theatre and town hall
Rue des Frères Boucherit leads off the Cours, to the place du 19 Aout 1956, the centrepoint of the old town, some of it dating back to the 16th century, when the pirate Kheireddin Barbarossa claimed Annaba for the Ottoman sultan. The streets here are more narrow and the houses less elaborate. There is a small second-hand and food market in the square most days.
The Bey’s Mosque, built soon after Barbarossa had taken the town, looks over yhe square and is the largest in this part of town. More interesting is the Mosque of Sidi Bou Merouane, 250m away, reached via a steep climb up the street. Named after an 11th-century holy man, the mosque is smaller than the Bey’s but built using columns and stones from Hippo.
The ruins of the ancient city of Hippo Regius (adult/child DA20/10; 8.30am-noon &1-4.30pm), also known as Hippone, are among the most evocative in Algeria, stretched across a rolling site, full of flowers, rosemary, olive trees, birds and sheep, and overlooked by the imposing, colonial-era Basilica of St Augustine. You enter from what was the seafront, the water having receded several hundred metres over the millennia. There is a good plan of the site by the entrance. It is worth climbing the small hill to the museum, before seeing the ruins. The ground floor contains a good collection of sculpture in the Salle des Bustes, including the Em- peror Vespasian found in the forum. The star piece of the museum, the unique 2.5m- high Trophy, is a bronze representation of a post on which is hung a cape and military armour. On the wall is a fine mosaic of four Nereids. There are more mosaics across the hall, the most impressive being a 3rd- century hunting scene, in which lion, leop- ards and antelope are chased into a trap. Another mosaic, of a fishing scene, includes a view of 3rd-century Hippo.
The ruins are spread over a large area. The district near the entrance and ‘sea-front’ was residential and the remains of several villas can be visited, their courtyards marked by columns, some of the walls and floors still visible. The so-called Villa of the Labyrinth and Villa of the Procurateur are the most impressive. Here too are the remains of the smaller southern baths.
The path continues to the Christian quarter where the 42m-long outline of the grand basilica can still be traced, especially its central apse, which unusually faces north, while its floors are still covered with mosa- ics. This may well have been the basilica where St Augustine was bishop – the date is right, but there is no other evidence to prove the possibility. A path of massive pav- ing slabs, laid over drains, leads to the mar- ket (a central dias reached by three steps and enclosed by four acanthus-capped columns) and then on to the forum. It stands 76m by 43m, with some of its 3.6m-high columns still intact. The forum was surrounded by a colonnade, several small shrines, a fountain at the north end and latrines to the south. In the middle stood the ancient capitol and several statues (of which nothing remains), and beyond is an inscription by one of the city’s benefactors, C Paccius Africanus, made proconsul in AD 78 by Emperor Ves- pasien. The great North Baths, beyond the forum, were closed at the time of research. Towering above the ruins, on its own small hill, the colonial-era Basilica St Augustine (9-11.30am & 2.30-4.30pm Mon-Thu,11-11.30am & 2.30-4.30pm Fri & Sun, closed Sat) was intended as a sign of France’s revival of past glory. The first stone was laid in 1881, the basilica completed in 1900. Beneath the soaring nave and huge arches, surrounded by Carrara marble, Grenoble stained glass and local onyx, lies a statue of St Augustine, its right arm containing one of the saint’s arm bones.
The 1st-century theatre of Hippo, with the largest stage of any antique theatre in North Africa, lies at the foot of the hill. The gate separating the ruins from the basilica can only be opened from the side of the antiquities, so if you want to visit both on foot, you will need to start at the ruins and walk up the winding path to the basilica.
Hôtel Mondial (038 862946; 9 rue des Frères Boucherit; s/d B&B with shower DA750/1200)
A hangover from the groovy 1960s, its bright, simple, spotless rooms all have heating and fan.The halls are lined with photos and plants, the Hertz carrental sign at reception is now just a souvenir of times past, but the owner is as friendly as ever.
Hôtel Atlantique (038 862857; 2 rue Bouzbid; s/d B&B DA850/1600)
Rooms with shower here are what you would expect at this price, straightforward and functioning, but the cleanliness leaves a lot to be desired. The location is good though.
Hôtel Touring (038 861449; 3 rue des Volontaires; s/d B&B DA1400/1800)
The calling card says the hotel has been entirely renewed, but, judging by the state of the rooms here, that might have been a while back. The 1930s building is well placed, the reception friendly and the rooms OK, with shower and TV.
Hôtel SafSaf (038 863435; place 19 Aout 1956; s/tw/d/tr B&B DA1600/2200/2400/2900)
An unexpected find, this modern, midrange hotel on the central square of the old town has been well renovated. It offers comfortable rooms with private bathrooms and a reputedly good restaurant.
Hôtel d’Orient(038 860364; 13 Cours de la Révolution; s/d B&B DA2500/3000)
The obvious choice for lovers of old hotels, the d’Orient still has some of its colonial splendour, in- cluding a piano in the café and plenty of Moorish Orientalist touches. Rooms over- looking the main road can be noisy, but have excellent views.
Hôtel Majestic ( 038 865454; www.hotel-lemajestic.com; 11 blvd 1 Nov 1954; s/d/ste B&B DA5000/5800/7800)
A plain exterior disguises this extremely well-run hotel. Opened in 2006 at the end of the Cours de la Révolution, the Majestic has large, soundproof rooms with good bathrooms (and baths), an extremely helpful reception and a panoramic restaurant serving typical Algerian dishes. A free shuttle runs to the airport, though you need to contact the hotel in advance to be met.
Hôtel Seybouse (038 862093; 1 blvd 1 Nov 1954; s/d B&B DA6000/10000)
The city’s only five-star hotel sits right in the centre. It’s a 1970s block with smart rooms, a panoramic restaurant, a bar that serves alcohol and, should you feel the need, a disco.
Le Saint Pizzeria (037 327715; 9 Cours de la Révo- lution; mains DA200-300)
A popular pizza place right in the centre of things, under the arcades of the Cours. Pick up your pizza and eat under the trees, perfect on a warm evening.
Restaurant SafSaf (038 863435; place 19 Aout 1956; mains DA300-400)
It’s hard to fault this simple restaurant, on the 1st floor of Hôtel SafSaf. Clean, air-conditioned and run by a meticulous maître d’, it serves simple, well-prepared dishes including lamb shoulder and grilled fish. There is often a good-value lunch menu.
La Potinière (038 866141; 1 Cours de la Révolution; mains DA400-600)
Right at the beginning of the Cours, the Potinière is an Annaba old-timer, serving reliable French-inspired food, a cut above (and a little more expensive) than most of the competition.
Restaurant Atlas (038 802570; 2 Zenine Larbi; mains DA500-600)
A reliable air-conditioned restaurant just off the Cours de la Révolution, it serves grilled steaks and merguez (spicy seasoned lamb or goat sausages), calamari rice and fresh fish. It also serves alcohol.
Alcohol is hard to find in Annaba outside of the places mentioned above and El-Rio (30 Cours de la Révolution), which tends to stay open later than most. If the weather allows, the cafés under the fig trees along the Cours are popular for a tea or ice cream.
Getting There & Away
Rabah Bitat Airport (038 520132; www.egsa-con stantine.dz)
12km from the centre and as there is no bus, you’ll need to go by taxi (around DA500). A new terminal building is currently being planned. Air Algérie (038847333; Rond Point Sidi Brahim 038 867120; www.airalgerie.dz; Cours de la Révolution) flies to Algiers and Oran, as well as Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Nice (France).
Most of the shipping in Annaba’s port is industrial, but Algérie Ferries (865557; www.algerieferries.com; Gare Maritime) sails to Marseille
(France) and Alicante (Spain).
The gare routière (bus station) is just over 1km from the centre along the av de l’Armée de Libération Nationale at Sidi Brahim, a 20 minute walk or DA100 taxi. Since the buses were nationalised, the upstairs information and booking office has been abandoned and you must ask at the quays for tickets and information. Main services include Algiers (DA700, 10 hours), Sétif (DA350, four to five hours), Constantine (DA150, 1¼ hours) and Guelma (DA70, one hour). For many other destinations, you need to change at Sétif. The Tunis service seems to have been discontinued, though there are still shared taxis.
Shared taxis leave from the Sidi Brahim gare routière. Destinations include Algiers (DA1200), Sétif (DA500), Constantine (DA250), Biskra (DA600), Tebessa (DA400) and Guelma (DA100).
Annaba’s huge mosquelike station (038863302/855263) with a minaret clock tower is a short walk from the end of the Cours de la Révolution and close to the port. The overnight express to Algiers leaves at 8.20pm (sleeping car 2nd/1st class DA1221/1650, seat DA945; 10 hours). Other destinations include Sidi Amar (DA20) and Souk Ahras (DA95).
Most places you will want to visit in Annaba are within easy walking distance of the Cours de la Révolution, even the ruins at Hippo Regius. A taxi to Hippo should not cost more than DA150, although you will need to negotiate to be picked up. There is no public transport to the airport. A taxi should cost around DA500.
Annaba’s inability to exploit beach tourism has long had Algerians gnashing their teeth. In 1995 the municipality drew up a new plan to develop and promote beach tourism in the area, but progress is ultra slow. However, this doesn’t mean the beaches will be empty. The huge Al-Hadjar steel works and other industrial plants on the outskirts of the city mean the nearest beaches are not as pristine as they might be, but if you come in July or August you will find the place packed with holiday makers and locals cashing in on the accommodation shortage by renting out rooms as B&Bs. The coast west of the city is the place to head for, a series of beautiful coves, where the hills fall right into the sea.
The best of them start at Ras el-Hamra, also known as Cap de Garde and include La Caroube, Toche and Ain Achir. A lighthouse, built by the French in 1850, marks the ras (headland) at El-Hamra. Out of season it’s given over to mussel and oyster farmers, lovers in need of privacy and pilgrims coming to pay their respects to Sidi Nour. The cave to the left of his white, barrel-vaulted tomb, known as Beit el-Qaïd, is used for religious and family gatherings. The best of the beaches lie between Ras el-Hamra and Chataibi.
SLEEPING & EATING
Algeria’s first private resort isn’t as fresh as when it first opened in 1984, but in season it still gets lively with Algerian families. There’s a cab- aret and disco at night.
Hôtel Mountazah (038 874118; village of Seraïdi)
Among the hotels the French architect Fernand Pouillon built in Algeria from the 1950s, the Mountazah ranks as one of the most inspired. A white fortress perched on a rock in this hillside village, it has large whitewashed rooms, a restaurant that works well when busy and a curvaceous pool that overlooks magnificent woods and the sea
Hôtel Rym el-Djamil (038 882143; rte Cap de Garde)
There are no budget ho- tels along this stretch of coast and only one four-star, the Rym, popular in summer with honeymooners. The hotel is above a small, semiprivate beach. There is a good number of outstanding restaurants along the coast, the exception being La Caravelle (038 822950/805373; rte de la Corniche; mains DA400-1000), an old-timer with plenty of fresh fish. It’s reputedly the best of the lot.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
It’s 50km from Annaba to Chataibi. During the day there are a few departures from the gare routière at Sidi Brahim towards Ras el- Hamra and then on to Chataibi. A taxi will save time and aggravation (around DA800 to Chataibi).
Centre Culturel Français (038 864540; www.ccf-annaba.com; 8 blvd 1 Nov 1954; 9.30am-5.30pm Sun- Thu) Has a library and theatre, and shows regular films.
Police (17 or 038 546664)
SOS Algérie Assistance Médicale (038 860858;3 Chemin des Caroubiers)
France (038 860583; rue Sebti Ghouta)
Italy (038 868080; 8 rue Khaya Mohamed Tahar)
Tunisia (038 864568; av du 28 janvier 1957)
There is no shortage of places all around the centre, but if you can’t see one, head for the small square behind the theatre. Cyber.Net (038 805325; 23 rue Emir Abdelkader; per hr DA80) has the fastest connection.
Main post office (1 av Zighout Youcef )
Direction de Tourisme (038 863013; 9 blvd 1 Nov 1954)
Of the many travel agencies in town, the following offer a booking service for shipping (Algérie Ferries, SNCM) and flights.
Dida Voyages et Tourisme (038 866666; www.dida-voyages.com; 3 Cours de la Révolution)
ONAT (038 865891/865886; 1 rue Tarek ibn ziad)