No wonder why Oran is one of the most touristic spots in Algeria. If you just look at the history, you will be impressed how many nations left the mark here. Starting from Roman Empire, after Spaniards, Ottomans and at last French. Oran is very close to Morocco, and you will clearly discover influence from west neighbours in common architecture and decorative ornaments. Oran was part of the Kingdom of Tlemcen established after the demise of the Moroccan Almohad Caliphate in 1236, and later fell under Ottoman rule in 1554. You can still see remains of the kingdom in Tlemcen – the former capital.
Oran was my favorite city in Algeria due to the beautiful coastline views and open-minded people I met. Wherever you go in Algeria you will hear that Oran has the most liberal society across the country, which also has a great impact on art and culture. Oran is so called Paris of Algeria, as there is vibrant night life, which does not exist in more conservative parts of the country.
What to see in Oran?
After 2 days itinerary in Algiers, I invite you for a walk around Oran, as I prepared full day itinerary and map of the most important touristic attractions you should see. The old city of Oran, unlike Kasbah of Algiers, has few parts as invaders were extending the city walls. We are going to start the tour from the newest, and continue towards the oldest.
Oran itinerary can be devided into two chapters: first is the city center and the old town which are walkable, just next to each others. Second part is the fort Santa Cruz on the top of the hill, where you will have to get by some transportation, which I am going to describe later. My Oran itinerary can be done in one day, but I would recommend 2 days to take it easy and enjoy the city.
The map of Oran – touristic attractions in Oran
I used screen shot of Google Maps and put numbers to find places easily. This touristic map of Oran will guide you to see the most important places in the city. Only the fort Santa Cruz is out of this map, as it’s a bit farther.
Place du 1er Novembre – Oran’s city center
Wondering what to see in Oran you should get yourself to the city center first. Oran city centre is a square called Place du 1er Novembre (1), also known as Place d’Arms, that has a fountain and monument worth checking out as well as beautiful theatre (2). Theatre is only open for the events or movie playing, when you can sneak in to see the Baroque interior.
On the square there is also the town hall called Dar el-Bahia (3). which has statues of lions, as a symbol of Oran. The legend says that lions lived here until 900 AD, when two last mountain lions were hunted. The buildings on the square, as well as in this part of the city, have French influence.
Great Synagogue of Oran
Construction started in 1880 under the initiative of Simon Kanoui. The great synagogue of Oran was inaugurated in 1918. It is situated on Boulevard Maata Mohamed El Habib formerly known as Boulevard Joffre. It was one of the biggest and most magnificent synagogues in North Africa. After Algeria’s independence the synagogue was transformed into a mosque in 1975 (4).
Cathédrale de Sacré Coeur
Just a few minutes from the main square you will find beautifully architectured Cathedral de Sacré Coeur from 1913 built by the French. After the independence of Algeria became a public library (5).
Marche de la Bastille
When I travel, I always like to see local street markets to blend with the life of simple people, taste, smell and watch the vibrant atmosphere. What’s more, shopping locally has a positive impact on local economy and sustainability. Market on Rue des Aures street is full of vegetables, fruits, snails as well as Chinese crap and clothes. If you are looking to buy some olives or traditional sweets (helva), it’s definitely a place for you (6).
Bey’s Palace & New Castle
This massive complex of fortifications mostly belongs to a military, but you can still visit some parts. Bey’s Palace (7) is open and holds remains of beautiful public room where the sultan’s throne once stood beneath a painted ceiling next to the fireplace. In the inner courtyard, to the left, is the room of the favourite concubine, with elaborate stucco walls and painted ceilings.
The walls were built in the 1340s by Merinid Sultan Abou Hassan. Later Spaniards modified the building, same with Ottomans in the 1700s and the French in the 19th century. You can still see their former prison and stable for horses.
Another part of the complex is Chateau Neuf (New Castle) (8), which is in fact the 14th-century fort of Merinid Sultan Abou Hassan. Built during the XVI century, while the country was still under the influence of the Spanish crown, creating one of the most well-known architectural monuments in Oran.
The Pasha’s Mosque (9) was built in 1797 by Sidi Hassan Pacha as a memory of the expulsion of the Spanish. The minaret is one of the most beautiful of Algeria. It is octagonal in shape, decorated with relief lines imitating the joint stone and surrounded, on each of its three floors, enamelled areas and squared as mosaics.
Just next to the Pasha Mosque when going down the street you will see a little house with a memory board (10). This little house belonged to Hassan, tobacco merchant, which later became a Bey and moved just next door – to the palace. This romantic story of male Cindirella, which was just an ordinary tobacco merchant and got married with the daughter of the Bey. Since she was the one succeding her father, Hassan became a Bey himself.
The Promenade of Ibn Badis
Walk along the promenade (11) and enjoy the view at the port and the most obvious landmark – the fort of Santa Cruz on the hill. The promenade is a long sidewalk where you can get some icecream and listen to the music coming out of the passing cars. The music is particular, it’s Algerian folk style back from 20′ called rai. Oran is a homecity for rai music, well knows all around the country.
Sidi El Houari
Moving to the older quarters, Sidi El Houari is the old city fortification of Oran. How many old cities has Oran, you ask? Well… many. City of Oran has very rich history where following invaders were making their own changes in the city’s structure. Quarter Sidi El Houari was fortification of Spaniards. Later Ottomans expended the city, they constructed the Bey palace inside the Spanish fort (Rosa Alcazar) and the Pasha Mosque.
Let’s enter the old city through Canastel Gate (12) near Kleber Square. Walking up the street Rue Freha Benyoucef you will reach entrance to the Turkish Baths – Hamam (13). This old bath created during Ottoman Empire rule, still have few impressive buildings dated by 1708. Bey Bouchlaghem built them to use as hamam, later French used it as a laundry. You can still see huge laundry machines in the lower part.
Walking a bit up the street will take you to the Church of St. Louis (14) which is just next to the hospital Baudens. Church is abandonned but you can gaze through the holes in the door to see the destroyed interior. St. Louis Church was constructed by French, which wanted to make their own changes in the old part as well as expended the city of Oran.
Walking down the stairs will take you to the Square de la Perle (15). You will see the Boutin Tunel and mosque which has very special minaret. Square based minaret with bricks arcatures in a different way from each side. This construction you can see only in Oran and the mosque of Tlemcen. Apart from Algeria this style recalls mosque in Andalusia (Spain) as all of them were built in the same period.
Old quarter of Oran, Sidi El Houari has its name from the patron saint of the city. Sidi El Houari was Algerian imam and highly respected scholar. His mausoleum (16) is on the way to the Spanish Gate (17). Spanish Gate is the most well preserved remain of Spanish architecture in Oran. Porte d’Espagnole (Spanish Door) you can reach from the street: Rue des Frères Dahli.
Castello Viejo – the old caste
Castello Viejo (old castle in spanish) is the oldest part of Oran. It’s one of the forts built by Spaniards. Unfortunately, right now it’s a ruin, but still worth discovering. You can enter it from the red gate (18). You will see ruins of the castle, enter the tunnels, which are still in a very good condition as were used by French as a storage. During the French colony castle was used as a prison. You can still see some drawings on the wall made by African prisoners. When Algeria got independent, nobody took care of the old castle anymore, homeless people started to live in. Nowadays, the ruins are completely empty. You will see nobody.
Fort Santa Cruz
Last and at the same time most popular tourist destination in Oran and one of the most known in Algeria is the fort Santa Cruz. The map of Oran I presented does not depict this part, but you won’t have problem to find it as it’s the icon of the city. The fort overlooks the city and offers breathtaking views.
Fort built in the 16th century by the Spaniards, is located in a strategic location on the massive ridge of Aïdour above the Gulf of Oran. In 1831, the French took over Oran and the fort.
A small chapel, known as the Chapel of Santa Cruz, stands close to the fort. Amazing is not only the view but also the story. I assume it’s one of the most important chapels in Algeria, if not the most. If you are interested to read more about the story, here comes the info from aunt Wiki:
“This chapel has been refurbished with a tower, which has a huge statue of the Virgin Mary, in a procession, followed by the people of the city, to the Oran Hill, when a cholera epidemic affected the people of Oran, in 1847. They sought blessings from the Virgin Mary to protect the city from the epidemic. The entire population implored the Blessed Virgin to bless the place with rain.
After the rain came, the town of Oran and the region were saved from the epidemic of cholera. As a tribute to this miracle, a chapel was built on the hill at the foot of the fort of Santa Cruz. This chapel is named the Santa Cruz Church. It was considered as being the Protector of the town. In commemoration of this event, every year until Algeria became independent in 1962, Ascension Day was observed when the people of Oran and the surrounding areas paid homage to the Virgin Mary by climbing up the mountain trail to the chapel as a pilgrimage.”
How to get to Santa Cruz?
Please note that the fort is high on the hill and a bit far from the city center. There used to be very cheap cable car, but it does not exist anymore. You can get a taxi from city center for around 1000da or Yassir (mobile app) for around 600da. Yassir is the Algerian equivalent to Uber. Thanks to the app you will see the price before taking the ride, and you can follow the road with GPS.
Safety in Oran
Oran is relatively safe, which means you don’t have to worry about walking and visiting around. However, as in countless cities in the world, it’s better to don’t walk alone at night, avoid dark and spooky places and always have a knife open (joking). Read more about safety in Algeria.
In my opinion Oran has much more to offer for tourists than Algiers. Such a shame old city with such a huge potential and such a rich history is just becoming a ruin… What are your thoughts?
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