Algiers has a stirring and sometimes disquieting history. Much of it is still tangible today: its historical legacy is everywhere and makes the city a fascinating and poignant place to explore.

Founded by Berbers in the early Middle Ages, Algiers was originally Al-Jaza’ir, a north African port town important for Mediterranean trade.  Growing in population and economy, the city was an attractive target for neighbouring cultures and conquerors and would fall under the dominion of many different rulers throughout the next five centuries, including the Hafsids and the Merinids.

Briefly seized by Spain in the 1500s, Algiers sought and received Ottoman rule under the famous Turkish admiral Barbarossa. Today the Bastion 23 museum gives a glimpse of the Turkish period in Algiers. For the next three hundreds years Algiers would exist as a Turkish corsair redoubt, from which frequent acts of piracy would be launched against ships from neighboring Europe and beyond, and it was not until the early 1800s that the U.S. Navy forced the Algerian government to stop their attacks on American ships.  The English and Dutch wanted to do the same but, rather than forcing a treaty like America, they instead destroyed the entire corsair fleet.   

In 1830 the French conquered Algiers and gave it its current name. Settlers moved across from France and Spain. The Bab el Oued quarter was one of the working class settlers' enclaves, while the richer colonists lived up on the heights in areas like Hydra: their villas are still there today. The first railway was opened from Algiers to Blida in 1862. European infrastructure and design came to influence the city’s road layout, architecture, and culture; the city centre buildings around the Grande Poste and the rue Didouche Mourad reflect the 19th century prosperity of the French colonial community.

In World War II, Algeria and with it Algiers became part of the Vichy French empire, allied to the Third Reich and Axis Powers. The Vichy governor was Admiral Darlan who occupied the Palais d'Ete (now the Palais du Peuple). The local Resistance groups sometimes hid Allied intelligence officers inside the Hotel Albert 1 (on the rue Pasteur) whose owner was anti-Vichy. In November 1942 U.S. and British forces invaded North Africa, coming ashore in the bays around Algiers. A local member of the Resistance got into the Palais d'Ete and assassinated Admiral Darlan. The Allied commander General Dwight D Eisenhower and the British resident minister Harold Macmillan occupied the St Georges Hotel (now Hotel El Djazair) as Allied Headquarters: their photographs are there to this day. The American OSS and the British Special Operations Executive established a base a few kilometres west along the coast from Algiers at what is now the Club des Pins.

At the end of the World War II the indigenous Algerian population outnumbered those of european descent in a ratio of ten to one, but little was done to share power or prosperity with the majority. On November 1st, 1954, members of the Front de Liberation Nationale started their concerted campaign against French rule.

Algiers was involved in the subsequent grisly war of liberation for eight years, and many of the places which visitors walk through today were in the thick of the action - the hunt through the Casbah for Ali la Pointe and Saadi Yacef (later to play himself in the film 'The Battle of Algiers'); the place Abdel Kader (formerly place Bugeaud), site of the Milk Bar bombing and the roof-top bazooka attack on General Salan's office; and the Government Buildings at the top of the Boulevard Khemish Mohamed, where from the balcony General De Gaulle announced to the French colonists "Je vous ai compris".  The FLN went on to negotiate independence with De Gaulle, and the French moved out of the city in the summer of 1962: the exodus from Algeria as a whole involved around 1.6 million people. 

Following this bloody war of independence, Algiers would suffer again in the 1990s from a very violent civil war that would claim over 100,000 lives.  Although this conflict is largely over, political instability and terrorist acts of violence plague the country to this day (though the capital has been spared much of the latter), witness the 2013 hostage-taking incident at the desert work site at Amenas.

The reading list on the Tripadvisor Algeria web page contains a number of books which will give the visitor to Algiers an excellent idea of the city's historical background, and where evidence of it can be seen today.