The mythical port of Cherchell
Mythical ports of the Mediterranean
First broadcast date
Cesarea of Mauretania, current Cherchell, was one of the most important cities of the western coast in ancient North Africa.
Once a military and commercial port, it is now a fishing port and a tourist centre, and keeps the memory of its lighthouse, built on the model of that of Alexandria, destroyed then rebuilt in the late 19th century.
COPEAM - Coproduction
- Algiers Channel 3 - Coproduction
Credits / Cast
- Ouarab Reda - Journalist
- Hamadouche Yazid Ait - Journalist
- Lafer Malika - Journalist
- Algeria - Centre - Cherchell
Cherchell (or Sharshal)
This Algerian town is situated on the coast of the Miliana massif, about a hundred kilometres west of Algiers. Its little port, the oldest in Algeria, sheltered from the west winds by an island and from the east winds by the Cape of Tizirine, was founded by the Phoenicians. It then passed into the hands of the Carthaginians. In the 3rd century BC, under Roman rule, it became the capital of Mauritania; in 25 BC King Juba II gave it the name of Caesarea. The Roman colony, surrounded by 8 kilometres of rampart wall, experienced a period of prosperity, and by the 2nd century AD hada population of around 40,000 ; the remains of a lighthouse, which looks like the one in Alexandria, is proof of its maritime activity. Burnt down during a revolt (371), sacked by the Vandals in the following century and taken by the Byzantines in 535, Cherchell never again found its former glory. At the beginning of the 8th century it was ruled by the Arabs, but the port had lost its dynamism; soon it was abandonned and filled in; the surrounding area, where Bedouin families raised their animals, grew cereals, cultivated vines and fig trees, was regularly pillaged, for example in the 12th century by the Normans from Sicily. During this period Cherchell passed through the hands of the various dynasties who squabbled over central North
Africa. In the 15th century the Moors, fleeing Spain after the Reconquista, established themselves in the town in large numbers (perhaps 120,000 families), adapting to the culture, the craftsmanship, especially silk, to trade and pirating. At the beginning of the 16th century, Kara Hasan, a Turkish pirate, made Cherchell his naval base before being killed by a warlord, Arudj, who established a garrison in the conquered town. Momentarily freed from Turkish rule after the defeat of Kay al-din (Barberossa), the inhabitants of Cherchell nevertheless had to bow to Constantinople's authority until 1528. Three years later, under the leadership of Andrea Doria, Charles V attempted to take the town and make it a base for operations againt Algiers, but the expedition failed.
During the Turkish period Cherchell decayed. The population never exceeded 2,500 to 3,000, occupying only a small part of the town. The attacks by pirates based in the town led to reprisals, in 1682 Duquesne bombarded the town on the orders of Louis XIV. The Turkish authority remained, relying on a few powerful families like the Ghubrini, whose ancestors had come from Morocco at the end of the 16th century and had acquired huge influence across the whole region. In the early 19th century the Turks fell out with this family, but the
fall of the Turkish governorship in 1830 enabled the Ghubrini to come back into power in Cherchell; soon they came up against the authority of another Marabout family, the Brakna. In March 1840 the attack on a French ship by a pirate based in Cherchell made General Valée decide to occupy the town and to establish a colony of some one hundred European families there. The new colony went through a period of relative prosperity by developing the area behind the town. There was a rise in the port's activities thanks partly to fishing, but above all rotrading with France (transport of building material and wine) while a little beach was cleared nearby for leisure.
Cherchell, which since Algerian independence has experienced a large increase in population (22,000 in 1993 as against 2,700 in 1962), has had a relatively difficult history. Its prosperity seems always to have been compromised by its distance from the
successive North African capitals, from Tahert to Algiers, passing by Tlemcen.
S. Gsell, Cherchel-Tīpaza, Alger, 1896.
M. Bouchenaki, Cités antiques d’Algérie, Alger, 1978.
G. Yver, « Sharshal »,Encyclopédie de l'Islam, Brill, 2012.