A Brief History of the Kingdom of Tlemcen

Located in northwestern Algeria, the city of Tlemcen is the administrative capital of the Tlemcen province, a region known for its lush vineyards and olive plantations. The city has thriving carpet, textile and leather industries and its rich culture reflects elements of Islamic, Arabic, Berber and Andalucían influences. Perfectly situated in the mountains, the climate is somewhat cooler than surrounding areas, making it a popular retreat from the summer heat for both domestic and international holidaymakers.

The city was founded as a military outpost by the Romans in the 4th century CE, at which time it was known as Pomaria and served as the center of the Roman Catholic Church in the region. The city was conquered by Arabs in 708 and later became the domain of the Zenata Berber tribe referred as the Ifranids and was the last stop on a trade route of trans-Saharan oasis settlements. The city retained its importance as an administrative and commercial center on this route for centuries, despite battles for dominance in the region between Almoravid and Almohad tribes. Eventually, at the Battle of Jebel Nafusa in 1210, the Almohads defeated the Almoravids and Tlemcen regained its power as an administrative and trading center in the region.

When Almohad rule collapsed in the 1230s, Tlemcen came under the rule of a succession of Ziyyanid sultans between 1236 and 1554. The bustling city became the link between the coastal trading route and trans-Saharan caravan routes, facilitating the trading of African gold with Europeans. This liaison led to Tlemcen being integrated to a degree into the European financial system. From the beginning to the mid-14th century, Tlemcen was home to a number of affluent religion foundations and was considered to be the main intellectual and cultural center of Central Maghreb. It was also the trading and commercial center of the region, with merchants’ houses in Tlemcen having branch offices in the Sudan and Mali.

The city fell under the rule of Marinid sultan Abu al-Hasan Ali from 1337 to 1347 where he met with resistance from locals. Over the next two hundred years Tlemcen saw rulers come and go, until in 1554 the Ottoman Empire deposed the ruling Zayyanid dynasty and afforded the city protection whereupon it became a vassal of the Sultan in Constantinople. When the French seized Algiers in 1830, Tlemcen became the center of local resistance against the French for a time, but eventually became a vacation retreat for French settlers, who left their mark on the city’s architecture and culture, along with the influences of other occupying cultures over the centuries.