Algeria: Day trip to Ancient Cirta
It is the oldest city of them all. Founded by the Carthaginians, who referred to it as Cirta, the sands of time carries on its back a history so long that it would be forgotten had it not been written down. The ancient city of Cirta, now called Constantine. The city is spectacularly set upon a stone mountain overlooking the Rhumel Gorges some 200 meters below. Call it what you will, but it is the oldest and continuously inhabited city in Algeria.
Travelers from foreign lands will be amazed at the city’s historic location, the seamless mix of old and new, the stunning display of leather goods for which Cirta (Constantine) is now well known. But take a second, and look deeper and discover a story of magic and wonder.
Regarded as the capital of eastern Algeria, Cirta/Constantine has a population of over 500,000 making it the third largest city in the country (after Algiers and Oran). It was originally settled by Phoenician migrants and renamed for Constantine I in the 4th century of the Roman Empire, who rebuilt the city to its original splendor after it had been levied. Archeologists feel there are hints that the city is the former capital city of the Numidia, a Berber empire that emerged in the 3rd century B.C.
A visit to Constantine/Cirta can satisfy both your traveling urges; to explore a lost civilization while at the same time being in the middle of a modern city with most of the amenities foreigners hope to find during their stay. Check out the Accommodations link on Algeria.com for reliable contacts regarding tours in the local area and comfortable lodging. Bus transportation is easily accessible from Marrakech, Casablanca and other major cities.
Emperor Constantine built two churches during his reign: both of them points of contention during the Mussulman invasion in the second century. The Bishops Agapius and Secundinus, the soldier Emilianus, and the virgins Tertulla and Antonia were martyred there under Valerian (253-60). A Latin inscription cut in the rocks at the entrance to the Rummel Pass (“Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum”, Africa, 7924) mentions Sts. Marian and James as martyrs at either at Cirta or Lambesa during the same invasion.
These days, the city of Constantine respects its ancient roots when it was better known as Cirta. Better known now as a bustling trading center and a coveted location to purchase handicrafts ranging from carpets to leather goods, Constantine/Cirta is a perfect location for a day trip or extended visit.