Béjaïa – Kabylia’s Largest City
The city of Béjaïa, located on the Mediterranean coastline of Algeria, is both the capital of the Béjaïa Province and the largest city in Kabylia – a region in the north of Algeria which includes part of the Tell Atlas Mountains as well as the Djurdjura and Gouraya National Parks. Moreover, Béjaïa is home to one of the largest Berber speaking populations in Algeria. Hugging the shoreline of the Gulf of Béjaïa, the city has the Yemma Gouraya mountain as its backdrop, with its natural attractions including the Aiguades beach, the Soummam river and Monkey Peak, or Pic des Singes.
The settlement which later became the town of Béjaïa was originally founded by Numidian Berbers. The town later served as a port in the Carthaginian and Roman eras gaining importance under Roman Emperor Vespasian as a gateway to Mauretania. Interestingly, an altar dedicated to town councilor of Saldae (now Béjaïa) Gaius Cornelius Peregrinus, was discovered in the ruins of a fort in Maryport, England, on the western extremity of Hadrian’s Wall – the defensive fortification in Britain under Roman rule at the time.
For a short while Béjaïa was the capital city of the kingdom formed by Germanic Vandals, who were conquered and replaced by the Byzantines in around 533AD. This kingdom gave way to the Berber Hammadid dynasty, with Béjaïa serving as the capital city, commercial and cultural center. At that time Béjaïa was named En Nassria by the Hammadid leader Emir En Nasser. Construction work at this time included fortifications and an impressive palace. In 1152 the Hammadid Empire fell to the Almohad ruler Abd al-Mu’min who invaded the area from his base in Morocco. By the 13th century, Béjaïa was in the possession of the Hafsid Empire, and by the early 16th century was under control of Spain (1510-1555) before being taken over by the Ottoman Turks. At this time the Barbary Pirates dominated the coastline that came to be known as the Barbary Coast – the middle and western coastal regions of North Africa, including Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia. Béjaïa was a stronghold of the Barbary Pirates until the town was captured by the French in 1833, later gaining independence along with the rest of Algeria.
Some relics from its tumultuous history can be found in the Béjaïa Museum, and landmarks include a fortress built by the Spanish in 1545, a huge statue of a soldier commemorating the Algerian War of Independence, and a 16th century mosque. Monkey Peak, which forms part of the Gouraya National Park, is a an essential habitat for the endangered Barbary Macaque and offers a spectacular view of the bay and the coastal city of Béjaïa.