Djebel Murdjadjo and Santa Cruz Fortress

The majestic Djebel Murdjadjo overlooks the city of Oran, extending to the west, dominating the Oran region of Algeria. The steep rocky crags of the mountain range eventually taper westward forming a long flat plateau. Perched on top of Djebel Murdjadjo is the imposing Spanish-built Santa Cruz Fortress, with the Our Lady of Santa Cruz Basilica nearby, standing as reminders of past conflicts and the seeking of solace.

Oran is believed to have been established by Moorish Andalusian traders at the end of the first century, but really started to develop as a strategic settlement when captured by the Spanish in 1509. The Santa Cruz Fortress (Santa Cruz being Spanish for “holy cross”) was built in 1563 under the direction of the First Marquis of Santa Cruz, Don Álvaro de Bazán. The strategic position of the fortress, at more than a thousand feet above sea-level, allowed a wide view of the surrounding area and the Mediterranean Ocean shoreline.

Following a battle against John of Austria, in which this illegitimate son of Charles I led a flotilla consisting of thirty-three galleys against the Algerians, the Spanish set about reinforcing the Santa Cruz Fortress to accommodate, and thereby protect, their city officials and governors. The circumference of the immensely strong, tall and thick walls of the fortress measured more that two-and-a-half kilometers, with strong towers at regular intervals. Within these strong fortified walls was a central castle serving as the headquarters for the Spanish governor. The beautifully preserved Santa Cruz Fortress at the summit of Djebel Murdjadjo now welcomes visitors to explore the fascinating museum within its walls.

The strategic position of Djebel Murdjadjo has played a vital role in the history of the area, especially with regard to how military operations were carried out over the years in defense of the city. For example, an account of the conflict that took place between British and American forces that landed at the nearby port city of Arzew on 8 November 1942, as a prelude to the invasion of Italy during World War II, reveals that at the valley formed by Djebel Murdjadjo and Djebel Santon allowed a vantage point from which the invading forces would be vulnerable to counterattack or defensive action. While the defenders of Oran used their knowledge of the terrain of Djebel Murdjadjo and its surroundings as best they could, the city was seized by the Allied Military Forces within a matter of days.

Certainly, battles of that magnitude no longer disturb Oran and its many inhabitants. Nevertheless, the majestic Djebel Murdjadjo still stands guard over this fascinating Algerian city.