Tiaret Algeria: Ancient Station, Modern Town
Tiaret is a town of about 150,000 people located about 100 miles inland from the Mediterranean seacoast. Known variously as Tiaret, Tahert or Tihert, it is the main city in the province of Tiaret, an upland agricultural region in the Tell Atlas area of Algeria. The word “Tihert” means “station” in the local Berber dialect, and from ancient times Tiaret has been a station, or stopping place, for travelers, traders and armies. Situated in a strategic mountain pass, Tiaret was essential to any power that sought to control the surrounding land and the lucrative trade routes that passed through it. Slaves from sub-Saharan Africa were funneled through Tiaret on their way to markets on the coast. Caravans wound their way through the pass in either direction, allowing the local rulers to charge a tax on each visit. When the Romans controlled the area before the coming of Islam in the 7th century, they called the place “Tingurtia”, meaning – you guessed it – “station”.
Besides the scattered Roman ruins in and around Tiaret, there are also other archeological points of interest and attractions in the area. As Roman power faded, local Berber kingdoms sprang up and built pyramidal tombs on hilltops. Known as the Jedars, these tombs are concentrated in an area approximately 20 miles southwest of Tiaret. Another site of interest near the Mina river is Mechra-Sfa, or “Ford of the Flat Stones”, a large group of megalithic monumental stones and structures about which very little is known.
Tiaret changed hands many times during the thousand years before the French came to colonize Algeria in the 19th century. Often the changeover was violent, as local and regional power brokers of different religious sects and political ideals clashed for control of the pass. France brought stability to Tiaret when they arrived in 1843, as well as substantial numbers of colonists who constructed many grand buildings in the European style. When Algeria achieved independence in 1962, however, most of the French and other European “pied noirs” (literally “black feet”) left the city that had been their home for in some cases several generations. Today, Tiaret is suffering from environmental degradation due to the intensive agriculture practiced around it, as well as an influx of people that has put severe strain on the city’s infrastructure.