Tourism in Tlemcen: Top Places to Visit in Tlemcen

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Tlemcen is one of the most beautiful towns in Algeria. With its sand red old city walls, elegant minarets and palaces filled with graceful arches and Moorish atmosphere, Tlemcen looks like the love child of Marrakesh and Cordoba – without the other tourists.

 

 

Tlemcen, also spelled (after 1981) Tilimsen, town, northwestern Algeria, near the border with Morocco. Tlemcen is backed by the cliffs of the well-watered Tlemcen Mountains and overlooks the fertile Hennaya and Maghnia plains. Lying at an elevation of 2,648 feet (807 metres), Tlemcen is located sufficiently inland to avoid the humidity of the Mediterranean Sea coast but is near enough to receive cooling sea breezes in summer. The resulting temperate climate favoured Tlemcen’s development and explains its historical importance.
Monumental door of the ruined minaret of the mosque of Mansoura, at the site of the Marīnid occupation camp west of Tlemcen, Algeria.
Monumental door of the ruined minaret of the mosque of Mansoura, at the site of the Marīnid occupation camp west of Tlemcen, Algeria.
John Elk III—Bruce Coleman Inc.

The earliest settlement on the site was called Pomaria (“Orchards”) by the Romans in the 4th century because of the local profusion of orchards and gardens. The town was later renamed Agadir (“Escarpment”) by the Berbers (Amazigh). This eventually merged with the neighbouring Almoravid military settlement of Tagrart, which was founded in the 11th century. The union evolved in the 13th century as the town of Tlemcen (from the Berber tilmisane [“springs”] for the local perennial springs). Tlemcen was the capital of the ʿAbd al-Wādid kingdom of Tilimsan from the 13th to the 15th century.

It became a religious and cultural centre of Islam as well as a focal point of trading routes along coastal northern Africa. Tlemcen was coveted by the neighbouring Marīnid kingdom of Fès (Fez), Morocco, to the west, however, and the Marīnids established the fortified camp of Mansoura 1.5 miles (2.4 km) west of Tlemcen as a base from which to besiege the town. Tlemcen was periodically besieged by the Marīnids throughout the 14th century, but during times of truce the rulers of the town worked on its architectural adornment and developed its religious and educational institutions and its commerce and industry. The city declined at the end of the 14th century, and it fell to the Algerian Turks in 1559. In 1842 it was secured by the French, who surrounded it with ramparts. Tlemcen served as a headquarters for the Algerian nationalist leader Ahmed Ben Bella in 1962.

Tlemcen has more buildings dating from the 12th to the 15th century than any other town in Algeria. With the exception of the Great Mosque built by the Almoravids in the 12th century, most of the city’s medieval buildings strongly reflect the influence of Moorish (Muslim) Spain. The Mosque of Sīdí bel Ḥassan (1296, now a museum), the Méchouar, or citadel (1145, now a military hospital and barracks), the Sahrij, or Great Basin (a 14th-century reservoir, now dry), and the Grotto of Rabbi Ephraim ben Israel Ankawa (15th century) are notable landmarks. Tlemcen’s winding, narrow, arched streets are crowded with shops, cafés, and mosques. The ruins of the Marīnid city of Mansoura to the west has notable examples of Hispano-Moorish art.

Tlemcen supports a bustling trade in agricultural products and textile (including silk), leather, and metal handicrafts and has some light industrial development. The population is sharply divided between the Hadars (the middle class, descended from the Moors) and the Koulouglis (descendants of Turks and Arab women), each living within its own sector. Pop. (2008) 173,532.

Best Time to Visit

The best times to visit Tlemcen for ideal weather are March to June and September to November based on average temperature and humidity.

Top Places to Visit in Tlemcen

1. Grand Mosque

Tlemcen’s Grand Mosque is one of North Africa’s most important Islamic buildings. Begun by the Almoravid leader Youssef ben Tachfine around 1091, it has been substantially rebuilt several times over the centuries but retains some important early features, including the mihrab, elaborately decorated in stucco and carved stone, and a fine cupola with a massive chandelier. More impressive, however, is the atmosphere of reverence that fills the building. There are 133 steps to the top of the minaret, the oldest in this part of the Maghreb and the highest in town. To visit the mosque, you must dress conservatively.

2. Mosque & Tomb of Sidi Boumediene

About 1.6km southeast of the city centre, as the crow flies, lies one of Algeria’s most beautiful complexes, the mosque and tomb of Sidi Boumediene, which remains a place of huge spiritual significance for Algerians even today. Across the way stands the mosque, built by Abou el-Hassan in 1328. The building is both grand and beautiful. A stairway leads to a massive entrance porch and, through massive bronze-clad cedar doors, to the mosque, an open-sided, rectangular prayer space, beautifully proportioned and finely decorated in tiles and carved stucco.

3. Tlemcen Museum

Given the wealth of history in these parts, you would be forgiven for expecting the museum to be equally rich. It is not. Arranged over two floors, the collection is basic and the arrangement is confusing, with Almoravid, Merenid and Zianid coins, brass lamps, carved stile and stucco all jumbled together. Among the treasures are 15th-century carved epitaphs from royal tombs. Also worth finding are the 1940s oil paintings by local artist Abdelhalim Hemeche.

4. Mechouar

The Mechouar, a 12th Century citadel, is one of the town’s centrepieces. The Zianide ruler Yaghmorassen moved his residence here in the early 14th century and a mosque was built in the 1310s. The Ottoman admiral Barbarossa used it as his stronghold in the 16th century and the French followed suit, using it as a barracks and hospital. Today the Mechouar offers a place of peace inside its massive walls and across its broad esplanade. The entrance is on Ave Cdt Ferradj.

5. Mansourah

Mansourah – the victorious – never lived up to its name. It started as the camp where Merinid sultan Abou Yacoub settled his army in 1299, when he besieged Tlemcen. The siege lasted eight years, during which the camp became a residence, complete with palace and mosque. Just as the city was about to fall, the sultan was murdered by one of his slaves and the Merinids retreated. Remains of the 12m-high walls that protected the camp stretch across the olive groves far into the distance. The main sight here is the remains of the massive mosque, rebuilt by Sultan Abou el-Hassan of Fès when he came to besiege Tlemcen in 1335.

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