Algerian culture is strongly influenced by the country’s contemporary history and its mixed Arab and Berber heritage. The largest country in Africa by land area, Algeria is a bridge between the Mediterranean and the Sahara. It can be said that the culture of Algeria is a blend of Arab Islamic and native Berber cultural patterns and traditions.
As a relatively young nation, Algeria is still finding its place in the modern world; in this article, we’ll present you with a summary of facts about Algerian culture.
Algeria Culture Is a Mixture of Many Different Traditions
Since ancient times, Algeria has been inhabited by Berber people who were divided into many tribes. Little is known about the history and culture of Berber peoples in ancient times.
The Phoenicians arrived towards the end of the Bronze Age, built cities and ports on the coast, and traded with the natives. The Phoenicians founded the cities of Constantine and Annaba, which are still among the largest cities in Algeria today.
The Arrival of Arabs: Algeria’s Cultural and Ethnic Landscape
Roman rule in most of North Africa ended with the arrival of the Arabs in the 7th century AD. They introduced a new religion – Islam, to Algeria, but the Berbers resisted the invaders.
Over time, however, Islam became the dominant religion, the spread of which was facilitated by Arab settlers and the ruling elite. Many of the local Berber tribes adopted Islam and the Arabic language.
What Are the Main Languages Spoken in Algeria?
The primary language in Algeria is Arabic, spoken by more than 80 percent of the population. Different dialects of Berber are spoken throughout the country. Alongside Arabic, Berber is an official language in Algeria.
As a result of French colonial rule that lasted from 1830 to 1962, French is often spoken as the second language, especially among the upper class and educated Algerians.
Arab-Berbers: Dominant Ethnicity in the Country
An overwhelming majority of Algeria’s population is of Arab-Berber ethnicity. Centuries of Arab rule, marriages between Berbers and Arab settlers, and the adoption of Arabic by the Berber tribes have all contributed to forming a common Arab-Berber identity.
Despite this, people of Berber ethnicity remain culturally distinct, particularly those who live outside of major urban areas and in the southern desert areas.
How Did Islam Influence Algerian Culture?
The influence exerted by Islam on Algerian culture, traditions, and daily life cannot be overstated. Algeria is one of the most religiously homogeneous countries in the world, with up to 98 percent of its population being the adherents of Sunni Islam.
The influence of Islam on Algerian culture can be witnessed in local art, architecture, the dress code, and the daily customs and beliefs of the Algerian people. Overall, the culture of Algeria is strongly shaped by Islamic teachings and its mixed Arab-Berber ethnic and cultural heritage.
Family and Social Relationships
Algeria’s culture is family-oriented. Gender roles and statuses are decisively influenced by Islam and Algerian traditions.
Women stay at home to perform domestic chores but they are often employed in agriculture. In urban areas, women may find employment as secretaries, teachers, or nurses. Despite the modernist influences, the majority of the population is conservative.
Marriages in Algeria
The practice of arranged marriages is still widespread in Algeria, even though Western cultural influences in large urban areas have begun to prevail in recent times. Marriages are arranged either by parents or professional matchmakers.
As in other Arab countries, wedding celebrations are intricate and can often last for days and involve music, dancing, distribution of sweets, and ritual baths for the bride.
Domestic Unit in Algeria Includes Multiple Families
It is common for Algerians to remain living with their parents after they marry. The husband and his wife and their children continue to live with the husband’s parents.
Consequently, families in Algeria tend to be large and consist of several generations that belong to the same household. Over the past couple of decades, modernizing influence in large urban areas means more people choose to have smaller families.
Unique Architecture That Blends a Rich Tradition With Modern Influences
According to the latest estimates, nearly three-quarters (around 73 percent) of Algeria’s population live in cities. When Algeria gained independence from France in the 1960s, urbanization was yet to gather momentum, with less than a third of the population living in cities. The pressures of rapid urbanization have made it imperative to develop urban planning.
Traditional Handicrafts Are Sold in Many Cities, Towns, and Villages
Centuries of Arab rule have had a lasting impact on architecture in Algeria. The center of smaller urban areas is usually the casbah (fortress in Arabic), surrounded by a network of narrow, winding alleys and intricate stone arches. Haggling is among the well-established traditions in Algeria.
Many people in towns and rural areas sell traditional crafts such as carpets, baskets, and pottery. Handicrafts can be very intricate and have a high artistic value.
A Wealth of Different Architectural Styles
All of Algeria’s major cities, including the capital, Algiers, are located on the Mediterranean coast. Centuries of Phoenician, Roman and Arab rule have left a visible trace on urban architecture.
Impressive Roman ruins can be found across the country, not only along the coastline but the interior as well. The ancient city of Thamugadi, modern-day Timgad, is one of the most well-preserved Roman cities in North Africa.
The period of European colonization, beginning in the 16th century and the arrival of the Spanish, has left a lasting impact on Algeria’s architecture. Many lavish colonial buildings and cathedrals can be found in the capital, Algiers. The country’s second-largest city, Oran, displays even heavier European influences due to the centuries of Spanish and French rule.
Nomadic-style Architecture Dominates the Desert Areas
South of the Atlas Mountains lies the Sahara Desert, which accounts for 80 percent of Algeria’s land area. European and Arab architectural and cultural influences wane as we get further from the coast and the urban regions.
The Amazigh, Mozabite, and Tuareg tribes inhabit the area. Their architecture is nomadic in style. Homes in villages are made of stone and surrounded by high walls. Nomadic tribes still live in tents made from traditional materials.
Algerian Cuisine Is Rich and Varied
Cuisine in Algeria is a rich mix of aromas, flavors, and spices. The national dish of the country is Couscous, made of steamed semolina and served with lamb, chicken, vegetables, or sauce.
Various flavorings are used, from onions and raisins to red peppers, cumin, and coriander. Another popular dish is Mechoui, which consists of lamb prepared over an open fire and eaten with bread. Turks and Arabs have introduced a number of different spices to Algerian cuisine.
Dishes such as the Chorba and Dolma are very popular, as is Bourek. French cuisine has also left its mark, evident in the use of tomato puree, aperitifs, and sweets.
Tea Is More Popular Than Coffee
Coffee in Algeria can be found too strong by some and is served with a glass of water. Mint sweetened tea is more widely drunk while alcohol is rarely consumed, as it’s forbidden to Muslims.
Discover Amazing Algerian Traditional Dresses
As is the case with Algerian culture in general, fashion exhibits influences of different civilizations, Arab, Mediterranean, and African.
Female dress is a blend of many different styles; the fabrics are richly embroidered and decorated and usually have vivid colors. Brightly colored patterns are still extremely popular among Algerian women. Dress style and code are firmly rooted in Algerian customs.
Algeria’s traditional dress, the Karakou, is made up of a gold-embroidered velvet jacket worn with saroural (Arab version of pants). The dress code varies from region to region and city to city.
Burnous, a traditional sleeveless cloak made of coarse woolen fabric and with a hood attached, is worn across the country, but the embroidery depends on the region and local customs. The Chaoui Dress, which originated in Eastern Algeria, is made of sleek black cloth embroidered with wool threads.
A Culture of Hospitality
Algerian culture and traditions are deeply rooted in the country’s long history, ethnic diversity, and foreign influences. Greetings can be lengthy with frequent inquiries into health and family.
Social interactions between men and women are rare and do not involve public displays of affection and familiarity (touching and hand-holding) but are much more common among members of the same sex. Social life is based on visiting, usually done in the circle of extended family.
Algerians are generous hosts, and hospitality is one of the main characteristics of Algerian culture.
A Literary Heritage That Dates Back to Ancient Times
Early influences on Algerian literature include the Romans, Arabs, as well as the native Berber peoples. Nevertheless, contemporary literature represents a blend of French and Arabic. Since the 19th century, Algeria has been home to many prominent literary figures, including poets, novelists, essayists, and playwrights.
Kateb Yacine, an Algerian writer who wrote plays and novels in Arabic and French, was widely recognized at home and abroad for his works set in the Algerian struggle for independence. Mohammad Dib was another prolific writer, authoring more than 30 novels, many short stories, and children’s books.
Albert Camus: Algerian Born French Literary Star
Camus, who went on to become one of the most influential literary figures and philosophers of the 20th century, was born in a small coastal town of Drean on the Mediterranean coast of Algeria.
His most famous novel ‘The Stranger’ won him international fame and recognition. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.
The Enchanting Rhythm of Algerian Music
When Algerian music is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is rai. This uniquely Algerian music genre successfully blends traditional folk music with contemporary pop.
It has gained popularity abroad, with singers such as Khaled and Cheb Mami becoming international pop icons. Strong oriental, Andalusian, and African influences make rai a particularly rich genre that is both traditional and modern.
Rai and Kabylian Folk Music Are Relative Novelties
The rai genre is thought to have originated at the beginning of the last century among Bedouin shepherd folk music. French, Spanish, African, and Arabic musical styles exerted a strong influence, creating the genre as we know it today.
Another popular musical genre in Algeria is Kabylian folk music. It originated in the Berber majority region of Kabylia, from where it spread to the rest of Algeria and Europe.
Famous Sights You Can Visit in Algeria
Algiers, the nation’s capital, is an ideal place to begin your visit to Algeria. A sprawling metropolis, Algiers is home to many historical sights dating to different historical periods.
For adventures, Atakor offers plenty of potential for exciting activities. The Roman ruins at Timgad and the city of Oran are also must-visit locations if you find yourself in Algeria.
An ancient country with a fascinating culture, Algeria can be described as the gem of North Africa. Numerous peoples, faiths, rulers, and artists have left their mark on the nation’s culture.
Here’s a summary of the main Algeria cultural characteristics:
- A country at the crossroads of different civilizations, Algeria’s culture is rich and varied
- Arab-Berber ethnolinguistic identity is the bedrock of Algerian culture
- Islam is the dominant religion
- The period of French colonization influenced the local way of life, arts, and architecture, and social structure
- Nomadic tribes that live in the desert area have a specific local culture and way of life
- Customs and traditions vary greatly, depending on the region of origin
Algeria’s fabulous cultural legacy will continue to fascinate people worldwide and play a key role in shaping the country’s future.