When thinking of visiting North Africa few people would choose Algeria as their first destination choice; not because it doesn’t have a lot to offer but simply due to the lack of knowledge and misconceptions surrounding the country.
132 years of French occupation and a crippling civil war in the 1990’s has created much doubt in Algeria’s credibility as a holiday destination and the lack of a thriving tourism industry means these misconceptions often remain unchallenged.
From the beauty of its Sahara, its many Roman ruins sites, Mediterranean landscapes and beaches that would give Italy a run for its money, Algeria certainly has a lot to offer to make a holiday pretty enjoyable.
First stop in Algeria is the Jardin d’Essai du Hamma or the Botanical Garden of El Hamma in Algiers. The stunning garden, measuring 54 hectares provides visitors a cool walk through its walkways that boast hundreds of species of plants, decorated fountains, zoo and art museums.
History of the Garden
In 1831, the French colony began undertaking remediation work on the marshlands in order to cultivate agricultural soil.
By 1832, Governor General Antoine Avisard signed a decree that established a test garden in a place called El Hamma, east of Algiers. El Hamma provided a perfect plot for the agricultural plans due to its richness in water and cool climate near the sea. The aim of the garden was to serve as both a model farm and a test garden to install, acclimate and study various imported plant species.
The garden’s main function in the beginning was diffusing useful plants for medicinal, economic and commercial purposes before scientific and horticultural activities were adopted.
The zoological garden was created in 1900, under the initiative of Dr Joseph Ange who was the correspondent of the Paris Museum.
By 1837, the garden’s capacity grew from 5 to 18 hectares with an increase in sanitation and construction work ordered for the expanding garden. In 1914, the Hamma garden became a public garden and from 1913 to 1946 was under control of the General Government of Algeria which managed the garden and its restoration. In 1930, the garden began shaping up, becoming an agricultural university.
The Second World War in 1939 slowed the activities of the garden with the occupation of the premises by allied troops in November 1942 causing it significant damage. The rehabilitation and restoration of the garden began as soon as the requisition was lifted in June 1946 and by 1947 the garden was restored and listed as a national natural heritage site.
The National Agency for Nature Conservation took control of the Garden in 1985 as the National Museum of Nature until 2006 when the Garden was placed under the guardianship of the district of Algiers which carries to this day.
During Algeria’s deadly civil war, the Garden was closed to the public in 1993. It was officially reopened to the public in 2009 and since then, over 900,000 people visit the Botanical Gardens each year in addition to 15,000 school children who take part in educational programs provided by the Environmental Education School.
The Garden’s location in the Bay of Algiers in the Hamma district enjoys a perfect microclimate between the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains’ protection from strong dessert winds.
As you enter the garden you immediately notice how the main two designs of the garden face each other. One garden hosts a large space from the edge of the sea to the foot of the mountain where the Museum of Fine Arts is located. This part of the garden is easily noticeable with its alignment a nod to the French gardens of the 18th century- but with a Mediterranean twist.
Adjoining the French garden, is the English garden, closer to the English designs, consisting of shaded alleys bordering a dense and diversified plants and vegetation. From the fountains that decorate the garden, a fresh atmosphere and cool air provide a welcome relief from the sharp sunlight that bathes the rest of the walk.
The garden hosts hundreds of plant species from all fields of agriculture, horticulture and botanical research. The main categories are grouped into food plants, medicinal plants, economic and industrial plants.
The walk through the large, entangled trees that shapes the beginning of the garden has also been used as a site for film producers. In the 1930’s, Hollywood came knocking and used the botanical gardens in place of the real West African rainforest setting to shoot at least one of the adventures of the popular figure, Tarzan of the Apes.
Aside from visitors enjoying a nice day out, the garden has also become the centre of study days, guided visits, field studies, fauna and flora exhibitions and regularly contributes to the advances in the field of environmental education in Algeria.
Alongside the zoo and Museum, which hosts hundreds of classic and modern art pieces, visitors can also take a cable car near the Garden and visit the proudly-stood Martys’ Memorial, Algeria’s key landmark site to the fallen during its war of independence. The cable car provides a beautiful panoramic view of the garden and Algiers’ skyline.