The Phoenicians settled beside the natural port some 3000 years ago, connecting this part of the country with Carthage (in today’s Tunisia) and a string of trading colonies that stretched across the Mediterranean. Since then Numidians, Romans and Vandals, Byzantines and Arabs, Ottomans and French have all fallen for the site, with its natural defences and ready supply of food and fresh water.
The original settlement, Hippo Regius, later known as Hippone, lies a mile south of the present city: in antiquity, there was more of an inlet, since filled in by silt from the Seybouse River. The Numidians developed the settlement, but Hippo Regius flourished most under the Romans, becoming a municipality under Augustus and then elevated to a colony under Hadrian. Its wealth then, as now, rested on its port – Hippo Regius shipped wheat that fed Rome. But of the ancient settlement’s many stories, the most poignant is that of St Augustine. Christianity first appeared here in the mid-3rd century – Bishop Theogenes was martyred in 259 – but Augustine was not baptised into Christianity until he was 33. Four years later, in 391, the Christians of Hippo Regius chose him as their priest, and he was soon elevated to bishop. Under Augustine, and particularly after Rome fell to the Visigoths in 410, the city became one of the key centres of Christianity. Shortly after Augustine’s death in 430, Hippo Regius fell to the Vandals and began a rapid slide into obscurity.
The settlement was moved to its present site – presumably to escape flooding – in the 11th century and in the 16th century was given its present name by the pirate Kheireddin Barbarossa. When he took the town in the 1520s, he is said to have noticed the abundance of jujube trees, called Annabe in Arabic. Ottoman rule did little to advance the town, when it became subject to Constantine. But after the French invasion of 1832, Annaba – renamed Bône – was developed into a modern city and major port. British and American forces used it as a base during WWII, which led to it being heavily bombed from 1942 to 1943.