go to content go to search box go to global site navigation

Oran

History

Humans settled around the broad sweep of the Mers el-Kebir bay 100, 000 years ago, but the story of Algeria’s second city really starts when it became the port of Tlemcen. Andalusian traders started using the harbour in the 10th century. Spanish soldiers conquered it in 1509 and held it intermittently until 1792. The Spanish built fortifications that remain some of the city’s most prominent landmarks today. The city was fought over by the Spaniards and Ottoman Turks throughout the 18th century and lost much of its importance in the process. Its prospects were made worse in 1790 when it was hit by an earthquake so large that tsunamis battered the Spanish coast. Oran’s fortunes revived from 1831, when French colonists began to develop the port and to build a large naval base in the harbour of Mers el-Kebir. Under French control Oran became a departement of France and one of France’s largest cities, a cosmopolitan place of whitewashed houses, broad avenues and grand civic buildings. At the outbreak of WWII the Mers el-Kebir naval base was home to a significant squadron of French battleships. When France surrendered to the Germans in 1940, British forces attacked the French fleet to stop it falling to the Germans, killing 1300 French sailors in the action. Almost half of Oran’s population left after independence.