Al Qal'a of Beni Hammad
The Al Qal'a of Beni Hammad comprises the remains of the first capital of the Hammadid empire.
The Qal'a (Fortress) is located in a mountainous setting at more than 1,000m altitude. In the 11th century, a prosperous Islamic town developed here. Surrounded by walls, it includes residential complexes, a large mosque, and the emir's palace surrounded by gardens and pavilions. Its design later influenced Arab architecture as can be seen in the Maghreb, Andalusia and Sicily.
Community Perspective: worth the long detour for the surrounding landscape and the 25m tall minaret that is its most striking highlight.
Map of Al Qal'a of Beni HammadLoad map
Quite a ride to get there, being the most remote site in terms of access from any nearby town with an airport. From Algiers it takes 3 hours and even from Setif still 2h for just 100km. Reason being bad traffic, speed bumps, fog even, twisted roads as you get closer and the good old truck that likes to go 20km on single lanes.
So you get there and can make out the minaret of what used to be a very large mosque. The mosque only has a few groundstones left, and the lake palace beyond also just shows some walls. Overall that is too little in my opinion, it's pretty much gone. A French-speaking gentleman pointed out some other sites as we were on top of the minaret. This is not an easy climb. The last bit requires crouching while climbing outside, and as you can see from the picture there are no guardrails and it's quite small so not for the faint of heart.
There is small entrance fee but you could potentially just see everything from the fence. During my visit I was also asked to provide proof of covid vaccination which seems rather silly for the small site where nobody followed social distancing and you'd think the small village enjoys any little income from ticket sales. As I didn't understand the Arabic sign the guard wanted to let me through anyway but at the last second Google translation did its job and I understood and cleared it all up.
While I can't recommend the site I think any Algeria itinerary should include it to see every aspect of the country. I have seen mini buses on the way but I think it's a giant hassle in this area and highly recommend going by car.
I was here in November 1991 at the time of the first rumblings of the bloody civil strife which has rendered much of Algeria an unsafe destination since then. I had the place to myself,although someone calling himself 'le gardien' showed up after about an hour to collect an entrance fee.
The site lies in an impressive landscape of nearly bare hills and contains the extensive remains of a briefly flourishing city of the 11th century. Most striking perhaps is the 25m(?) tall minaret built of rough hewn sandstone blocks and still with traces of it's blue ceramic tile decoration in place. In addition to the mosque there are remains of a palace including a bath, a fort and much more.
I declined an invitation to stay in the nearby village which decision I came to bitterly regret after a night in a vile hotel in M'sila
The site is not difficult to reach though it may be necessary to hitch-hike the last few kms. from the N40 to Beni Hammad and in happier times I would recommend a trip there to anyone wishing to see something representative of Islamic culture after the several Roman sites in Algeria.
The advantage in Algeria is that almost all hotels and guesthouses have French TV channels, especially appreciated in remote towns like Ms'ila that I reached in a 3 hours ride with a Tintin like shared taxi from Batna, my backpack securely attached on the roof of the cab. The restaurant manager of Kal'aa Hotel offered his services to drive me to the Beni Hammad ruins, about 80km return, towards the Hodna mountains and passing some typical villages that for sure have not seen many tourists yet. The site itself consists of the Dar al Bahar, the great lake palace with its own pool; the great mosque with minaret that I climbed to the very top with a spectacular view. I was told that the old city of Beni Hammad was surrounded by huge entry gates in 3 directions to prevent ennemy forces from entering. That was in the 11th century under the berbic Zirid dynasty which ruled parts of the Maghreb from 973 to 1148.
The whole site is nothing spectacular compared with other WHS in Algeria, but is well worth a detour if you are in the region, also because of the quite pittoresque landscape.
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