History of Oran

Published on 2nd October 2007

Oran is the capital city of Oran Province in western Algeria with approximately 1.4 million inhabitants. It is situated on the Gulf of Oran, which is part of the Mediterranean Sea. The city has a busy port shipping natural petroleum, natural gas, and many industrial products. Together with the fishing port of Mers el-Kebir, it forms the second largest port in Algeria, second to Algiers. There are small-scale industries located to the southeastern districts. Oran produces plastic items, chemicals and processed food. The dominating products from local agriculture are wine, cereals, vegetables and fruit.

The name "Oran" is a French transliteration of "Wahran" which is locally believed to originate from the ancient Moorish word "wahr", meaning lion, and the suffix "-an" meaning two lions. It is based on a local legend that says that there were sightings of lions in the area around 900 BC. The two last felines were killed in a mountain near the city of Oran which is called now La montagne des Lions (Mountain of Lions). 

Oran was founded at the beginning of the 10th century by Andalusian merchants as a base for trade with the North African hinterland. The city developed commercially owing to its sea connections with Europe and became the port for the North African kingdom of Tlemcen in 1437. It was also an entrepôt for trade with the Sudan. In 1492 and 1502 Oran received colonies of Spanish Muslims fleeing from forcible conversion to Christianity. This was followed by its decline and with Mers el-Kebir, it became a centre for pirates. In 1509, the Spanish occupied it. For the next two centuries, various Mediterranean powers fought for it and in 1708 it fell on the Turks in 1708. Following the constant raids of pirates based at Mers el-Kebir, Spain controlled Oran again in 1732. When the town was destroyed by an earthquake in 1790, it was evacuated and returned to the Turks in 1792. In 1831, the French occupied Oran and developed it as a modern port turning Mers el-Kebir into a major naval base.

In June 1940, at the time of the Franco-German settlement, a major part of the French fleet took refuge at Mers el-Kebir. In 1942, Oran was captured by U.S. forces. The city had higher proportions of European inhabitants than any other North African city. At the time of independence of Algeria, this caused much strife between the French and the Arab Muslims. Most of the Europeans later left, and Oran's naval functions gradually lapsed in favor of commercial ones.

Originally, the city was cut in two by the ravine of Wad Rekhi which (most of it) is now covered by boulevards and buildings. West of the ravine lies the old port, and above this rises what was the Spanish town with the ancient citadel looking down on it. 

Oran is today a major port, commercial centre and hosts The University of Oran and the University of Science and Technology of Oran. There are excellent connections with other urban centres of Algeria by rail and road. There is an international airport 20 km to the south, as well as ferry connections with Marseilles and Sète in France and Alicante in Spain.



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