When I arrived in Constantine, it was dark and windy, and I wondered what the city would look like. I went for a stroll, under the galleries of the town, until I reached the large square that marks the entrance to the old town. I decided to save it for the next day. But when I wake up to heavy rains, I decide to first take care of my bus ticket. It turns out that the new bus terminal is far out of the city, which seems pretty ridiculous. I am in a shared taxi, we get stuck in traffic, so I now finally see the city at a slow pace. This is the wrong side of the city though, a modern part, with nothing noteworthy. Fortunately, when I am back in the central area of town again, the sun manages to pierce through the clouds, and I walk across the Place 1er novembre to enter the old town of Constantine. Called Cirta in Roman times, it was renamed to Constantine in honour of Roman Emperor Constantine.
There are lots of people around, and I soon decide to walk up one of the narrow streets. The houses here are so high, that little light filters through to street level. I pass a monumental entrance to the Souq el-Ghizal mosque, which unfortunately is partly hidden by scaffolding. When I reach a small square, I can see the entire building, which has an interesting history. Originally built in 1730, at first look it does not look much like a mosque. It has granite columns from the Roman times, and when the French took over, it was enlarged and adjusted, and turned into a cathedral, the Notre Dame des Sept Douleurs. It was only after independence in 1962 that the cathedral was converted back into the mosque it is now. Visiting it is impossible for non-Muslims. From the messy small square, the dome looked like a smaller version of the dome of Florence Cathedral. Coincidentally, the adjoining minaret is square, but the cross on top has since long been replaced by a half moon.
From here, I walk the alleys, and a larger street past the military hospital in the casbah, and the guarded entrance gate. Military staff on the walls motion me to move on, and I obey after sneaking a picture of a remarkable corner building. I have now reached the northern part of the old side of town, where I find the Sidi M'Cid bridge, one of the icons of the city. I sit on the wall, looking down deep into the canyon that the Rhumel river has carved around the plateau on which the old town sits, and which makes Constantine such a strategic city, difficult to conquer. The bridge is impressive, and narrow; walking on it, the views are even more sweeping. I walk up the hill to the Monument to the Dead, which commemorates those fallen for defending the French motherland. The monument suffers from lack of maintenance, and judging from the smell, is mostly used as a public toilet, but the views over the city, and indeed the landscape below, are breathtaking. I walk the eastern bank of the Rhumel river, which gives good views over the old city. Near the railway station, I spot a statue of Roman emperor Constantine. After hefty discussions about Islam over lunch, I cross the river again, over the pedestrian Slimane Mellah bridge, to reach the old town again. Now, I wonder freely, back and forth, up and down streets, meeting welcoming people at the market, and marvelling at some of the more impressive buildings of the city. The sun finally wins the battle against the clouds, and the stately buildings on Place 1 Novembre shine in its warm light. The more I walk around, the more hidden corners I discover, decorations on walls, corners of streets. At the same time, Constantine appears messy, such a pity for a city with such a rich history and unique location. When the sun finally sets, it gets cold, and my body needs food in one of the many restaurants.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Constantine (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Constantine.
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