Published in SexDegrees 27.3.2014
Tell me about your city, Raouf Sifour
In Finland you have this saying: a beloved child has many names. That is Constantine, the City of Knowledge, the City of Bridges, and the City of Warriors. It is one of the biggest and wealthiest cities of Algeria, as well as the commercial centre of the region, and therefore a place where many people come in their search for a better life. The official number of people living there is around one million. During daytime, however, the population doubles as people come to the city for work and study. Poor people around the area gather there to try and earn some money.
Constantine has a very distinctive geographical position. The city was originally built on top of a stone mountain. Later, an earthquake split the mountain in two. Therefore, Constantine is now divided in two separate parts that are connected by bridges. Between the two parts runs a river down in the gulley. There is also an airport, considered as one of the most dangerous in the world as the plane needs to go round along the mountainside to get to the airport in the relatively narrow gulley. In Constantine, you are never far away from an incredible view. It is not a place for someone with fear of heights. The suspended bridges over the gulley are hundreds of metres long and not supported by any pillars.
Constantine is the Arabic capital of culture, known as the City of Knowledge. Most of the rulers and thinkers, the highest educated people of Algeria come from there. On 16 April the whole of Algeria celebrates the Day of Knowledge. Constantine is the centre of that. There is no nightlife in Constantine, no bars and clubs, and people eat out mainly in the daytime. Taxi is a common way of transportation as it’s very cheap. There are also cable cars and an elevator for transporting people from the bottom of the mountain to the top.
The weather conditions in Constantine are quite extreme. Winters are very cold, and summers very hot. Normally, there is always snow in the wintertime. In the summertime, the temperature might go up to 50 degrees Celsius. It is often windy in Constantine but even that doesn’t help in the summer temperatures because it feels like a hair dryer directed at your face. Springtime is best for visiting. In the autumn, there are often thunderstorms coming from the Sahara. After the storms the city is red-coloured because of the sand brought over from the desert. With the heat and the post-storm humidity there is steam everywhere. You feel like you were in a sauna.
Currently, Constantine is going through big changes. The city is overcrowded and because of its geographical situation it is impossible to expand the borders. That is why they have started building a new city next to the mountain. Currently, there are a lot of Brazilian workers.
Constantine has always been a bit of a melting pot of different cultures. In the ‘70s, it attracted a lot of immigrants, among others Finnish fishermen. At the time, Algeria was doing very well economically and it was easy to make money there. During the terrorism time in the ‘90s many industries suffered, tourism being one of them.
Now tourists have found the city again, and the hotels are fully booked all year round.