Oran (ôräNˈ) [key], city (1998 pop. 692,516), capital of Oran prov., NW Algeria, a port on the Gulf of Oran of the Mediterranean Sea. One of the country's leading ports, it ships wheat, wine, alcohol, vegetables, meat, wool, cigarettes, and iron ore. The city, surrounded by vineyards and market gardens, is a commercial, industrial, and financial center. Oran is divided into a modern, French-style section and an old Spanish-type quarter with a casbah (fortress). Its frequently visited 18th-century mosque was bombed in 1995 by Islamist militants who objected to the adoration of saints, a practice forbidden by Islam.
The site of modern Oran has been inhabited since prehistoric times, but the city's founding is generally attributed to Moorish Andalusian traders in the 10th cent. Oran's subsequent prosperity, based on commerce, was interrupted when the Moors began to engage in piracy, thus provoking reprisals from Spain. Spanish forces captured and fortified the city in 1509 and held it until the Turks arrived in 1708. Spain recovered Oran in 1732. The city was successfully besieged (1791) by the district governor of Mascara and was made a provincial capital of the Ottoman Empire.
French troops captured Oran in 1831 and began to develop it as a naval base, along with nearby Mers-el-Kebir. The building of the port and the construction of railroads linking Oran with the interior made the city the economic capital of W Algeria in the late 19th cent. Oran, held by Vichy France during World War II, fell to the Allied forces in Nov., 1942. Civil strife ravaged the city in the late 1950s; the French terrorist OAS (Secret Army Organization) and the Algerian nationalist FLN (Front for National Liberation) perpetrated violence against civilians. There followed a general exodus of the European population, which had been the largest, proportionally, of any North African city. The city provided the setting for Albert Camus's novel The Plague.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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