Why the Name: Oran?


Oran, “the radiant,” is the name often given to the second most populous city of Algeria. In the past, I used to think that the name Oran had something to do with orient, the east. So from “radiant” to “orient”, which is true? or is there another meaning to the name of this beautiful Algerian city?

The name Oran comes from Wahran, which comes from the Berber word Uharu for Lion. One of the known forms of the word, Wadaharan, could come from “Wad + Aharan“, or “the river of Lions.”

Oran, from City Hall steps, 1894 (Library of Congress)
Oran, from City Hall steps, 1894 (Library of Congress)

Several legends link the name of the city to lions. Legend says that in 900 AD, there were still lions in the area; in the mystic legend, a lion had appeared on the grave of the saint patron Sidi El Hourari. The most common tradition traces the name of the city to the dream of the son of the Vizier of Cordoba, who was running away by sea from the tyranny of his father who opposed his marriage to the woman he loved. On his way, a storm arose, and he had a vision of two lion cubs, and a shipwreck on La Plage des Andalouses in Oran.

Either way, the last two lions were hunted on a mountain near Oran referred to as “mountain of lions,” also known as Djebel Kar, the mountain of rubbles. The French name, Mountain of lions, indicates that there were still lions living in that area at the beginning of the 19th century. Two giant lion statues stand in front of Oran’s city hall, symbolizing the city.

Oran, today
Oran, today

During the Roman empire, the region of Oran was a small settlement called Unica Colonia, which disappeared after the Arab conquest of the Maghreb. Founded in 902 by Moorish Andalusi traders, Oran saw a succession of Arab-Berber dynasties. It was captured by the Spanish under Cardinal Cisneros in 1509, Spanish sovereignty lasted until 1708, when the city was conquered by the Ottomans. Spain recaptured the city in 1732. However, its value as a trading post had decreased greatly, so King Charles IV sold the city to the Turks in 1792 (some sources say that it was conquered, rather than sold to the Bey Mohamed El Kebir). Ottoman rule lasted until 1831, when it fell to the French. During French colonization, Oran saw a rapid development and became Algeria‘s second city.

Flag of Algeria
Flag of Algeria

After independence in 1962, Oran remained the capital of the West of the country, and its principal financial, commercial, and industrial center. It is today one of the most important cities of the Maghreb. It is a port city on the Mediterranean sea, located in the northwest of Algeria, 432 km from the capital Algiers, and is the capital of the Oran Province in the gulf of Oran. Oran is a major port and a commercial centre, with three major universities. It is also the birthplace of the Raï, the Algerian folk music made popular by singers such as Cheb Khaled, Cheb Mami, Raïna Raï, and others.

Please enjoy this video of Oran, the city of Lions, Oran the radiant, the city of Raï.




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