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Tlemcen, Algeria: a capital of Islamic culture 2011.

The ancient Algerian city of Tlemcen, just inland and close to the Moroccan border, was the seat of a medieval dynasty that controlled much of North Africa and has long been a centre of Islamic learning, culture and art. In recognition, Algeria’s Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Isesco) has named the town a Capital of Islamic Culture for 2011, reports the New York Times.

The city is already buzzing in anticipation preparing its squares and souks for a year-long festival of concerts, screenings, theatre performances, lectures and readings. Around 300 exhibitions are planned, to be held throughout the year, with new cultural centres and museums on the horizon. In preparation for a flock of visitors, the ruins of the town’s medieval ramparts and towers are being refurbished and ancient mosques and hammams cleaned. Tlemcen is also about to house its first five-star hotel, the Renaissance by Marriott (www.marriott.com), due to open in March of this year.

Not that hosting a festival or receiving visitors is anything new. There’s a yearly summer festival of Arabo-Andalusian music in the town, and the Great Mosque, completed in 1136 and said to be the most remarkable remaining example of Almoravid architecture, draws both the Muslim faithful and tourists alike. Visit the adjoining tomb of Sidi Boumediene, a revered 12th-century Islamic scholar.

Tlemcen was a vacation spot for French settlers in Algeria and its cool mountain climate has made it an important centre of tourism in Algeria. It’s a more cosmopolitan city than most, with an elegant blend of Arab, Berber, Andalucian and French cultures.

Check lastminute.com for flights to Algiers. British Airways and Al Italia currently have flights for under £250, depending on the time of travel.

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