Often referred to as the Country of a Million Martyrs it is believed that more than one million Algerians died in their fight for independence.
More recently, Algeria has emerged scarred from a decade-long civil war that followed suspended elections in 1992.
Algeria is in northern Africa, between Morocco and Tunisia, bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It has a land area of 2,381,740 sq km.
The indigenous tribes of Algeria, identified by the Romans as Berbers since the fifth century BCE, have been profoundly influenced by the cultural impact of Arab civilisation which arrived in the 11th century.
Modern political history
Modern Algeria is, quite literally, shaped by French colonisation. Its borders were crafted by the French, who arrived in 1830.
A small group of nationalists, who called themselves the National Liberation Front (FLN), began their revolt to rid Algeria of French occupation in November 1954. The war compelled negotiations that led to a ceasefire signed by France and the FLN at Evian, France, in March 1962.
Three months later, a referendum was held in Algeria on 1 July 1962. Subsequently, Algeria was declared independent on 3 July.
Under a government dominated by the new Algerian military, the country developed into a quasi-military state, often using the same emergency laws the French had.
By the late 80s, Algeria witnessed sweeping political reforms prompted by a widespread uprising that was violently crushed by the army throughout 1988.
In 1990, the government announced elections would be held a year later. The Islamic Salvation Front - known in French as the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) and formed in the 80s - gained overwhelming poll ratings and were predicted to take power.
The FIS won 188 of the 231 contested seats in the first round of the elections.
In 1992, the military stepped in, annulled the final stage of the poll and banned the FIS - a decision that led to civil war.
For more than a decade, a brutal civil war claimed the lives of tens of thousands, with the government battling Islamist opposition and militant groups.
In 1999, an amnesty covering all fighters was announced and, since then, most of the resistance has slowly abated although the early 2000s saw a spate of fresh violence.
Meanwhile, the minority Berbers, who represent about 30% of Algeria's population, pressed the government to recognise their language and culture in 2001 following months of unrest.
In 2004, Algerian president Abd al-Aziz Butaflika won a second term in office in peaceful elections, although the opposition and international monitors questioned the ruling party's winning vote of 84%.
Official name: Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria
Form of government: Republic
Gained independence: 3 July 1962
The hydrocarbons sector, which accounts for approximately 60% of Algeria's total GDP, is the pillar of Algeria's economy.
Currency: Dinar (DZD) - 1 USD = (app) 70 DZD
Natural resources: Oil, natural gas, iron ore, phosphates, uranium, lead, zinc
Major industries: Oil, natural gas, light industries, mining, petrochemicals, food-processing
GDP: $167bn (2002 est)
GDP annual growth rate: 4.1% (2002 est)
Per capita GDP: $5300 (2002 est)
Imports: 26% of GDP (2002 est)
Exports: 35.8% of GDP (2002 est)
Algeria has five military wings: The People's National Army (ANP), the Algerian National Navy (ANN), Air Force, Territorial Air Defence, National Gendarmerie.
Military budget: $2.1bn (2001 est)
Army size: 136,700 active troops
French traditions formerly dominated cultural life. However, even before independence, there was a growing movement among artists and intellectuals to revive national interest in Arab-Berber origins, a movement that, since 1962, has gained official support.
Population: 31,800,000 (2003 est)
Languages: Arabic (official), French, Berber
Religions: Islam 99% (Sunni)
Ethnic diversity: Arab-Berber 99%
Literacy rate: 70%
Important media: El Khabar newspaper, El Youm newspaper, Liberte newspaper (French), La Tribune (French), Enterprise Nationale de Television (ENTV) (state-run TV)
Sources: World Bank, countryreports.org, MSN Encarta, politinfo.com, The Almanac