In Algiers, preservationists race to rescue the storied quarter. But is it too late?
Joshua Hammer in Smithsonian Magazine:
Spilling down precipitous hills overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, this mazelike quarter of Algiers, the capital of Algeria, has long conjured up both Arab exoticism and political turbulence. Dating back to Phoenician times but rebuilt by the Ottomans in the late 1700s, the Casbah has served over the centuries as a refuge for pirates, freedom fighters, Islamic militants and petty thieves, all of whom found easy anonymity in its alleys and houses sequestered behind imposing stone walls.
But the often violent history of the Casbah has obscured an appreciation of the quarter’s architectural and cultural riches. Preservationists consider it one of the most beautiful examples of late Ottoman style. Its once-whitewashed structures, facing onto narrow passages and constructed around enclosed courtyards, contain a wealth of hidden treasures—marble floors, fountains, carved lintels, intricate mosaics. For generations, writers and artists have celebrated the mystery, tragedy and rhythms of life in the Casbah in literature and painting. “Oh my Casbah,” wrote Himoud Brahimi, the poet laureate of the quarter, in 1966, four years after the Algerian resistance defeated the French occupiers. “Cradle of my birth, where I came to know loyalty and love. How can I forget the battles in your alleys, that still bear the burdens of war?”