Kasbah of Algiers

The Kasbah of Algiers is a unique form of medina, or Islamic city. As such it is an outstanding example of a historic Maghreb city with specificities related to the natural site and history of the city, despite the destruction due to poor preservation of the ancient urban fabric. The Kasbah preserves very interesting traditional Arab Mediterranean houses in which the ancestral Arab lifestyle and Muslim customs have blended with other architectural traditions.

It stands in one of the finest coastal sites on the Mediterranean, overlooking the islands where a Carthaginian trading-post was established in the 4th century BC. The Kasbah contains the remains of the citadel, old mosques and Ottoman-style palaces as well as the vestiges of a traditional urban structure associated with a deep-rooted sense of community.

The history of Algiers is even more complex and turbulent than that of the entire country. Located on the seashore, the site was inhabited from at least the 6th century BC, when a Phoenician trading post was established. Carthaginians, various Berber tribes, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs (beginning in the 7th century) took turns coveting and ultimately taking the city. Spain's expansionist policy also embraced Algeria and took advantage of weakness among local powers due to rivalries between the smaller Maghreb states that emerged from the Berber invasions.

A Turk corsair, Khair-al-Din founded his capital in Algiers (1516) and made a large part of the modern Algerian coast dependent on the Ottoman Sultan. The central power at Istanbul intervened relatively little in administration of the region, and the Bey ruled as master in his city where military might and trade joined forces to produce great economic prosperity.

The construction of the city began in 1516 and continued until the 17th century. Although the administrative and military organization implied the presence of many Turks, Algiers was not an Ottoman city. The city combined the science of Turkish military architecture with Arab-Mediterranean architectural tradition. The flourishing state of trade is expressed in the extreme richness of the interior decoration of houses in Algiers. The unique natural site is the reason for the winding streets, veritable meanders that are characteristic of the ancient city.

European misunderstanding of the Arab lifestyle on the one hand, and, on the other hand, settlers' desire for their own customs and architectural and urban aesthetics combined to produce severe destruction. Fortunately, part of the city was saved. In the 1920s, real interest was expressed in safeguarding the ancient city. However, the Algerian authorities ordered the first studies for safeguarding the Algiers Kasbah only in the early 1970s. At that time it was classified as a historic site and a vast restoration and upgrading plan was adopted for the ancient city. A very intelligent redevelopment plan is under way for the Kasbah, to introduce modern comfort without upsetting the traditional urbanism and architecture and to restore the Kasbah's original functions: residential, commercial and cultural quarters.