I have many friends who want to save the Casbah in Algiers. I totally agree with this great and noble initiative!
One day, I was following Houria while she was making her way down a steep stone staircase that leads to the turquoise Mediterranean Sea. The Casbah is a labyrinth of shadowy alleys and cul-de-sacs filled with unemployed youths who were casting suspicious look on us and gazing at us!
Houria wanted me to visit this storied hillside quarter of Algiers, Alger la belle, El Djazair la majestueuse! The people at the Casbah are kind and generous. I remember we met an elderly woman wearing the veil who was eating from a plate of olive, bread, and cheese. She made us visit her house which was a crumbling two-story house. Around a cup of strong coffee, she told us the story of the Casbah.
She told us that the Casbah was dating back to Phoenicians times. She added that the Casbah had been rebuilt by the Ottomans in the late 1700s and it had served over the centuries as a refuge for pirates, freedom fighters, militants and thieves. It was easy to hide in the Casbah with its alleys and houses sequestered behind stone walls.
The Casbah is one of the most beautiful achitectural wonder of the late Ottoman style. The Casbah consists of white-washed structures, narrow passages, courtyards which have marble floors, fountains, intricate mosaics, and carved lintels.
"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?"
We must save the Casbah! This precious jewel is becoming a "dingy slum with its fissure-ridden houses reeking of sewage and uncollected garbage."
For the government, the Casbah is a treacherous place," says Abdelkader Ammour, secretary-general of the Casbah Foundation, a preservation group that got the Casbah named a Unesco World Heritage site in 1991.
I visited the Casbah 11 years ago (in 2000)! It is still so fresh in my mind: the staircase which turns into an alley or ruelle, carved Ottoman portals, spiralling, slender columns, impasses, rooftop terraces from where we can see a dense sea of houses and domed mosques and minaret.
and the kindness of Houria, the elderly women, the youths,
I will never forget you my Casbah!