Renewal of the Algiers Casbah

A “Casbah”, in its traditional meaning, is the center of a city, usually walled in and fortified to some extent. As such, the Casbahs of cities and towns stretching from Morocco in the west to Damascus in the east are often living museums, a time capsule of the way life used to be centuries ago. Algiers has been Algeria’s leading cities for hundreds of years, and its Casbah is home for tens of thousands of people. The problem, however, is that the Algiers Casbah is rapidly decaying due to an assortment of factors: age, neglect and over-population being the worst culprits.

Conditions in the Algiers Casbah have become so decrepit that the government authorities are not sure at this point exactly how many people are living there. Estimates range from 40,000 up to 70,000 with families living in single rooms and illegal squatters camping out in condemned or abandoned buildings. The government has been moved to action not only by the need to reverse the aesthetic decline of the Algiers Casbah, but to stop it from further becoming a hideout for criminals and terrorists. As the political situation in Algeria continues to improve, tourists are slowly returning and a restored and refurbished Algiers Casbah would do much to attract visitors, as has been proven in other North African cities such as Tangier and Tunis. The declaration in 1990 of the Algiers Casbah as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has helped focus efforts on the restoration as well as brought this immense project to the attention of non-governmental charitable and cultural organizations.

The Algiers Casbah consists of around 450 French Colonial buildings and nearly 1,000 ancient pre-colonial structures, so the job of restoration is both huge and wide-ranging. Great care is being taken to see to the welfare of the people living in the Casbah, who are being re-housed elsewhere both during the reconstruction and after. One of the goals of the project is to reduce the crushing population density from its current level of 1,600 people per hectare to a more acceptable level of 900. Although it’s not certain when this massive reconstruction and relocation project will end, at least a start has been made. The long-suffering people of the Algiers Casbah finally have hope for the future as the past of Algiers is being restored.