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Take me to La Casbah..
01:15:10 PM Sunday Jul 15, 2007

Take me to La Casbah.. before it's too late...

"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?" Djamila Issiakhem, who grew up here in the 1960s as the niece of a famous Algerian artist, remembers the vibrant Casbah of her youth as a place where women and girls, escaping their traditional confinement, congregated in hammams, public baths, to gossip and discuss marital prospects. "

Came across papi's copy of The Smithsonian magazine this weekend. Front cover showed an image of a long narrow alleyway in the Casbah, a lonely shadow walking in the dim light at the end.. "Come with us to the Casbah" the title read.. "Before it's too Late"... Take me, I begged, and dived into the article, my eyes glued to the images, historic and recent. Article by Berlin-based Joshua Hammer, Photography by Paris-based Eric Sander.

read the entire article online.

but wait ... that's not all!! I was on flickr doing a search for more historic photographs of the Casbah (sometimes flickrites who are into history scan archived images to share with the world - thank you to them!!)
I came across the page for a French photographer named Jacques Godeau - someone I'd never heard of before - with tons of historic black & white (and some color) photographs taken in Algeria over several decades, from pre-independance era all the way to the 80s!! I couldn't believe my find.. what a treasure trove.. Apparently his grandson has decided to share lots of Jacques's images with the world via flickr (what better way!!) and Jacques himself was an art and photography teacher in Algeria for many years even after independence, at Lycée Descartes and Victor Hugo.

Here is the slideshow to his album on La Casbah, taken between the 60s - 80s. What a find... what a find.....

LA CASBAH Photos par Jacques Godeau

"The Casbah has been demolished—and resurrected—many times over two millennia. Around the sixth century b.c., the Phoenicians built a trading port, Ikosim, on the flat ground along the sea. The Romans occupied the same site shortly before the birth of Christ; it was sacked and burned by the Vandals in the fifth century. A Berber Muslim dynasty founded a new city on the ruins, calling it El Djazair, or the islands, named after a latticework of islets just off the coast that form a natural breakwater for the harbor. During the next 500 years, various Berber dynasties surrounded the city with walls and extended it up into the hills.
After Algiers came under Ottoman rule in 1516, they turned the old, walled city into one of the triumphs of North African architecture: city planners built 100 fountains, 50 hammams, 13 large mosques and more than 100 prayer halls. (The word "casbah," from the Arabic for fortified place, came to be used not only for the citadel at the summit of the hill, but for the entire city below.) The walled city, under constant threat from European invaders, enforced a curfew, but it was invoked with style: at night a flutist made the rounds, playing a Turkish melody called a coupe jambe, to announce it. And the Casbah was awash in wealth: Algerian privateers plied the Mediterranean, plundering European ships and often holding captives for ransom. Fra Filippo Lippi, the master painter of the Italian Renaissance, was taken as a prisoner to the Casbah; so was Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, following a sea battle in 1575, and ransomed back to Spain after five years—and four escape attempts—for a few hundred gold ducats.
To local historians, including Belkacem Babaci, this Ottoman period represents the apex of the nation's power and glory. Babaci argues that the corsairs had every justification for their actions, considering the declaration of war against the Ottomans by, at various times, Spanish and French rulers. "The Europeans launched 17 expeditions against Algeria in 1541 alone," he told me, as we sipped coffee on the terrace of the El Djazair Hotel, a colonial-era villa perched high on a hill overlooking the Casbah. "Thirty thousand soldiers were sent to attack the Casbah, in revenge for the ‘insolence' of the Algerian corsairs, but they failed."

read the entire article online.

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7:37 pm    July 15, 2007

hudhud message
oops not sure if that linked worked. here's the link to the main page..


7:29 pm    July 15, 2007

hudhud message
I never heard of that nickname.. it's a very different type of city than paris though I imagine some would have liked to call it that..

found some more historic images on this site:

interesting images.. everything from luxurious fountain courtyards to fiery battle scenes to traditional clothes and styles of dress..


6:58 pm    July 15, 2007

Rasta Gnawi message
I like the pictures a lot, especially the top one. Hey wasn't Dzair l3asema nicknamed le petit paris? Coming from wujda, where urban planners must have been taking a nap when they put the town together, I can appreciate the intricate architecture of Algiers.

1:20 pm    July 15, 2007

hudhud message
hope folks enjoy the article - wanted to share for those who are into this aspect of north african history and architectural heritage...

btw, Adnane, I locked myself out of my old account somehow :( can u pls delete it? thanks :)


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