The Casbah of Algiers: Cultural Heritage as a Political Tool
Peck, Gwendolyn, Architectural History - School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Crane, Sheila, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Focusing on the section of Algiers known as the Casbah, a UNESCO World Heritage site, this paper aims to demonstrate how cultural heritage can be used as political capital. A long interest in the site and demonstrated cultural importance of the district stand in juxtaposition to the current state of the Casbah. Its dilapidated structures and dense, primarily lower class population do not meet expectations for a place that has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List for nearly twenty-four years. This work elucidates the chronology of preservation interest surrounding the Casbah and its link to politics through three time periods: the French Colonial period, the post-Independence nation-building phase, and its time as a World Heritage site. In the first case, the power dynamics of colonialism translate to the material world in the French treatment of Algiers. Using UNESCO surveys and Algerian laws, the interest in heritage sites as a piece of national identity by the new independent Algerian government is examined. A significant focus on the Algiers Casbah in several UNESCO reports reflects the difficulty of preserving the valued site. With Statement of Conservation reports and still more Algerian laws, the final section takes on a similar form in a different political context. Here the parties of interest are the Algerian government and UNESCO. Placed within the background of criticism that already highlights the growing politicization and nationalism of the World Heritage program, the Casbah becomes one case study demonstrating larger issues at hand.
MARH (Master of Architectural History)
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