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Algeria: The Qasba ( قصبة‎ )


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Heba E. Husseyn
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« on: February 25, 2019, 12:00:21 pm »




Another interesting history of something important yet you likely never knew - the Qasba neighborhoods of Algeria.

Nowadays in Arabic the term 'qasba' simply defines a colony, encampment or a hamlet ... just a place where people establish a community.  In Turkish it refers to a settlement bigger than a village but smaller than a city, perhaps a little town.

But the real history of qasba that origiated in the Algerian capital of Algiers reflected much more than just a colony or a settlement.  Qasba is a walled citadel (fortress)  in various Algerian towns.  The citadel of Algiers is specifically called Casbah, consisting of many mosques, homes and also at least three Ottoman palaces.   An Algerian qasba in medieval times was a central part of medina (Arab quarters of a settlement) inside a walled area. 

Presently, a traditional qasba consists of the remains of the citadel, old mosques and Ottoman-style palaces as well as the remains of traditional urban structures associated with a close-knit and deep-rooted spirit within the community.  The architectural layout of a qasba is unique and distinctive.  A qasba lies on a steep incline with wide steps leading to narrow passages and alleys between structures, making vehicular access impossible. All access must be on foot. 

The qasba is a national symbol of Algeria and for a very good reason.  It provided the ideal cover to the Algerian resistance movement against the French colonial forces who found it impossible to flush out the resistance or control the area.  Algerians view the qasbas as the root cause for success of their independence.


The following images explain a lot better than the words above.
 



An alley inside a qasba in 1700s consisting of a shop selling carpets and ceramic wares.



A qasba with residential homes along a long stretch of sloping steps, medieval era.



A slightly wider and brighter qasba alley shows neighbors relaxing outside their homes and chatting, medieval era.



Another wonderful piece of qasba art of the middle ages with traditional wooden windows.  The steps at the center seem to be caving in a bit, that's the way they are made.



Entrance to a qasba, Algeria 1894.   This is truly beautiful.  It helps to give a clearer idea of the architectural  layout of a qasba.   The entrance with its own flight of wide steps serves as an esplanade leading to the interior consisting of the colony protected from the outside.

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« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2019, 10:11:31 pm »



Great information Sister.  To the point and so factual.    These images of the medieval qasbah neighborhoods, interior as well as the entrance, are wonderful.  Unfortunately at present, the Casbah in Algiers hasn't been maintained too well and qashahs in other parts of the country don't have the same medieval touch, unfortunately again.

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« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2019, 10:13:32 pm »



Lovely, just lovely.   I adore those medieval qasbah neighborhoods.

Brother TS, how do the modern qasbahs look like?
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« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2019, 11:03:47 pm »




Sister Zeynab,  I mean the atmosphere is different perhaps mainly because social class distinctions have deepened.   Qasbahs are generally viewed as middle-class accommodations nowadays.  Moreover, some basic architecture of modern qasbahs have also altered.   Though the labyrinth of alleys do still exist, some qasbahs have done away with the incline of wide steps .... I guess to facilitate the entrance of small vehicles like motor bikes.  Then again,  you can see electrical wires and telephone lines criss-crossing over the roofs of homes.  Many structures in new qasbahs are built in apartment style, three or four storeys high.  All such innovations clash with the archaic medieval style.

Check the images below for clearer understanding.



Here's a modern Algerian qasbah.  The architectural layout is the same yet you can discern it's not quite a medieval dwelling, particularly if you're acquainted with the standard depictions of the Islamic middle class society of this part of North Africa (as shown in Sister Heba's post).




Here's another one.  As you can see, the steps are made a bit differently .. in pairs of two with a longer walking space between each pair.



This one is very much on modern lines.  These apartment-style homes have a very high plinth and stairs going right up from the lowest floor to the highest in crisscross pattern.  These floors also have balconies or open hallways used for spreading laundry. 
 



This is a nice qasba with that slight old-time touch.




In this qasbah they have done away with the wide stairs altogether.




Another nice one I like with a quaint whiff despite the modernity.



And see this, the caption below explains it all.  Very interesting.

Movie was filmed in Algeria.  As explained in the original post, this is the reason it was so difficult for the French occupiers to handle the revolutionaries.  As you can see in the image, they are ordering the people to step out but are too afraid to walk inside the qasba themselves.



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« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2019, 11:20:41 pm »



Thank you very much brother TS.  Your additional input is just as interesting.  And that movie scene helps further to explain why the qasba is viewed as the country's national symbol.
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« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2019, 11:33:06 pm »



Thankx brother for completing my post.  The comparison of your input with mine makes the history of qasba a lot more deep-dyed and comprehensive.   That film image is enthralling. 

I like the modern ones too.  Though they don't exactly have the same aura as perceived in medieval arts of qasbas, they have maintained the fundamentals of its designing.   I especially like the ones showing the young girl in red jacket and the other with the two young boys outside their qasba.


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« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2019, 11:38:18 pm »



Yes, those two images still look somewhat pristine.
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« Reply #7 on: February 27, 2019, 11:39:17 pm »



You're very welcomed sisters.
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