Algeria, in North Africa, is a melting pot of influences, this fusion of civilizations resulted in a spectacular architectural environment, much of which may still be seen today. Algerian culture is shaped by the country’s recent history, as well as other factors including literature, music, arts, crafts, and religion.

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The harbour and admiralty, Algiers©Library of Congress

Algeria is characterised by a wide range of historical influences that show a unique interaction between former civilizations. The Numidians’ age, the presence of the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, the antiquity of the Romans and Byzantines, the dominance of Islamic dynasties, the Turkish invasion, and, finally, the era of French colonisation, which signals a stage of conversion for modern Algeria. 

The importance of urban and architectural spaces is demonstrated by the French presence in Algeria for 132 years. France’s successes in Algeria have been defined by the destruction, change, and production of many public and private monuments, hidden under the masks of an inherited style followed by a guarding strategy. Furthermore, the architecture of French Algeria in the 19th and 20th centuries provide paradoxical understandings in contemporary conservation and historical preservation approaches. 

Indeed, the country’s history of French colonialism has resulted in French being the second language of many educated Algerians, while English is rarely spoken. Many Algerians also speak a variety of Berber dialects.

Most countries’ cultures are shaped by their history, and Algeria is no exception. The country’s unique and fascinating culture is influenced by many ethnic groups. Algeria’s official religion is Islam, and Muslims make up the majority of the population. Algerian literature is divided between French and Arabic, and the country produced several prominent novelists during the twentieth century, including Mohammed Dib, Kateb Yacine, and Assia Djebar. The works of Assia Djebar have been widely translated. In terms of music, Andalusi music, introduced from Al-Andalus by Morisco refugees, is preserved in many older coastal communities for individuals with a more classical taste.

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Madame Luce’s School of Arab Embroidery in Algiers©Library of Congress

Algeria’s handicrafts industry is growing. The richness of the country’s production is part of its allure. From carpets to ceramics, leather to lute making, pottery to glass working, and silverwork, Algeria has a wide range of abilities that make things that are marketed in other nations as well as to tourists – all proof of the country’s rich and diversified culture.

Algeria’s architecture is diverse and interesting. Because the country has traditionally been a crossroads between east and west, it has absorbed a wide range of cultural and architectural influences. Algeria’s strategic location in ancient times meant that the main military powers of the period would do everything possible to win control of the country. As a result, Algeria has been invaded by Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks, and the French, all of whom left their particular mark on the region. With each conquest, new buildings were built and reforms to the governance were implemented. 

While not all of these ancient cultures have had a substantial influence on architecture in Algeria today, a few have. The Arab invasions are likely the most notable, as they have had the most long-term and widespread impact. Other cultures, from Phoenician road signs to ancient Roman ruins or French-speaking Arabs, can be found all around the country.

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Casbah of Algiers©crimereads.com

Most people agree that Algiers is the ideal site to begin a tour of the country’s architecture. The city was founded over a thousand years ago, and exquisite ancient masterpieces coexist with more recent additions. If you want to visit historic buildings, you should go to the city’s old quarter. The Casbah is supported and surrounded by some stunning historic structures, with its bustling streets and markets. 

Mosques from the 11th century and Moorish palaces, including the mosques and holy sites of Ketchaoua, El Djedid, and El Kebir. The Casbah Palace is also located in the historic quarter. The Casbah Palace, also known as Dar Aziza, was built in 1791. Princess Aziza Bent ed-Dey was honoured with the name. A majestic staircase and various terraces can be found in the white palace. The Neo-Byzantine basilica Notre Dame d’Afrique, for example, stems from the time when the country was governed by French colonials.

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Notre Dame d’Afrique, Byzantine Revival Architecture ©Chettouh Nabil
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Casbah House Interior Architecture ©Toufik Lerari via Flickr

Several notable and spectacular Roman ruins can also be found in the nearby cities. Due to the natural Algerian environment, the ruins have been beautifully kept, and you can view lovely mosaics, an amphitheatre, and a variety of other artefacts. Other notable structures in Algeria include strongholds in the French colonial style, circular mud cottages in rural areas, and historic enormous Arab style mansions. Mosques and other religious structures often exhibit intriguing architectural tendencies. 

Of course, newer, more modern structures have been built in recent years.  With a parallel desire to recover that symbolically dense region with images, symbols, and representations of Algerian nationalism, particularly through street names, sculptures, and public art, a process that both highlighted and inflamed the state’s nationalism’s inconsistencies.   

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The “Open book” auditorium at University of Mentouri ©Photograhy by Jason Oddy/Gallery Vassie, Amsterdam

From 1969 until 1975, exiled Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer for his communist leanings worked in Algeria at the invitation of Algerian President Houari Boumedienne to help build a new vision for the country. Niemeyer’s built environments are democratic, to create a democratic mentality among student bodies and faculties. To eliminate hierarchies, the Humanities Block at the University of Mentouri at Constantine, for example, was created with no borders between departments. The buildings, on the other hand, have been poorly maintained, with poverty, civil conflict, and even an earthquake compounding the damage and neglect. 

Few architects in Algeria were willing to create within a still uncertain national identity separated from the nation’s history of colonisation as part of an endeavour to decolonize through the removal of French impacts on Algeria. Architect Abderrahmane Bouchama was an instrumental figure in the later process of establishing a distinct Algerian architectural identity, publishing several works on the subject.

From colonial to postcolonial architecture, Algeria has so much to offer to learn and unlearn. It has progressed to indicate that provincializing Marxist architectural theory and practise is critical, an endeavour that needs a greater focus on key anti-imperialist elements within the Marxist theory and practice.

It is apparent that the land of the atlas has the most wonderful and diverse architecture, where the future of the country’s architecture is hidden in the past of its architecture. 

References

Algeria.com. 2021. Algeria Travel Guide 2021 | Algeria.com. [online] Available at: <https://www.algeria.com/> [Accessed 27 August 2021].

Loc.gov. 2021. Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. [online] Available at: <https://www.loc.gov/pictures/> [Accessed 28 August 2021].

Ramchurn, R. and Ramchurn, R., 2021. Concrete Spring: Oscar Niemeyer’s work in Algeria. [online] The Architects’ Journal. Available at: <https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/concrete-spring-oscar-niemeyers-work-in-algeria> [Accessed 27 August 2021].

Author

Spoorthi Nagaraj is a freshly graduated architect who is intrigued about urban studies and sociology. She is an architect by the day and a writer by the night. Her passion towards equity, resilience and sustenance is what flows through the content she writes.

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