Reclaiming the City: Changing Urban Meaning in Algiers after 1962

This essay argues that urban symbolism and architectural inheritance are crucial and undervalued components of post-colonial discourse. Drawing on the evidence of architectural change, as well as newspaper articles, personal histories, fieldwork, and related sociological research, it takes a wide view of changes to the urban environment of central Algiers after 1962. After briefly discussing the role of urbanism in the French ‘civilizing mission,’ the essay aims to analyze two opposing currents in post-colonial urbanism. First, it relays the extent to which the French built environment of Algiers was capable of encouraging patterns of life for its new inhabitants, and the degree to which that power affects memories of colonial urbanism. Second, it examines the antonymous, parallel quest to reclaim that symbolically heavy territory with icons, symbols and representations of Algerian nationalism, particularly through street names, statues, and public art, a process that both revealed the complexities of the state’s nationalism and provoked its contradictions. Despite the FLN’s best efforts, the city as palimpsest persists. The changes to – and consistencies of – the built environment of Algiers after 1962 testify to the under-appreciated importance of the city as an influential legacy of colonialism.

Source: Cultural Geographies [sub required].

Photo Credit: Faten Aggad


Publication Type Journal Article
Publisher Cultural Geographies
Year 2014
Author(s) Henry S. Grabar
Other Numbers 21 (3): 389-409
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