Capital residents dream of Algiers becoming a Mediterranean city to rival Marseilles, Barcelona or Naples
White-washed Algiers, with sweeping views over a glittering Mediterranean bay, has long neglected its greatest natural asset but a major project is restoring the city’s seaside splendour.
The urban development plan, requested by the authorities in response to the pressing demand of the residents, aims to transform several kilometres of coastline that years of industrial development have prevented residents from appreciating.
“The transformation of the bay, which is at the heart of the new image of Algiers, will help resolve the paradox of seeing the sea but not accessing it directly let alone benefiting from it,” said architect Akli Amrouche.
Modern imperatives have brought in changes in recent decades that pushed the charm of the bay progressively farther out of reach for residents and visitors alike.
Only the tops of cranes can be seen above the ugly concrete walls surrounding the port, built to protect it from attacks by Islamist insurgents, who killed several foreign sailors in the turbulent past.
If blight of the port were not enough, pollution from waste water, emptied into the bay from the Oued El Harrach river, prompted a ban on swimming at most of the beaches once popular with bathers and sun-seekers.
Residents of the capital city dream of Algiers becoming a Mediterranean city to rival Marseilles, Barcelona or Naples.
Instead, it has been pushing in the opposite direction, eating into the neighbouring farmland of the Mitidja region, with the sea no longer visible from the sprawling suburbs.
The redevelopment plan seeks to readjust this focus, building walkways along the seafront, completely reorganising the city centre and restoring the old fishing port.
Several neighbourhoods will be linked to the sea by projects harnessing green technology and modern design, says Amrouche.
“The purpose is to give recreational areas back to the people of Algiers and re-open their access to the sea.”
– Turning the page –
The redevelopment of the bay will give special importance to green initiatives, with a project to clean up the Oued El Harrach among the first, amid concern over its hazardous output.
Expected to cost nearly 400 million euros ($540 million), the project aims to get rid of the 67-kilometre (40-mile) watercourse that flows through the city, carrying industrial waste into the bay.
A facility at the mouth of the river is planned for water sports, with other recreational activities along the corniche.
“An open air theatre, six children’s playgrounds, grass lawns and gardens planted with trees of different sizes, bridges and footpaths are all planned,” said Ahcene Ait Amara, at the water ministry.
Oued El Harrach should then become the bay’s new centre of gravity, with numerous projects dotted around it.
Among them will be the Grand Mosque, a vast compound with a prayer hall to hold 126,000 people, a minaret rising nearly 300 metres (984 feet), an esplanade, cultural centre, library and Dar El-Qoran.
There will also be an Africa Museum, as well as shopping and leisure centres.
Earlier this year, the Sablettes promenade opened to the public, named after the nearby beach where the famed 20th century writer Albert Camus came to bathe as a teenager.
The Nobel laureate celebrates the “healthy amusements” of the bay in his essay “Summer in Algiers”, a lyrical description of the city in which he grew up during French colonial rule.
Nearly 80 years on, hundreds of families can be found strolling along the revamped stretch of seafront every weekend.
On the other side of the port, a breakwater is being built to block the waves and allow the residents of Bab-el-Oued, to rediscover the beach and simple seaside pleasures.
Yazid, who lives there, hopes the bay’s restoration will help the people of Algiers turn the page, and put the violence behind them.
“The rehabilitation of these beaches and the growing number of leisure spots can contribute to stifling any revival of extremist ideas,” he says.