Tlemcen: Old City in Contemporary Wear

2011 Capital of Islamic Culture
By Rasha Dewedar
Freelance Writer-Egypt

This is not the only reason why Tlemcen is chosen to be the Capital of Islamic Culture for the year 2011; there is still much more to tell.

If you are an Egyptian, you would feel as if you are saturated with monuments. You have already seen the pillars of a very ancient, great, and eternal civilization. However, the experience of writing about Tlemcen, made me eager to know more information and see more photos of a cocktail of civilizations all packed in one place.

Known as the "Pearl of the Maghreb," Tlemcen (540km east of Algiers)is one of the oldest cities in Algeria that passed through different dynasties, enriching it with different cultures and heritages: Arab, Islamic, and Hispanic.

This is not the only reason why Tlemcen is chosen to be the Capital of Islamic Culture for the year 2011; there is still much more to tell.

For a city to be named Capital of Islamic Culture by the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), it has to meet certain criteria, like being a historical city with great monuments, serving Islamic culture, and having scientific contributions.

The program aims at introducing the cultural places and activities,as well as their cultural contributions through different eras, to non-Muslims.

AbiLhassan Mosque.


After highlighting important aspects of its civilization in 2009, when it hosted the Capital of Arab Culture ceremony, Algeria has now an excellent opportunity to show different aspects of its heritage more related to Islamic culture.

Among the most famous Islamic historical sites in Tlemcen are the Great Mosque, the Medina of El-Eubbad, AbiLhassan Mosque, and the mosque and tomb of the Sufi scholar Sidi Boumédiène.

Another important traditional place is the Market of Al-Kissaria, where you can view Tlemcen's traditional clothing, like Chedda, Karakou, and Kaftan.

The ambitious plan for re-constructing the city is jointly undertaken by the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Wakf.

Arrangements planned for the event go in harmony with the main objectives of the Capital of Islamic Culture program, which are presenting the impact of Islamic culture in the Arab region and the role of the booming civilization in contemporary times, in addition to presenting its cultural content and values. It also aims at restoring the content and the message of this civilization.

Khalida Toumi, Minister of Communication, announced that launch of the "Tlemcen:Capital of Islamic Culture 2011" event will take place through two phases, national and international, with a budget totalling $132 million for restoration, construction, and development in Tlemcen.

The first phase coincides with the Prophet's Birthday occasion,which falls this year in February.It will witness a representation from different Algerian provinces and will feature a diversity of activities.

The second, which has an international scope, will be honored by the presence of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and delegations from different countries.

The city will host a diversity of events from different parts of the Muslim World, as well as participation of five Western countries, namely, Spain, France, the US, the UK, and China.

Presence of the Western countries is mainly to promote mutual understanding and dialogue of civilizations.

It is worth noting that every member state of ISESCO will have one week to present different aspects of Islamic culture.

Enterance of Sidi Boumédiène.


Minister of Religious Affairs and Wakf, Bouabdallah Ghlamallah, confirmed that all religious buildings are well prepared to host the cultural event. There is a plan for reshaping the old city,which includes restoring the city's alleyways and squares, and a project of establishing an Islamic center in the Imama district.

Monument restoration might be one of the most important aspects of the ongoing preparations. The first of its type in Algeria and neighboring countries, an exclusive center for Andalusian studies with unique architecture will be constructed.

Also, Tlemcen Museum will undergo some expansions to be a national museum.

Plans for restoring Sultan Palace and Dar El-Hadeeth were also announced.

Dar El-Hadeeth (in Arabic, House of PropheticTraditions) was first opened in 1937 and is used for religious and cultural purposes. The place,which hosted Algerian Muslim scholars who spread awareness against French occupation, will contribute to the Capital of Islamic Culture event by acting as a venue for scheduled religious talks.

The Ministry will also work to restore the minaret, ablution room, and roof of Tlemcen's Grand Mosque, the Zahra Mosque, and Khemis Mosque in the Beni Snouss municipality, Nedroma Mosque, and other buildings in the old city.

Toumi explained that 50 organizations are responsible for restoring 99 projects related to heritage in the old city, in addition to another 10 projects covering cinema, theater, the central library, and three museums.

During the event, 50prize-winning movies and five plays will be performed.

As much as I feel overwhelmed by this really great and unique heritage, I also feel sorry that the old city does not have the publicity it deserves.

When I started writing this article, I felt very depressed for finding only scattered and insufficient English sources talking about the event, but publishing it now made me very proud that I can get more people informed about a city that I already feel its charm from the distance.

Rasha Dewedar is a freelance journalist based in Cairo, she has special interest in the Middle East, gender issues and science.

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