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Shaping our future by learning from the past

Zineb Bettayeb

Zineb Bettayeb
Fellow of the CrossCulture Programme (ifa), is currently working in the German Commission for UNESCO

3 Questions about World Heritage

Zineb Bettayeb has been working in the Division for World Heritage of the German Commission for UNESCO in Berlin since 21 January 2019 as a fellow of the CrossCulture Programme (CCP) of the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (ifa). It gives young professionals from different countries the opportunity to work and learn in institutions in Germany for three months. We talked to Zineb about her way from Algeria to Germany, about World Heritage and the role of cultural heritage in society.


Zineb, why have you decided to come to Germany?

Germany has a very good reputation in Algeria and a very eventful history. I really wanted to get to know the culture, the society and the professional life here. It is a great experience, even if the German language is really a big challenge. During my study visit in Toronto, I already experienced how enriching it is to get to know another culture – for example, I question my own actions much more critically and have become much more open-minded.

How did you become interested in World Heritage?

I’m from Algiers and after my studies in computer science and translation, I first worked as a cultural journalist. There are many well-educated young people in Algeria, but it is not easy to find a job in your field of study. Since my time as a journalist, I have a keen interest in culture and how culture contributes to the development of societies. For me, World Heritage sites are places that tell about our past. And I believe it is extremely important to know about our history and to preserve the heritage passed down by our ancestors in order to shape our future and to make Algeria a better place. In Algiers, I work for the Safeguarded Sectors National Agency (ANSS), which is responsible for the protection and preservation of the World Heritage sites in Algeria, especially for the Kasbah of Algiers.

For me, World Heritage sites are places that tell about our past. And they are extremely important to shape a good future.

In general, people are not very aware of the World Heritage status of the Algerian sites. However, in the past, the Kasbah of Algiers had a significant influence on the development of other cities in North Africa and Andalusia. Today, the historic centre of Algiers plays a special role in the collective memory of the Algerians. Also, the residents are very committed to preserving their historic houses. The Kasbah is built on a slope and the traditional urban structure with its countless stairs and narrow streets is still very recognizable today. Nevertheless, many houses threaten to collapse. Due to the location on a slope, some neglected buildings could cause great damage to many surrounding houses. Therefore, the government has recently launched a comprehensive restoration programme. The implementation of the restoration plan for the Kasbah of Algiers is supervised the local authority of Algiers and by the Safeguarded Sectors National Agency (ANSS). This also includes awareness-raising and training measures for the local residents to renovate their buildings in accordance with the regulations for historical monuments.

What connects the historic centre of Algiers and the city of Berlin?

Firstly, there is a major difference in the geographic location. Algiers is a seaport on the Mediterranean and was an important trading hub for the Ottoman Empire in North Africa, especially from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

However, both cities were partially or severely destroyed in the 1940s: Berlin was destroyed in World War II while the historic structures of the lower Kasbah of Algiers down to the port and parts of the middle Kasbah were demolished by the French colonial rulers at that time to build large boulevards for the army and European-style buildings. This entailed poverty and unemployment for the residents of the upper part of the Kasbah, as people were cut off from their former working places at the port. Like Berlin, Algiers and its historic centre have developed since then. Today, only the upper and part of the middle Kasbah are preserved, but it is a very lively district with many craftsmen, artisans, traditions and a strong sense of community.

Further information:

UNESCO World Heritage

CrossCulture Programme (CCP)

Since 2005, young professionals and volunteers from various regions of the world have been gathering work experience in Germany with the CrossCulture Programme (CCP) of the ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen). On the other hand, the Programme also supports participants from Germany who want to work and learn in one of the target countries. Each year around 80 professionals and volunteers from more than 35 countries take part in the programme.  

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