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A kasbah (/ˈkæzbɑː/, also US: /ˈkɑːz-/; Arabic: قَـصَـبَـة‎, romanizedqaṣaba, Arabic pronunciation: [qasˤaba], Moroccan Arabic [qasˤba] 'central part of a town; citadel'), also spelled casbah or qasbah, more rarely as qasaba, gasaba or qasabeh, in India also as qassabah, is a type of fortress, a citadel.[1][2][3] By extension, the term can also refer to a medina quarter. In various languages, the Arabic word, or local words borrowed from the Arabic word, can also refer to a keep, an old town, a watchtower or a blockhouse.


View of the Telouet Kasbah main building, Morocco, North Africa

In the Maghreb and in Iberia, the Arabic word form of kasbah frequently refers to multiple buildings in a keep, a citadel, or several structures behind a defensive wall. The Arabic word was borrowed into Spanish as alcazaba, naming the equivalent building in Andalusia or Moorish Spain, into Portuguese as alcáçova, and into Catalan as alcassaba. A kasbah was a place for the local leader to live and a defense when a city was under attack. A kasbah has high walls, usually without windows. Sometimes, like in Tangiers, they were built on hilltops so that they could be more easily defended. Some were placed near the entrance to harbors. Having a kasbah built was a sign of wealth of some families in the city. When colonization started in 1830, in northern Algeria, there were a number of kasbahs that lasted for more than 100 years.[clarification needed]

Old city[edit]

The word kasbah may also be used to describe the old part of a city, in which case it has the same meaning as a medina quarter. Some of the prominent examples of kasbah as an old city is the Casbah of Algiers and the Casbah of Dellys. In Turkish and Urdu the word kasaba refers to a settlement larger than a village but smaller than a city; in short, a town. In Serbo-Croatian, kasaba (Cyrillic: касаба) means an undeveloped, provincial small town. In India, a qasbah is a small town distinguished by the presence of Muslim families of rank.[4]


Kasbah watchtower in the Hejazi city of Al Baha, Saudi Arabia

In the Al-Bahah and Asir provinces of Saudi Arabia and in Yemen, the word qasaba usually refers to a single stone-built tower, either as part of a tower house or a tower isolated on a hilltop or commanding a field. The Encyclopædia Britannica defines it as follows: "Ancient qasaba ("towers") found in the province were used as lookouts or granaries."[5] Another book describes these towers as follows: "Apparently unique to Asir architecture are the qasaba towers. Controversy surrounds their function - some argue that they were built as lookouts, and others that they were keeps, or even granaries. Perhaps it is a combination, although the right position of a watchtower, on a hill top, is the wrong place for a keep or granary."[6] Archaeologists have found images of similar towers in the ruins of Qaryat al-Fāw, in the Rub' al Khali of Saudi Arabia, that date from between the 3rd century BCE to the 4th century CE. "Homes rose two stories, supported by stone walls nearly two meters (6') thick and boasting such amenities as water-supply systems and second-floor latrines. One eye-catching mural faintly depicts a multi-story tower house with figures in the windows: Its design resembles similar dwellings today in Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia."[7]

"Most of the qasabas have a circular plan, although some are square. Sometimes they have a band of quartz stones just below the windows or framing the windows – one well preserved example is at the top of Wadi Ain. The remains of a martello tower-like stone structure are just off the dirt track north of Al-Masnah. It appears to be an interesting antecedent of the Asir farmhouse and perhaps closely related to the qasaba. It is in ruins now, but was once a dwelling and is strongly defensive."[6] One account says about a traditional village in Al-Bahah, Saudi Arabia: "Even the road that leads to the village is impressive, and several historical stone and slate towers dot the way. Al-Bahah Province is known as the region of 1001 towers, once built to protect villages, roads and plantations from rivalling tribes. Today, these towers are abandoned, and many of them are partially or completely in ruins."[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ingeborg Lehmann, Rita Henss (2012): Morocco Baedeker Guide, p. 214: "KASBAH A mud-brick castle that serves as a residence for the local Berber tribe is called a kasbah or »tighremt« in Morocco. Some are private mansions, others are even whole fortified villages with many large and small buildings crowded on [...]"
  2. ^ Barnaby Rogerson (2000): Marrakesh, Fez, Rabat, p. 65: "as its purpose, for a kasbah should be the domain of a ruler, be he sultan, governor or just a tribal chieftain. Most of the ancient cities of Morocco retain a large portion of their outer walls, but the kasbah (the government citadel containing [...]"
  3. ^ International Business Publications, USA (2006): Morocco: A Country Study Guide, p. 229: "Sultan Abdelmoumen transformed what was not much more than a Casbah and built a mosque and a palace here too."
  4. ^ E. A. Mann (1992): Boundaries and Identities: Muslims, Work and Status in Aligarh, p. 23: "A qasbah is a small town distinguished by the presence of 'decent people or families of some rank' (Platts, 1974)."
  5. ^ The New Encyclopædia Britannica (1998): "Asir". 15th ed., vol. 1, "Micropedia", p. 635.
  6. ^ a b Mostyn, Trevor (1983): Saudi Arabia: A MEED Practical Guide. London: Middle East Economic Digest, 2nd ed., p. 320.
  7. ^ Covington, Richard (2011): "Roads of Arabia". Saudi Aramco World, March/April 2011, pp. 24-35.
  8. ^ "Marble Village of Dhee Ayn".