Delicate preservation work in Syria | Christian Science Monitor

The Christian Science Monitor – excerpts –

Beit Nizam is one of three elaborate 18th and early19th century palaces being renovated by the Aga Khan Development Network
Beit Nizam is one of three elaborate 18th and early19th century palaces being renovated by the Aga Khan Development Network

As Syria slowly opens its socialist economy to tourism and development, scores of traditional Arab houses from the 17th to 19th centuries have been restored and reopened as boutique hotels and restaurants in the capital’s UNESCO-protected Old City.

Three late-Ottoman era houses south of Straight Street – Beit Nizam, Beit Sibai, and Beit Kuwatli – that were once the residences of Damascene notables and later, European consuls, are at the center of an increasingly frenetic pace of development often motivated more by profit than good preservation practice. The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), which promotes historic preservation and development projects throughout the Muslim world, has invested $20 million to restore and reopen the three houses as a boutique hotel.

The scheme is far better funded and staffed than other restorations in the Old City, which – along with Aleppo – has the highest concentration of preserved, traditional Arab residential architecture in the Middle East. The AKDN aims to set standards in preservation practice, expand the shrinking number of traditionally skilled craftsmen and carpenters, and produce what it calls “a model for cultural and tourist development.”

“We think of the revitalization of cultural assets in order to use them as a catalyst for development,” says Ali Esmail, CEO of Aga Khan Cultural Services in Syria. “And we want others to copy what we are doing.”

Whether or not private investors will follow AKDN’s model is another question. Investments have boomed in the Old City and throughout Damascus in the last decade. Yet many developers use cheap, damaging materials like concrete and cement plaster instead of traditional wood and mud brick in order to speed up conversion work and maximize returns.
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Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

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