Urban Cultural Heritage in Danger
As physical structures and embodiments of intangible value and living social tradition, historic cities in the Middle East are important cultural assets. Many are included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
In the past, most historic cities in the region have been affected by creeping physical decay, by lack of maintenance due to changing social and demographic premises, by colonial interventions, and by inappropriate planning methods resulting from the post-colonial ideologies of the “Modern Movement”. Many traditional urban structures have however, at least partially, survived these threats. Some of them were subject to successful urban conservation and rehabilitation efforts that demonstrated how social and physical reinvigoration can give damaged cultural environments a new lease of life.
In the more recent past, radically new threats have emerged: Internal ideological, political and military conflicts, fueled by external powers and their strategic interests in the region (and supported by the most advanced means of technological warfare) are not only jeopardizing the recent urban conservation and rehabilitation efforts, but have led to the partial or total annihilation of many historic cities in the Middle East. The precursors of this fatal new trend were Beirut and Kabul, followed today by the devastating results of savage civil wars raging in places such as Aleppo, Mosul, Raqqa, Sanaa or Shibam.
While the complex reasons underlying such conflicts are difficult to disentangle and resolve, new strategies need to be developed in order to safeguard the urban cultural heritage. Wars and other armed conflicts are emergencies that call not only for humanitarian relief, but also for anticipatory planning and development, and preparation for reconstruction. The response must include the conservation and rehabilitation of surviving fragments of historic cities – in particular their residential areas. It must also allow for compatible and coherent infill, as well as the occasional transformation or substitution of irretrievably lost components of the urban environment.
A sensible renewal of the traditional urban fabric can help to alleviate political struggle and restore a common cultural identity. Soliciting the participation of local stakeholders in such urban rehabilitation efforts can foster reconciliation and new forms of social cohesion.
This online toolkit has been developed in the context of a project entitled “Urban Cultural Heritage in Conflict Regions”, which is being funded by the German Foreign Office, and implemented by GIZ under the umbrella of the Archaeological Heritage Network (ArcHerNet).
The purpose of the toolkit is to enable stakeholders to cope with the demands for conservation and restoration alongside urban redevelopment. It recognises that war-torn historic cities are not only composed of a series of endangered monuments, but also rely on complex functional systems that need to be renewed and adapted to changed conditions.
The toolkit gives guidance and recommendations concerning the safeguarding and recovery of cultural heritage in historic cities in the Middle East upon the cessation of armed conflict. It is not a set of instructions on restoring individual monuments, but seeks to guide stakeholders through the process of repairing, reviving and enhancing the inherited urban fabric as a reflection of shared collective values and cultural identities.
The toolkit serves three main purposes that combine short-term action with a long-term perspective:
- to avoid further damage to urban cultural heritage arising from the removal of rubble and debris, from emergency reconstruction to recover basic services and shelter, and from hasty attempts to modernise the urban fabric;
- to facilitate culturally sensitive restoration and reconstruction in cases where immediate remedies are ruled out by unresolved or protracted political conflict or a lack of funding or financial resources;
- to provide practical advice, instruments and tools for addressing the challenges of recovery and restoration.
The toolkit provides information and guidance for:
- the local institutions and actors responsible for post-conflict reconstruction and recovery;
- local citizens and businesses, including returning refugees and internally displaced persons, who have a stake in post-conflict reconstruction and recovery;
- service providers – local and international professionals, firms and academic institutions (architects, urban planners, civil engineers, archaeologists, lawyers, construction firms, etc.)
- international organisations as providers of financial or technical assistance.