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Restoration of the Great Omari Mosque, Lebanon (awarded 1987–1989)

The Great Omari Mosque, built on the ruins of a fortress built by the Knights Hospitallers, dates back to the 13th century, during the second period of Crusader rule in Sidon (Mostafa, 1989) in what is now southern Lebanon (Figure 3.4). The building still retained some architectural features from the Romanesque and early Gothic periods. However, only a few wall fragments of the Crusader’s fortress remained, including parts of a buttress on the south faqade, a few pointed arches, and the ribbed vault of the northern riwaq (arcade) (Al-Radi, 1994a). In AD 1291 during the Bahri Mamluk period, a mosque was built over the remains of the derelict fortress, thus becoming the oldest and largest mosque in the city. Since then, the mosque and its site have been an important centre of spiritual life for centuries

Restoration of the Great Omari Mosque, Sidon, Lebanon, by Saleh Lamei-Mostafa

Figure 3.4 Restoration of the Great Omari Mosque, Sidon, Lebanon, by Saleh Lamei-Mostafa

Source: Photographer: Saleh Lamei-Mostafa/Archnet

(Farid, 2011). At various times during the Ottoman era, between AD 1848 and 1849, 1870, and 1895, the mosque experienced various additions and restoration work. Located on the highest plateau of the old city, off to the west of the old city, the mosque overlooks the sparkling azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea. This prominent location makes it the dominant feature of Sidon’s Islamic heritage (Mostafa, 1989). The mosque plan is simple: the northern riwaq or arcade opens onto a courtyard that is flanked by additional riwaqs on each side. The western riwaq is deeper than the others and has a pitched roof, while the three remaining riwaqs each have cross vaults over pointed arches; piers support these. The rectangular prayer halls are covered by four cross vaults that spring from the walls and are supported by exterior buttresses. The minaret is located in the middle of the northern wall of the prayer hall (Altinyildiz, 1989).

Damage to the building had three primary causes: deterioration due to environmental factors, damage resulting from inappropriate restoration materials, such as cement and concrete, in previous interventions, and destruction from Israeli shelling during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon (Al-Radi, 1994a). After massive damage to the mosque, Rafiq al-Hariri, a native of Sidon who later became the prime minister of Lebanon (1992-98), offered to build a new mosque. However, the community wanted the Great Mosque to be restored (Altinyildiz, 1989). Funded by al-Hariri, the project was approved by the Lebanese Antiquities Organisation and Lebanese Department of Islamic Awqaf. The restoration work involved preventing the collapse of the remaining parts of the mosque and reconstructing all the destroyed elements. The upper cylindrical section of the minaret was dismantled and reinforced with an iron anchorage before being restored to its original place (Al-Radi, 1994a). The concrete was removed from the vaulting and replaced by damp-proof mortar. The cement mosaic tiles, which had been added during a previous restoration, were replaced by marble tiles. The restoration of the mosque was a community effort in which everyone had a stake. In addition to preventing the mosque from total collapse, the reconstruction of deteriorated parts of the building helped revitalise traditional building crafts in the economically depressed area of southern Lebanon. Engagement with the reconstruction of the mosque gave the residents a feeling of pride and ownership.

Rehabilitation of Asilah, Morocco (awarded 1987–1989)

The small coastal town of Asilah, an ancient and strategic port founded by the Phoenicians, was occupied for centuries by successive waves of Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Portuguese, and Spaniards, all of whom left their mark. The town is located on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, on the northwest tip of Morocco. The town has walls and ramparts dating back to the Portuguese occupation of Asilah, when the town was used as a trading post (Bartsch, 2005). Within the walls, the

Rehabilitation of Asilah, Morocco, by Al-Mouhit Cultural Association/ Mohammed Benaissa and Mohammed Melehi

Figure 3.5 Rehabilitation of Asilah, Morocco, by Al-Mouhit Cultural Association/ Mohammed Benaissa and Mohammed Melehi

Source: © Aga Khan Trust for Culture/Christian Lignon-Ransinangue (photographer) town follows the typical Arab Mediterranean pattern with courtyard houses lining narrow alleyways (Figure 3.5). Spanish architectural influence is seen in the balconies and facades (Akbar, 1989). Eventually, the city went into decline, playing a minimal role in modern-day Morocco (Lin, 2018).

The project to rejuvenate Asilah started when Mohammed Benaissa, a Moroccan politician who served in the UN and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, returned to his birthplace, Asilah to become its member of Parliament (1977-1983). Benaissa purchased and renovated a house in his hometown; during this renovation, he noted and was disturbed by the derelict state of the Portuguese Tower and many of the streets and historic buildings. After Benaissa and his friend Mohammed Melehi (president of the Moroccan Painters Association) were elected to the Municipal Council, they embarked on a scheme to rehabilitate the town. They immediately initiated a study on the state of the city (Al-Radi, 1994). The men campaigned to get the residents to collaborate to clean up and preserve the historical elements of the town with the aid of local craftspeople and artisans who used traditional materials, techniques, and forms (Al-Radi, 1994b). In order to improve the external appearance of the town, the two patrons invited artists to paint some of the town walls. They gained the endorsement of King

Hassan II, who requested various government agencies to help rehabilitate Asilah and develop Benaissa’s projects. As a result, the Portuguese fortifications were restored and revitalised for communal use with the addition of commercial facilities. The Spanish government offered the Raissouni Palace, a historical structure in the heart of the medina built during the Spanish occupation, to be used as headquarters to the project. The palace became a vibrant place for a permanent dialogue with the medina’s everyday life and its stakeholders (Lopez, 2017).

In 1978, the two friends launched a cultural event under the slogan “Culture and Art for Development” (Gilbert, 2009), in which a wide range of cultural activities brought together international and local participants. This was the first edition of the Asilah Art Festival, which would later crystallise into a long-lasting traditional celebration thanks to the Al-Mouhit Association (A1 Radi, 1994b:51). The Al-Mouhit Cultural Association was established to help organise the festival. While their main objective was to renovate and rehabilitate the town, a second aim was to fund and support cultural projects such as the festival, which targeted both Moroccan and international participants. In 1998, Benaissa and Melehi decided to expand their summer art festival into what was to become the Asilah Cultural Festival. This festival became an annual event for various religious and cultural activities, both secular and devotional music, dance, and arts and crafts. In addition, the festival was seen as an opportunity to generate work and income for the stakeholders and residents of Asilah by enabling them to contribute to the labour force, or material production (Akbar, 1989). Two additional goals were to inculcate residents with a sense of pride and ownership in their town and promote a spirit of entrepreneurship and engagement. The rehabilitation of buildings and streets aimed to be coherent with the original character of the town (Lopez, 2017). This was achieved through inserting arches and doorways from ancient ruined buildings as well as repairing and embellishing traditional features of the region.

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