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Rehabilitation of Tabriz Bazar, Iran (awarded 2011–2013)

Located along the Silk Road and occupied since 2000 BC, Tabriz is the most important city in the northeast of Iran. It is located on a vast plain at a high altitude, surrounded by mountains on three sides and a lake on the fourth (Mostafavi, 2013a). The bazaar of Tabriz has been famous for centuries for its beautiful architectural buildings, many of which were built in its heyday in the 16th century when the city was capital of the Safavid dynasty. However, the Tabriz Bazaar was almost completely demolished by the earthquake of 1780. The present bazaar, 230 or so years old, is one of the largest brick complexes in the world and one of the oldest in the region. Covering 27 hectares with 5.5 kilometres of inner lanes with more than 5500 shopkeepers and 40 professional guilds, it is the largest covered bazaar in the world in terms of both size and trader numbers (Ebrahimi et al., 2013). The bazaar is not confined to shops; it includes caravanserais, timcbeh (domed crossroad nodes), mosques, schools, bathhouses, public squares, and gateways and outdoor green spaces bordering the river. The bazaar structures feature advanced brick techniques, structure vaulting, light harmonisation, climate control, and unique ornamentation (Figure 3.13). By the late 20th century, the brick buildings were crumbling due to decades of neglect, businesses were vacating their premises, and a local governor had unwisely scheduled it for demolition. This alarming situation raised the ire of local merchants and, in the mid-1990s under the auspices of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHTO), plans were made to rehabilitate the bazaar. The restoration project included the direct involvement of stakeholders, traders, and shopkeepers in all decision-making. After the reinstatement of the traditional self-management practices of the bazaar traders, a

Rehabilitation of Tabriz Bazar, Iran, by ICHTO East Azerbaijan Office Source

Figure 3.13 Rehabilitation of Tabriz Bazar, Iran, by ICHTO East Azerbaijan Office Source: © Aga Khan Trust for Culture/Amir-Massoud Anoushfar (photographer)

conservation master plan for the entire complex was drafted in a collective bottom-up grassroots participatory process (Mostafavi, 2013a). Users were invited to actively participate in the ownership of the renovations.

The rehabilitation of the Tabriz Bazaar is considered a successful pilot restoration project that involved stakeholder coordination; all 5500 shopkeepers were attracted to the advantages of an overall rehabilitation project that would conserve and revitalise the commercial, cultural, and architectural heritage of the bazaar. The ICHTO provided planning and technical assistance and ensured that restoration standards were met. A multidisciplinary team, which included engineers, was set up to advise on how to consolidate the stone foundations and reinforce load-bearing walls and domes, taking Iran’s seismic activity into account. Crisscrossed by several major fault lines, Iran is subject to frequent tectonic activity and earthquakes. The possibility of earthquakes needs to be taken into consideration when restoring old structures.

The multidisciplinary nature of this project integrated economics with social structure and architecture, making it a robust model for participatory and collaborative involvement of the various users. Urban planners can learn a great deal from the success of this endeavour: a fully bottom-up process, which included initiation and long-term maintenance involving a large number of stakeholders, 5000-plus merchants, and various government members (Toshiko, 2013). The project’s objectives included the following: conserving historical buildings, implementing a community-based rehabilitation policy, and limiting the top-down authoritarian approach, thereby increasing the security and safety of the bazaar in addition to improving access and demarcating the bazaar’s gates and entrances. The rehabilitation project was also concerned with preserving the bazaar’s cultural environment and key historical landmarks in a series of community museums such as Kitabat, Muharram, Asarab, Ashayr Museum, and Bonab. In addition, the restoration scheme boosted commercial activity, improved the city’s economy, and very importantly protected the authentic urban and natural landscapes of the bazaar.

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