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Culture in Syria

The revitalisation of the Souq al Saghir, or Small Souq, in Masyaf, was completed in June 2003.The revitalisation of the Souq al Saghir, or Small Souq, in Masyaf, was completed in June 2003.In Syria, the government approached AKTC for assistance in the restoration of the Salah al Din, Masyaf and Aleppo citadels. A partnership agreement was signed with the General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums of Syria in 1999.

Consistent with the area development approach AKTC has employed in other cities, including the Historic City of Cairo, AKTC is also working to improve the area around the citadel of Aleppo. The Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance programme is administering loans in several programme areas.

Citadel of Aleppo
The Citadel of Aleppo stands at the centre of the old city of Aleppo, which was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. The earliest levels of occupation found at the Citadel go as far back as the sixteenth century BC. Most of what remains standing today was built by the Ayyubid (12th to 13th centuries) and Mamluk (13th to 15th centuries) rulers of the city who used the site for both military and ceremonial purposes. The citadel is built on top of a natural limestone hill rising some 50 metres above the level of the surrounding city and is a powerful symbol of the city’s heroic past. Inside the walls, a succession of invasions, bombardments and earthquakes have taken their toll.

Aleppo Citadel is one of Syria’s foremost monuments, much visited by tourists, and an important place of recreation for the city’s inhabitants.

Citadel of Aleppo"The Citadel of Aleppo Guidebook":
Click on the image to download publication in PDF format.
In 2000, the The Aga Khan Trust for Culture initiated a conservation project at the Citadel, focusing on three historically and architecturally coherent elements. These included the surrounding walls and the Ayyubid Palace Complex, which, with its fine marble-mosaic floors and elaborately carved entrance, is a major monument of Islamic architecture. The conservation programme was carried out with substantial co-funding from the World Monuments Fund. Further investments are being made in a new Visitors Centre, pathways, signage, and a new guidebook. The current programme is scheduled to be completed in early 2006.

Citadel of Salah al Din
The Citadel of Salah al Din is located in the coastal mountain range, close to the coastal town of Lattakia. Its natural setting is spectacular, resting high on a ridge between two deep ravines, and surrounded by forest. Much of what remains visible today dates from the Franks, who occupied the site around 1100 AD. The Crusader walls were breached by the armies of Salah al Din in July 1188, and it is from this victory that the castle takes its present name. Over the next hundred years, the new Muslim rulers built a mosque and a fine palace and baths at the heart of the castle complex. Later, a madrasa was also constructed. It is these Ayyubid and Mamluk sections of the Citadel that AKTC has selected for its conservation efforts.

Conservation work began in 2000 with the restoration of the mosque and its minaret and the adjacent madrasa. The minaret posed particular problems: an earthquake had broken the top of the minaret apart, causing it to partially collapse. Work at the Ayyubid Palace was preceded by a detailed archaeological survey of the ruins carried out by a team from the Sorbonne University in Paris. All conservation work was completed at the end of 2003. The Citadel of Salah al Din is already an important destination for tourism in Syria and a new visitors’ centre is being installed, together with paths and signage. Master planning for the pristine landscape surrounding the Citadel is under study.

Citadel of Masyaf
The Citadel of Masyaf is the smallest and least well-known of the three sites. It lies on the edge of the old town of Masyaf, in a dramatic natural setting at the foot of the coastal mountains. Like the other sites, the history of the occupation at Masyaf stretches back through many phases, but it is chiefly known as the stronghold of the Ismailis under the leadership of their ruler Sinan, in the twelfth century. Much of what remains today dates from this period of occupation and matches the mountains in its rugged beauty.

Conservation work on the Citadel began in 2000 on a section of the outer wall, which had partially collapsed. A comprehensive conservation project encompassing the entire site was completed in 2004. Visitors will be provided with a minimum infrastructure to guide them around the site, including signage, information panels and lighting.

Landscaping work was completed on the newly acquired and cleared town-side of the Citadel in 2004. With this area opened up, a window has been created between the town and site, and the Citadel has been given a much bolder presence in the urban landscape.
> Find out more on the Revitalisation of the Souq al Saghir in Masyaf

Urban Context and Area Development Projects
During the early stage of the Citadel restoration projects, HCP expanded the initial scope of pure conservation work to include the contextual dimensions of the three sites. A monument’s setting is an integral part of its character. Unplanned development, particularly in the tourism sector, can quickly destroy historic and natural environments. Alternatively, if managed properly, investment in historic monuments and their environments can preserve cultural heritage and stimulate economic development.

Planning for development in the context of built heritage is a central theme of HCP’s work. A number of Area Development projects are being planned, working in collaboration with other Aga Khan Development Network agencies dealing with microfinance and tourism.

Aleppo Citadel is located in the heart of the Old City. Currently the Citadel is like an over-sized roundabout, with a constant stream of vehicles cutting off access from and into the historic town. In 2004, HCP initiated a planning project in the perimeter of the citadel, working in close collaboration with the Old City Directorate and Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ). The scope of the planning project includes major infrastructure improvements, traffic management plans, landscape design and proposals for reuse of key historic structures. Much of the Old City around the Citadel is residential, occupied by low income populations. The project includes stimulating housing rehabilitation, possibly through a micro-credit facility.

The historic quarter of Masyaf has been much altered over the past fifty years, but it retains a certain sense of its historic identity and position in Ismaili history. Most of what remains dates from the period of Ottoman occupation. Development pressures will only increase in forthcoming years, but an opportunity exists to combine development of commercial activity in the town with preservation for the community’s built heritage. Opportunities for improvement of the small historic town centre have been studied, including reuse of heritage buildings and landscaping.

In 2003, work was completed on the rehabilitation of the town’s main market, Souq Al Saghir, which is housed in a historic structure at the heart of the town, creating new commercial opportunities whilst ensuring the town’s heritage is preserved.

During 2005, new project opportunities were explored in the Old City of Damascus, together with other AKDN agencies, combining commercial developments with investment and cultural tourism, historic building conservation, urban rehabilitation and micro-finance initiatives.

Conservation Standards
In many places around the world, it is thought that imaginative reconstructions of missing parts increased the appeal of the buildings to visitors. This, however, threatens the authenticity of historic sites. In the Trust’s projects, reconstruction of missing elements was replaced by proper documentation, consolidation and conservation of existing features. Some exceptions were made incases where clear evidence existed, matching materials and techniques were available, and structural benefits could be derived from reconstruction. Instead, “virtual” reconstruction by three-dimensional models or computer simulations will be offered to visitors, whenever archaeological and historical research provides sufficient information, as part of the specially designed presentations within or near the site.

A central objective of the projects is to create an example of conservation work carried out to modern international standards, in all phases of the conservation process that can be used as a benchmark and a reference point for future work by the Directorate of Antiquities and other agencies.

Developing Local Capacity
In all project locations, community participation, training of local professionals and local institution-building are essential components of HCP’s activities. The objective is to train staff members of the Directorate of Antiquities, local craftsmen and building professionals in modern conservation practice, whilst carrying out conservation work, so that high standards of conservation can be replicated at other sites. Training has been provided by experts in the field of conservation both on site and through workshops and seminars.

Sustaining Cultural Heritage
Building a sustainable future for cultural heritage sites in which HCP has invested is an important aspect of any project. In Syria, HCP is working closely with the Directorate of Antiquities to develop management plans for the Citadel sites, including promotion of financial self-sustainability.

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