During the early stage of the citadel restoration projects, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture 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. A number of area development projects were 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. The Citadel was like an over-sized roundabout, with a constant stream of vehicles cutting off access from and into the historic town. In 2004, AKTC 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 included major infrastructure improvements, traffic management plans, landscape design and proposals for reuse of key historic structures. Much of the Old City around the Citadel was residential, occupied by low income populations. The project included stimulating housing rehabilitation, possibly through a micro-credit facility. 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. In 2008, AKTC began work on a benchmark project for the adaptive use of landmark buildings in the historic city of Damascus. Working with the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, an AKDN agency involved in tourism promotion, AKTC embarked on the restoration and development of three historical palaces, Beits Sibaie, Nizam and Quwatli, into hotels. Each site, using state of the art technical and engineering techniques to survey the walls, ceilings and floors, has been carefully documented. Once the documentation and planning were completed, a team of experts began the process of restoring the worst damaged parts of the buildings, starting with those areas that were in danger of collapsing.