Sandwiched between the historic Stone Town and the Indian Ocean, Forodhani Park in Zanzibar is an excellent blend of old and new.
The park was rehabilitated recently by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture at a cost of $2.4 million.
It is now a good blend of modernity and history. The success is hinged on the historical houses and cultures that are Zanzibar’s main attraction.
Ever since Arab traders arrived on the island using monsoon winds in the 8th century, the island has been a hub of commerce and culture — a melting pot of African, Arab, Indian and European influences.
Most of the houses were built in the 19th century when Zanzibar was one of the most important trading centres in the Indian Ocean region.
Now the enhanced aesthetics of Forodhani Park will boost tourism, the backbone of Zanzibar’s economy.
The opening of the park coincided with the advent of the tourism high season that begins in August.
Forodhani Park lies at the foot of the Old Fort — also known as Ngome Kongwe — and the former palace of the sultans, which was also used by European colonialists. It is now the Beit El-Ajaib National Museum.
In the old days, the park hosted the main port and was a landing point for former sultans of Zanzibar. It has remained a central meeting place for leisure and entertainment.
More exciting to local people is the fact that the park will provide many employment opportunities not only to those in charge of its maintainance but also those who engage in small businesses such as food vending.
They will be catalysts of social, cultural and economic development of the area.
Already, some 75 vendors have been registered and trained in hygiene and customer service, bringing more people into the formal economy.
They are expected to boost their earnings fourfold.
While opening the revamped park, President Amani Abeid Karume said it was important to Zanzibar not only for its aesthetic beauty but also for its impact on the country’s growth and poverty reduction plans.
The supply chain has also been expanded, with each vendor dealing with at least four suppliers.
The idea is to demonstrate that if countries invest more in cultural programmes, the ripple effects will improve lives and alleviate poverty.
Restoration of the park goes hand in hand with expanded micro-credit facilities to vendors and other small scale enterprises.
The Aga Khan announced that the micro-financing institutions of the Aga Khan Development Network recently launched a programme in Zanzibar that will extend some 1,000 loans in the coming year, totalling $500,000.
He said his interest in Zanzibar goes back beyond his own lifetime. “My grandfather helped build schools here a century ago.
“Our Aga Khan Development Network and its precedent institutions have been operating hospitals and clinics here for over 50 years. Community health programmes, early childhood education and programmes to strengthen civil society continue to be important areas of emphasis,” he said.
As part of its multi-sectoral programme that involves health, education and culture, the Trust will spend $40-50,000 annually to maintain the park.
In addition, repair of the entire 315 metre seawall is going on and will cost $600,000.
The project will prevent the sea from encroaching the Forodhani shoreline and will also protect the Stone Town.
The Trust has also worked with the government and international partners — such as the government of Sweden and the Ford Foundation — to provide workshops on conservation and traditional construction methods for craftsmen, building professionals and government officers.
Other countries where the Trust has restored and rehabilitated public spaces and historic buildings to spur social, economic and cultural development are Egypt, Kenya, India, Mali, Pakistan and Tajikistan.
The aim is to enable the rehabilitated public places to sustain themselves in the long run.
In Cairo, the Trust’s construction of a 35-hectare park on top of a rubble dump in the poorest part of the Historic City now draws 1.5 million visitors a year, employs over 1,000 people and pays for its own upkeep.
The project's impact has since extended to revitalisation of the entire district adjacent to the park.
In Delhi, the gardens of Humayun’s Tomb — an overgrown, rundown and underused green space — were restored to their original Mughal splendour.
Now, they generate more than enough funds for their maintenance.
MCD school does a U-turn, NGO helps
Ruhi Bhasin, TNN 17 August 2009, 03:14am IST
NEW DELHI: Shahdaan loves going to school these days. His classroom has recently been jazzed up with multi-coloured chairs and tables, besides a new blackboard. He joined the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) school for girls and boys in Nizamuddin basti in July. And the school saw many new enrolments like him from the basti area after it got a much-needed facelift.
According to basti residents, the school was in a bad condition earlier but could easily pass off for a public school now. Said Shahdaan: "I used to study in DPS Mathura Road's Ibtida Shiksha Kendra. But they weren't providing me with a certificate. I joined the MCD school recently and love it here. I get to act in plays and learn computers.'' His mother Saira pitches in, "His Hindi has also improved tremendously. I'm so proud of what my son achieves here every day. We interact regularly with his teachers.''
The work to revive the school has been undertaken by Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Aga Khan Foundation in partnership with MCD as part of the Humayun's Tomb-Sunder Nursery conservation project. The education initiatives in the basti are co-funded by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust.
Councillor of the area, Farhad Suri, said: "This should be seen as a model school. Building As a Learning Aid (BALA) components have been introduced in the school. A number has been engraved on each step for children to learn counting as they take the stairs. Different types of sandstone boards around the school will enhance their learning. Personality development and hygiene training have been made part of the curriculum, and basic amenities like drinking water, toilet blocks, etc, have also been taken care of.''
Principal of the school, Syed Ali Akhtar, said: "The enrolment has gone up from 250 to over 450. We're teaching children how to manage stress and anger. These concepts are new to us as well. We hope to get DDA's permission to improve the surrounding parks.'' The attendance of teachers also improved after the school's renovation that cost Rs 50 lakh and has been going on for over a year now.
A summer camp was also organized by the Aga Khan Foundation in which teachers from the school and community were provided external support to chalk out a lesson plan and reinforce difficult concepts in maths and languages. The assessment of performance of children from Class IV, V and VI by comparing it to a baseline showed improvement in their learning capacity. Art education has also been introduced through theatre and arts and crafts.
There are now plans to have different themes such as air, earth, water and fire for the four floors of this school. Suri added, "Around 25 people from the basti, who are school passouts, are being taught English at the British Council so they can train other children and even work as tour guides during Commonwealth Games 2010.''
Friday September 4, 2009 at 6:30pm
India International Centre
IIC Annexe, 40, Max Mueller Marg, Lodhi Estate
Delhi, Delhi 110003 Get Directions
Festival of Kabir in Film and Song. A journey into the contemporary spaces touched by the music and poetry of the 15th century mystic weaver-poet, Kabir. The festival includes screening of documentary films; discussions; and concerts. Organised in collaboration with the Kabir Project, Ford Foundation, Ambedkar University, Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Aman trust Conceptualised and presented by Shabnam Virmani. Inaugural Concert: By Prahlad Tipanya, one of the most compelling folk voices of Kabir in India today who combines singing and explanation of Kabir in the Malwi folk style of Madhya Pradesh.
from the August 31, 2009 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0831/p17s01-algn.html In Syria, delicate preservation work is pushing against profit-driven speed.
Damascus is rediscovering its architectural gems, but hasty restoration puts history at risk.
By Frederick Deknatel | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
It claims to be the world's oldest capital city, outlived only by Aleppo, Syria; and Jericho, on the West Bank. The proof is there, in Mesopotamian texts that mention Damascus and in a deep urban foundation of streets, houses, and sewers from every civilization, piled on top of one another.
The fairly straight street that cuts across Damascus's Old City was once a colonnaded Roman road: the Via Recta or "Street Called Straight" from the Bible. After the Muslims conquered Syria, then ruled by the Byzantines, Damascus became the capital of the first great Islamic empire. At its peak in the 8th century, the Umayyad dynasty spread from North Africa across Asia, its center at the sparkling Great (Umayyad) Mosque, a former pagan temple, then a church, that claims to house the head of John the Baptist.
But it is the city's more recent history that is reshaping contemporary Damascus. As Syria slowly opens its socialist economy to tourism and development, scores of traditional Arab houses from the 17th to 19th centuries have been restored and reopened as boutique hotels and restaurants in the capital's UNESCO-protected Old City.
Three late-Ottoman era houses south of Straight Street – Beit Nizam, Beit Sibai, and Beit Kuwatli – that were once the residences of Damascene notables and later, European consuls, are at the center of an increasingly frenetic pace of development often motivated more by profit than good preservation practice. The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), which promotes historic preservation and development projects throughout the Muslim world, has invested $20 million to restore and reopen the three houses as a boutique hotel.
The scheme is far better funded and staffed than other restorations in the Old City, which – along with Aleppo – has the highest concentration of preserved, traditional Arab residential architecture in the Middle East. The AKDN aims to set standards in preservation practice, expand the shrinking number of traditionally skilled craftsmen and carpenters, and produce what it calls "a model for cultural and tourist development."
"We think of the revitalization of cultural assets in order to use them as a catalyst for development," says Ali Esmail, CEO of Aga Khan Cultural Services in Syria. "And we want others to copy what we are doing."
Whether or not private investors will follow AKDN's model is another question. Investments have boomed in the Old City and throughout Damascus in the last decade. Yet many developers use cheap, damaging materials like concrete and cement plaster instead of traditional wood and mud brick in order to speed up conversion work and maximize returns.
Concrete and cement cannot breathe the way wood and mud brick do in the hot Syrian summer. Nor do they trap heat as effectively during damp winters.
Today, such commercial and inattentive restorations threaten the area's unique architectural heritage.
"We should keep considering Old Damascus as a living city," says Naim Zabida, "not as a place only for visitors." Mr. Zabida is a Syrian architect with the government's Municipal Administration Modernisation, a group funded by the European Union that oversees urban planning and preservation in the Old City.
Wealthy Damascenes first began abandoning their old courtyard houses in the mid-20th century in favor of Western style, open-plan apartments outside the walls of the Old City.
"Until very recently, little attention was paid [to] the usage of these houses," Mr. Esmail says. "Back in the 1980s and 1990s, a good number of these houses were used as warehouses after being deserted by their inhabitants because of the problematic issues of maintenance and the lengthy government approvals required for restorations."
While Cairo's historic center has crumbled under the weight of population and pollution, Damascus faces a different set of preservation problems. Thousands of houses are still standing in an Old City relatively removed from the traffic and congestion of modern Damascus. The issue is how to control ever-growing investments that see in the city's architecture and heritage only an opportunity for tourism and commerce.
"What is missing in these restorations are new ideas and innovation," says Daniela Gurlt, an architect and adviser at German Development Services, which cooperates with German Technical Advising and the Syrian government on rehabbing the Old City. "As a business model, as long as tourists are paying to get into the Old City, fine.... But for the architecture I don't know how sustainable it is."
Reuters recently quoted Syria's tourism minister saying that he expects the number of hotel beds to double to nearly 90,000 in the next three years. The number of hotels could grow from around 15 today to more than 50 in the half-square-mile Old City, according to an Associated Press report on the number of government-issued licenses. Restaurants could grow from a few dozen now to 120.
"We always wanted to keep Damascus a city of inhabitants, not a Disneyland city for visitors," says architect Zabida.
On a recent visit to Beit Nizam, the house – a palace, really – was hosting another TV soap opera. The rear courtyard, in another century reserved for relatives of the family, was full of camera crews. Like its 18th-century neighbor, Beit Sibai, Beit Nizam is currently an informal museum and occasional set for Syrian soaps and films, most of which tell dramatic tales of the past, often set during the tumultuous years of the French Mandate (1923-43).
Across the street is the empty Beit Kuwatli, currently sheathed in scaffolding. The late 19th-century house has a varied history, from opulent residence to school to refuge for Palestinian refugee families who fled after the 1967 war with Israel.
The families carved makeshift bathrooms in the stone floors and painted over 19th-century murals of Istanbul that had once signaled outward allegiance to the Ottoman capital and its sultan. The families were evicted when the Syrian government bought the house in the last decade to begin a modest restoration.
While the properties will reopen as a luxury hotel, many of the ornate first-floor rooms will remain open to the public as cafes, galleries, and "showrooms," according to Aga Khan's Esmail. Beit Kuwatli will not have guest rooms. A structural review determined it could not support them without major layout changes. This is a shift from other commercial and tourism conversions that quickly resize rooms and fit bathrooms into every available space, despite the burden on centuries-old wooden floors and foundations.
"There was a fear from residents and others of a pure commercialization of these cultural assets," Esmail says. "The intention is actually to do a major restoration that would entitle these houses to be present 30, 40, 50 years from now."
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Chief executive officer of the Aga Khan Cultural Services in Syria
Words Francesca de Châtel
Photo Bridgette Auger
altIn your view, what are Syria’s tourism strengths? Where does its potential lie?
Compared to other countries like Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, Syria is one of the less explored countries in the region. People in Syria are very friendly and first-time visitors often comment on the warm welcome they receive, both in cities and rural areas.
In terms of sights, Syria has a lot to offer tourists: the diversity of landscapes and sites and its rich culture make it a very attractive tourist destination. Syria has a large number of historical sites, many of which have not even been excavated yet. Most tourists from Europe and the United States want to visit the big names like Palmyra, Krak des Chevaliers and Aleppo Citadel, but there is actually a lot more. Syria has more than 10,000 historical sites, of which only 3,000 have been uncovered.
Secondly, there is the geographical diversity, with very varied landscapes in a small area. From the desert in Palmyra you can be on the coast and in a Mediterranean environment within two hours. The country also has a good infrastructure; all major cities are connected to a good road network and more airports are opening up around the country.
Syria has not yet reached its saturation point in terms of visitor numbers, which means that tourists can come here and move around with ease. They can visit historical sites without having to deal with crowds and they can really live history here.
How can Syria best develop its tourism potential? What elements need to be taken into consideration when developing the tourism sector?
Countries with a rich cultural heritage need to develop a reasonable and sensible form of tourism. I think several top officials in the Syrian government are aware of this. Tourism development is still in its early phases in Syria and an appropriate structure still needs to be put in place. We hope that by working with experienced partners and seeking professional advice from within the country, the region and beyond, decision makers will be able to develop a set of guidelines that will encourage reasonable tourism development in Syria.
What policies need to be put in place to develop a sustainable tourism sector, one which will create jobs for the local population, but at the same time not damage the historical and natural heritage?
As we are not policy makers we can only share our point of view, which is based on the Aga Khan Development Network’s (AKDN) experiences in other countries.
Firstly, we believe that all key stakeholders need to be involved in the planning process. This means not just government representatives, but also local society. The latter forms a key partner in the planning process because local players are aware of their needs and know what will harm their environment. Furthermore, in terms of long-term sustainability of the project, the local population is very important.
Of course not every society is equipped with the tools, but this is where the AKDN can participate by working with different partners, both governmental and from society, to build capacity. At the same time, we also learn from the local stakeholders because they know what the needs on the ground are.
Secondly, it is crucial to build on the competitive advantage of each area and of the country in general. So if we are talking about cultural heritage, we should look at how we can preserve that asset in the long term so that it continues to be the catalyst for development.
We believe in an approach in which development is a key factor; not just economic development, but also social and cultural development. This will allow for the creation of sound policies that can be applied on the ground. We don’t want to build fancy policies which have no relevance to the local needs. On the contrary, we need the policy to be built from the bottom up.
Which tourist markets should Syria focus on, Europe or the Arab world?
I think there are several answers to this question. Last year, 76 percent of tourists came from Arab countries which suggests that one should focus on this area. At the same time, other markets such as Europe, the United States and Asia have not been fully exploited and have great potential.
Regardless of where the focus lies, I think one should try to attract tourists who are keen to participate in the development of the country. Not all tourists contribute positively to the development of a country, so it is important to focus on the segment that values what this country has to offer.
Jordan and Egypt, for example, attract many more tourists than Syria every year. Why is Syria’s brand weak?
There are different factors that will attract tourists to a country. They include everything from good infrastructure and facilities, which is something the government and society can work on, to external factors such as the international image of a country.
For years, foreign media has classified Syria in a certain segment and it is very challenging for a developing country to change this. We all know that visitors change their opinion as soon as they arrive in Syria. The challenge is to get them here in the first place. We believe that an improvement in the political situation in the region and increased coverage by Western media will enhance the country’s image. It is also a question of increasing awareness of Syria’s cultural assets among the major global tourism companies.
What projects is the AKDN currently working on and how do they exemplify the AKDN’s particular development ethos?
We signed two contracts with the Syrian government in August 2008 for the development of two hotels in Damascus and Aleppo: Beit Nizam, Quwatli and Sibai in Damascus and the New Serail in Aleppo. Our approach is to involve different stakeholders. We are working with the government and local inhabitants to develop and share our plans so that we all have the same understanding of the project. This means that we are taking all the sensitivities and special needs for the sites into account. We are also drawing up a database of historical documents for each site, something which has never been done before.
In what ways does Syria distinguish itself from other countries where AKDN has worked on tourism projects?
What makes our experiences in Syria different is the historical value of these projects. We are dealing with a cultural wealth that is unique in the world and we are very aware of the fact that we are working on two projects in two of the longest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
The Aga Khan Development Network
Founded and guided by His Highness the Aga Khan, the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) brings together a number of development agencies, institutions, and programmes that work primarily in Asia and Africa to promote economic, social and cultural development. The AKDN works as an umbrella for various entities such as the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the Aga Khan University, the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance and the Aga Khan EducationServices.
In Syria, the AKDN works in six provinces (Aleppo, Damascus, Hama, Lattakia,Suweida and Tartous), serving both rural and urban populations. Current priority areas include rural economic development, employment and enterprise development, enhancing the quality of services, strengthening civil society organisations, protecting cultural heritage and developing sustainable tourism.
Cairo Islamic monuments and tourist attractions launched
By Thomas Steinmetz
Islam Tourist Attractions
Hazel Heyer, eTN Staff Writer
On September 17, five Islamic monuments were officially inaugurated in the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar area of Cairo. The Al-Imam mosque, the Al-Laythmosque, the Al-Set Meska mosque, the Ali Labib house and the well zone of Youssef at the Salah El-Din Citadel have all been undergoing restoration work, which cost around LE 9.5 million. These monuments including the first phase construction of the new lighting system of the Salah El-Din Citadel were inaugurated at the ceremony. The ceremony took place at the Salah El-Din Citadel.
Dr. Zahi Hawass, the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), Dr. Hamdi Zaqzouq, the Minister of Endowment, and Cairo Governor Abdel Azim Waziri inaugurated the special ceremony along with top governmental officials.
The restoration of these important historical edifices is a part of the Supreme Council of Antiquities' dedication to preserve Egypt's Islamic heritage.
The most outstanding restoration-conversion attraction, amid the decrepit villages of the Egyptian capital unfamiliar to visitors, one extremely ambitious project has been undertaken with the creation of a vast, green open space in a once run-down area of Cairo. Interestingly since the project was started, another dimension has been added –a rehabilitation of the surrounding residential district called Darb Al Ahmar, so impoverished it needed the Aga Khan to give it a facelift.
For years, tourists have long been kept off the area by the virtually unofficial wasteland or rubbish dump lying alongside the derelict eastern rim of old Cairo’s medieval city walls. From its early beginnings as the massive wastebasket to a gigantic mountain pile of dirt, it ended up obscuring residents' views of the fortress wall and pretty minarets nearby through the years. It has become, in a sense, irreverent that it lies beside the walled old cemetery known as the City Of the Dead, where scores of homeless Cairenes have found shelter in tombs housing urns of the more-privileged.
In 2004, on the metropolis shared by the living and the dead, where dust, debris and garbage have collected through the millennium, arose a $45 million project the Aga Khan Development Network designed to complete in 7 years to uplift the destitute.
Four years after unexplained shoveling, digging and earth-moving the contractors were doing much to the perplexity of locals, the project finally took shape. Out of the barren 30-hectare Darassa Hills came a lush, green park overlooking Cairo’s Islamic city. It would bring hundreds of jobs, a place for the busy Cairenes to de-stress, open views of the Citadel never there before; notwithstanding, give people hope in a hometown that had never produced them profits.
Opened to the public end on a trial basis, it welcomed the first guests. Once the city built in ancient times by the Fatimids and named Al Quahire or the victorious, the previous 20 percent devoted to open space now had tourists flocking to it. From Easter till end of September, for about 5 and a half weeks, the park construction concentrated on the finer details of what would become an interesting rehab site inaugurated September 17 during a special event at the Citadel.
A tour of Asheqan wa Arefan.
By BY ANN MARLOWE
Afghanistan is not quite ready for tourists. But when it is they will stand here, at the edge of Kabul's Old City, preparing to explore the area of a couple of square miles known as Asheqan wa Arefan. Though from a distance Asheqan wa Arefan looks downtrodden, on closer inspection it contains many lovely 18th- and 19th- century wooden houses, sensitively renovated over the last seven years by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.
Home to about 22,000 mainly poor Afghans, the neighborhood in central Kabul, like much of the city, has ancient roots. It bears the name of two brothers whose grave dates from the ninth century. On the steep hillside above is an old Islamic period mausoleum and, higher still, the remnants of a Buddhist stupa.
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The Allam Qandahary House: Back to its former glory, courtesy of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.
"The municipality thinks it is a slum," says Jolyon Leslie, the head of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC). In the absence of tourism in the Old City, the AKTC, a nonprofit founded by a hereditary leader of one of the largest Shia Muslim sects, is working to preserve Afghanistan's heritage for those who live among it. Afghan architects have done the design work, supervising Afghan artisans.
The AKTC is best known for its restoration of Baghe-Babur, or Babur's Gardens, now once again a popular Kabuli park with as many as 60,000 visitors monthly in the summer. This high-profile project provided one million man days of labor and trained 100 skilled workers.
But the AKTC has been working quietly south of the Kabul River on projects that few besides the residents of the neighborhood see. After the artisans finish, the houses are simply returned to their owners, with the stipulation that they take care of them. This is more radical than it sounds, for Afghanistan is a low-trust society where no one gives—or expects—something for nothing.
The AKTC has installed, for instance, five kilometers of semicovered drains to replace fetid open sewers, renovated 12 historically significant houses in full and 70 more lightly, and rehabilitated two parks. All of this has cost less than three million dollars.
A few days after the Afghan election, Mr. Leslie showed me around Asheqan wa Arefan. "This is probably the poorest area in the city, and also probably the most surveyed area," he said. The AKTC has produced an extraordinarily detailed map of the neighborhood—this in a country that hasn't had a population survey in 40 years.
Inhabited by low-grade civil servants up until the 1980s' civil war, the area is now much less prosperous. Perhaps half the residents are renters, doubling or tripling up in what used to be single-family houses. Many are new to the area, or even to Kabul.
The houses in the Old City were built of wood, the better to withstand earthquakes, such as the massive quake of 1842 that destroyed the Bala Hissar, or High Fortress, Kabul's ancient citadel. They often incorporated pieces of older buildings (I saw some Mogul marble column bases) and were "not intended to last forever," in Mr. Leslie's words.
One restored house, the Akram house, which boasts an 18th-century wing with juniper woodwork, houses sewing classes for women, sneaking in literacy training on the side. ("They won't come just for that, there has to be some immediate economic benefit," Mr. Leslie explained.) At the six-acre Bagh-e-Qazi, or Garden of the Judge, one of two parks AKTC has worked on in the Old City, AKTC removed hundreds of trucks of waste which had been dumped illegally, filled in with agricultural soil and planted trees in rows, all at a cost of about $100,000. Work has been guided by a photograph of the area in the 1980s.
The houses surrounding the park are mainly two- and three-story concrete structures from the 1950s and 1960s. "What constitutes a historic building?" Mr. Leslie continues. "It should be architecturally or socially interesting, or have the support of locals. For example, that pink-colored mosque over there. It's not very old, but for the locals, it's a monument."
Within the Old City, families take pride in their renovated dwellings. Unfortunately this doesn't extend to the littered alleyways outside. Municipal garbage pickup is only once every two weeks, and there are no municipal garbage cans on the street for trash (though where the AKTC has provided them, they are used and the street is noticeably cleaner). And there's a cultural habit of seeing the street as no one's responsibility.
The AKTC has also been active in Herat's Old City, 400 miles away. Herat has the greatest concentration of historic buildings in Afghanistan and was a popular traveler's destination along the '60s and '70s hippie trail. The AKTC has restored 13 historic houses and portions of one important site, the Gozargah Shrine, on the outskirts of the city, and the enormous 14th century Citadel, or Arg. But its civilizing mission can be fully appreciated in the group of more modest projects in the Old City, including two centuries-old underground water cisterns, a shrine dating from 846 A.D., two synagogues, a covered bazaar and several houses.
On a scorching August day, AKTC engineer Daud Sadiq and Herat project manager Habib Noori took me on a tour from the secluded Old City residential neighborhood to the public buildings they worked on. I saw how traditional Afghan architecture must have provided a cloistered but gracious way of life. Dalats, or long covered arcades, together with the tall walls of family compounds, shade parts of the street from the summer sun, much as they do in Tuscan hill towns. The Old City was degrees cooler than the concrete of the newer parts of town, and since the winding narrow streets discourage car traffic, it was quiet and free of diesel fumes. For the first time in 12 visits to Afghanistan, I saw that there might be homegrown solutions to the country's urban woes.
Ms. Marlowe writes frequently about Afghanistan. She is also the author of two memoirs including "The Book of Trouble" (Harcourt, 2006).
ddc and aga khan foundation beautify al azhar park
Posted: 28-09-2009 , 13:39 GMT
The American University in Cairo’s Desert Development Center (DDC) and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, part of the Aga Khan Development Network, created a cooperative partnership to grow plants for Al Azhar Park in Cairo. The collaboration began when the foundation approached the DDC to grow plants at its South Tahrir agricultural research facility.
“Working with the trust we learned a lot of techniques we could apply here on the new campus,” said DDC Director Rick Tutwiler. As a result, Al Azhar became a model for the New Cairo Campus. The landscape for both the campus and the park was designed by architect Maher Stino of Sites International, who was adept at finding plants that had appealing colors and aromas while being mindful of the limitations that the climate imposed.
The realities of seasonal high temperatures, low humidity, scant rainfall and desert winds imposed severe conditions on the park’s plants and trees. To combat that, the Aga Khan Foundation focused on growing ornamental plants such as bushes, shrubs and trees that could be sustained in even the harshest of environments. Originally, the DDC incubated more than 50 acres of such plants, and currently houses a remaining 10 to 12 acres to be used for future park expansion.
The park, which opened to the public in 2005, included the excavation and restoration of the 12th century Ayyubid wall, the creation of three large fresh water reservoirs, and the implementation of an extensive social service program that includes healthcare and micro-credit facilities.
DDC is currently in negotiations with the Egyptian Ministry of Housing, Utilities, and Urban Development to build two new parks-one in Sadat City and another one in New Cairo–each of which would be twice the size of Al Azhar Park. “We wouldn’t have been able to do the new campus and certainly not these other parks if we didn’t have the relationship with the Aga Khan people or the prior experience of working on such a large project,” added Tutwiler.
The Desert Development Center is a non-profit, applied research institution established by AUC in 1979 that focuses on the ecological, social, and economic sustainability of communities in Egypt's arid lands through agricultural and socioeconomic research, training programs, and community service. It conducts its programs at two research stations located in South Tahrir in Beheira Governorate and Sadat City in Minufiya Governorate.
The American University in Cairo (AUC) was founded 90 years ago and is major contributor to the social, political and cultural life of the Arab Region. It is a vital bridge between East and West, linking Egypt and the region to the world through scholarly research, partnerships with academic and research institutions, and study abroad programs. An independent, nonprofit, apolitical, non-sectarian and equal opportunity institution, AUC is fully accredited in Egypt and the United States.
Unesco award for ancient Hunza house
By Zulfiqar Ali Khan
Friday, 02 Oct, 2009 | 03:10 AM PST
HUNZA, Oct 1: An ancient house in Hunza has received the Unesco’s Heritage Award for 2009. Ali Gohar House, a 400-year-old architectural masterpiece, formerly used by envoy of Mir of Hunza to Kashgar, Sinkiang, was selected by a panel of international conservation experts in architecture, urban planning, heritage conservation and landscape design from among the 52 entries from 14 Asia-Pacific countries, including Australia, China, India, Korea, Vietnam, New Zealand and Thailand. The historic house has been restored by the Aga Khan Cultural Service.
The award distribution ceremony is expected to take place in the first quarter of 2010 at Ganish, Hunza, and will be attended by the representatives of Unesco, ministries of Culture and Tourism, community and foreign embassies.
Being involved in the rehabilitation of Ganish old settlements since 1998, the Aga Khan Cultural Service, Pakistan on the request of the Ganish Khun Heritage Care and Social Welfare Society (GKHC & SWS), initiated the physical conservation of the house in 2004. ‘Reusability’ being the core component for restoration, Ali Gohar House was intended to be used as a community centre, providing working space to the Ganish society, encouraging women to congregate and work, and to be a centre for arts, crafts and documentation of Ganish culture in consultation with the community. The House has now been leased by the owner to the community, setting a strong example of community based management system.
During the restoration, AKCS-P ensured minimising the appearance and unseen presence of all modern elements. The insertions needed for the adaptive reuse were designed in such a way that it permits, if necessary, their removal or alteration in future without damaging the adjacent original fabric. Minor modern materials such as the addition of basic electric and plumbing services were part of the new material incorporated in the historic building’s fabric. All such insertion were undertaken to retain authenticity and integrity of the original house. During the whole process, three missing historic wooden stairs were replaced by new ones to meet modern safety standards, whereas the rest of the house remains in its original form.
On Port Said Street in the Bab Al-Khalq area of Cairo stands the lofty, honey- coloured edifice of the Museum of Islamic Art, its neo-Mameluke architecture and luxurious façade featuring the rich patterns and elaborate decoration of the Islamic style.
However, inside the institution the picture that greets visitors will soon be far less familiar. Following years of restoration work, visitors to the museum will soon be able to roam around spacious galleries showcasing the museum's collection of rare wooden, metal, ceramic, glass, rock crystal and textile objects from across the Islamic world.
Following years of negligence, the Museum of Islamic Art has finally been undergoing comprehensive rehabilitation not only of its building and interior design, but also of its exhibition design and displays.
"Restoring the Museum of Islamic Art is an ambitious and challenging task that illustrates Egypt's commitment to preserving one of the country's Islamic institutions, in addition to its Pharaonic and Coptic heritage," Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni said in an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly.
Hosni added that over the last five years, renovation work to the tune of LE85 million had been carried out at the museum, with work continuing until December 2009 when the institution will celebrate its official reopening.
First planned in 1869 even before the establishment of a committee of Arab antiquities dedicated to building a national collection of Islamic art, the Museum of Islamic Art first opened in 1881 with an initial display of 111 objects gathered from mosques and mausoleums across Egypt, these being exhibited in the arcades of the mosque of the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim.
Owing to a rapid increase in the size of the collection, a new building was constructed in the courtyard of the mosque in 1883 to house what had now become a considerably enlarged museum. In 1899, the government began construction work on the present building, and in 1903 the Islamic Museum opened with a display of 3,154 objects originating from Egypt and other countries.
While the museum's name has been changed over the years, in 1952 the museum's trustees settled on the institution's present name, the Museum of Islamic Art, in recognition of the contributions of non-Arab Muslims. Since then, the museum has become the main repository for the national collection of Islamic art, and, owing to new discoveries, purchases and donations, this now boasts some 100,000 objects.
Nevertheless, by the time renovation work started on the museum in 1999, the Museum of Islamic Art had become beset by negligence. In all the 100 years or so of its existence the museum had never once been renovated, except for an attempt to clean the institution's walls and renovate the displays in 1983, and attempts at a more comprehensive renovation were frustrated in part by the building's upper floor being occupied by a separate institution, the Dar Al-Kotob Al-Masreya.
In 2003, the Ministry of Culture launched a comprehensive restoration project for the museum in an attempt to reinstate its original function and splendour.
The masterplan for the renovation work and the new exhibition design was drawn up by French designer and museographer Adrien Gardère in cooperation with the Islamic Department of the Louvre Museum in Paris, which has advised on the reorganisation of the museum's collections.
According to Iman Abdel-Fattah, an Islamic art historian at the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) in Cairo and the coordinator of the Islamic Museum project, the renovation masterplan puts the museum's main entrance on Port Said Street, as it was originally, and from here visitors will first encounter an introductory gallery that will present Islamic arts and the Muslim countries and their locations in the world in a mixed display made up of panels, maps and objects from the collection. Visitors will also gain an idea of the geography of historic Cairo and the early Islamic city of Fustat, the oldest Islamic settlement in Egypt.
The renovated museum is divided into two large wings, Abdel-Fattah explained, with the wing on the right-hand side being devoted to the chronological exhibition of Islamic artefacts taken in the main from monuments in historic Cairo just a few steps away from the museum. This wing of the museum will follow a broadly chronological approach in its presentation of the collection, Umayad, Abbasid, Tulunid, Fatimid, Ayubid, Mameluke and Ottoman, while also including various thematic displays.
"This museum for me is a site museum," Abdel-Fattah commented, adding that it will serve as an ideal introduction to the magnificent Islamic edifices in neighbouring historic Cairo. The museum's collection includes a lamp taken from the neighbouring Ibn Barqouq Mosque, for example, together with a minbar from the adjacent Al-Sultan Hassan Mosque.
The other, left-hand wing of the museum will display materials from other countries besides Egypt, including calligraphy, manuscripts, ceramics, mosaics, textiles, grave stones, mashrabiya, woodwork, metal and glass vessels, incense burners and caskets, pottery, metalwork and glass lamps dating from different periods in Islamic history. These objects will be displayed both according to chronology and according to theme, provenance and material.
The renovated museum will have state-of-the art security and lighting systems, as well as a fully-equipped restoration laboratory, a children's museum and library.
According to Abdel-Fattah, one of the most impressive items to be displayed in the new presentation will be a Mameluke water fountain restored by Spanish restorer Eduardo Porta, who was also a member of the restoration team working on the tomb of Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens at Luxor.
The fountain, made of semi-precious stones, green onyx and coloured mosaic pieces, was originally bought for the Museum of Islamic Art in 1910 and placed in the museum's garden. Owing to ill use and faulty restoration work carried out in the 1960s and 1970s, the fountain fell into decay and it is only now being properly restored. According to Porta, the fountain "is unique in the world, and it will be one of the most important objects in the museum."
"One challenge that faced Porta and his team from the SCA and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture was how safely to dismantle the fountain from its cement base and transport and relocate it at the restoration lab at the Citadel without further destruction," Abdel-Fattah said. During the dismantling and restoration process, Porta and his team removed almost three tonnes of material used in earlier attempts to restore the fountain and corrected the harmful effects of previous attempts at restoration.
According to Abdel-Fattah, the overall museum restoration project has achieved three goals. It has brought light into the museum's galleries by enlarging the size of the windows, and it has replaced old display cases with new state-of-the-art ones providing a far better display environment for the artefacts. Thirdly, the project has reorganised the display of the collection and highlighted a successful example of international cooperation, with work being carried out jointly with the Islamic Department of the Louvre in Paris and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which helped in the restoration of several larger items.
Inevitably there have been some delays. When Hosni and Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the SCA, embarked on an inspection tour of the museum last August, they found work that needed to be corrected in order to meet international standards, and this delayed the inauguration until December.
However, the newly renovated museum, in addition to having restored buildings and renovated displays, will also have new facilities designed to reach out to every kind of public. The renovated Museum of Islamic Art will have a curatorial training programme organised by the Friends of the Museum of Islamic Art for the general public, for example, as well as education programmes for children and young adults.
The renovation project has been a lengthy and dedicated one. "The restoration of the Museum of Islamic Art is an extraordinary achievement, executed by some 15 specialists, 20 SCA restorers and 150 workmen," Hawass said in an interview with the Weekly, with all the work executed to the highest international standards.
"Now that the Museum of Islamic Art meets the international standards set out by the International Committee of Museums, it is in a position to compete with its counterparts in Europe and America," Hawass said. "Following its reopening in December, the museum will once again stand as proudly as it ever did."
C a p t i o n : Restoration work at the Museum of Islamic Art: conservators cleaning the mosaic of the museum's main fountain, others displaying some of the objects on show
Palazzo della Pilotta displays 170 works from collection of Prince Aga Khan as part of cultural programme.
PARMA, Italy - The Italian city of Parma, better known for its fine foods and tradition of opera, is for two months hosting an exhibition of some of the finest Islamic art collection of the Aga Khan, the spiritual head of the Ismaili sect and international businessman.
"Splendours of the Court" which opened Friday is being housed in the Palazzo della Pilotta and contains the basis of what will be displayed in a new museum to be built in Toronto, Canada in 2009.
The show in Parma is part of a wider cultural programme "Arts and Music from the Islamic World" which runs through May.
The exhibition, which contains some 170 works from the collection of the Aga Khan is divided into two sections.
The first, dedicated to "The World of God", will display exquisitely decorated editions of the Koran from the 8th to the 18th century.
The second, "The Power of the Sovereign" re-evokes the grand Islamic courts of the dynasty of the Fatmidi in Egypt and the Qajars in Persia, examining the education of the Sovereign, poetry and literature, how he exercised his immense power and also his favourite pastimes, hunting and riding.
The masterpieces on show include manuscripts, paintings, ceramics, objects in metal and wood, as well as textiles coming from a vast Muslim area running from China to Andalusia.
The art exhibition will be flanked by a series of concerts "Music from the Oriental Courts" which will highlight musicians and musical experts from Central Asia.
It is organised by the Aga Khan Music Initiative for Central Asia and the Teatro Regio Foundation of Parma.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
By By Our Correspondent
WITH the political will and support of the Punjab government and the technical assistance by the Aga Khan Cultural Service, the rehabilitation of the Walled City will be completed within the 20 years under the ongoing Walled City Project.
This was stated by Masood Khan, the technical director Aga Khan Cultural Service, Pakistan, (AKCSP) during a briefing on the Cultural and Sustainable Development Project being executed in the Walled City at Sahahi Hamam, inside Delhi Gate here on Wednesday.
Masood Khan said about 12 per cent work had been completed on the Walled City Project. He said the AKCSP had initiated the project back in 2007 and a considerable amount of work had been done. He said it was a public private partnership project for the preservation, rehabilitation and development of the Walled City. He said the worldís biggest GIS (Geographical Information System) which had 172 attributes to provide all the details about the Walled City, was a result of the detailed surveys conducted about the plots, buildings, streets, roads, historic monuments and places.
Masood said one of the parts of the historic Walled City, Shahi Guzar Gah, starting from the Delhi Gate to the Fort, had been rehabilitated partially. He said it was the work of some eight to nine months and the community and the local residents had also been involved in the project. He said the state of the affairs was very dismal in the Walled city, especially due to the poor distribution system of the utility services and the transport system. He said that the General Bus Stand and its surroundings were the biggest devastating factor for the destruction of the grand cultural heritage and its monumental architectural heritage. He said that Mian Shahbaz Sharifís personal initiative and a strong political had made a lot of difference and made the work easy.
Earlier, the Director General of the Walled City Project Oriya Maqbool Jan told the representatives of the media that the Shahi Hamam at Delhi Gate was the biggest Spa and Royal Baths in the entire central Asia and it had the biggest dome.
He said that the Walled City had been subjected to many atrocities, including fires at the time of independence, especially in the Rang Mehal area, the post-partition scenario even brought the walled city to the brink of extinction with the conversion of a vast area into markets. He said that the General Bus Stand at Badami Bagh was the cancer of Lahore which had eaten up the glory of the Walled City. He said the Walled City project would bring back the lost glory of the Walled City.
Its pertinent to note that the former Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Pakistan Muslim League-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif was also given a similar briefing on the Walled City Project at the Lahore Fort by Masood Khan and Oriya Maqbool Jan.
* Surveys conducted to facilitate renovation projects
* Lahore Fort, Badshahi Mosque set to receive facelift
LAHORE: The Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Sustainable Development of Walled City of Lahore (SDWCL) have announced to completely restore the old city of Lahore over the next two decades.
Aga Khan Trust Director Masood Khan and SDWCL Chairman Oria Maqbool Jaan said this at a press briefing on Wednesday.
While talking to reporters, they said the conservation project meant restoring the old city to its original state, with slight changes in the sanitation system and the electricity supply. They said experts were working on a strategic plan for the conservation keeping in view the strategies of urban heritage conservation, infrastructure development and land-use planning.
Surveys: They said the experts were also conducting surveys such as the physical sociological continuum. A complete topographical survey has already been conducted, which was previously conducted by the British rulers in the1940s. The experts were also mapping different historic buildings and houses situated in the Walled City as well as surveying the socio-economic conditions for the renovation work.
They said famous Australian and South African firms had been engaged in the engineering work of the renovation and conservation. The plan was meant to restore all the streets, houses, buildings, sewerage system and decorations to their original form as much as possible, they added. The sewerage system of the Walled City would be made underground and the old drains would only be used to drain rainwater, thus adding to the original beauty of the city.
Renovation projects: Other projects would be established to ensure a smooth supply of clean drinking water to the residents. The authorities would also ensure a visual clean up of the space around various heritage assets such as the Lahore Fort, the Badshahi Mosque and the Wazir Khan mosque.
The experts said the projects included the restoration of the Shahi Guzargah by eliminating the encroachments and restoring the historic places around Delhi Gate, Wazir Khan Mosque and the market adjacent to the mosque.
Similar surveys and development projects would also be launched for other monuments like the Begum Shahi Mosque, Sonehri Mosque and its neighbouring Baoli Bagh. The experts have also chosen the Soorjan Singh Street as a model street for the renovation of the Walled City.
The reporters were also taken on a visit to a 150-year-old house that had been renovated to its original shape at the cost of $10,000. Architect of the plan Salman Muhammad told Daily Times that it took 10 months to renovate the house.
Friday, 23 October, 2009
The most peaceful place in Kabul
Kabul is a chaotic capital, but at the heart of the city is a rebuilt garden where noise and guns don’t permeate. Reporter Alex Helmick takes a walk through maybe the most peaceful place in Kabul.
— Alex Helmick, World Radio Switzerland
Kabul is a chaotic city… from construction to the traffic to the occasional bombing.
But in the heart of the city is peace and tranquility: A garden with trees and flowers and green, green grass.
AJMAL MAIWANDI: It’s probably one of the most tranquil places in the city if not the most tranquil space in the city.
A little girl has a close call with a passing van on one of Kabul’s busiest and chaotic streets. (Wrs, Alex Helmick)
Ajmal Maiwandi is deputy program manager for the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Headquarters for the Shia Ismaili Muslim spiritual leader the Aga Khan and his many charities is in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Trust for Culture spent nearly 7 million U.S. dollars restoring a once sacred place in Kabul.
The first Mughal emperor Baghe Babur built the 11 hectare garden in the 16th century.
MAIWANDI: He laid out this garden with his own hands and before he died he stipulated that he would want to be buried here.
Babur was a brutal and violent conqueror though.
HELMICK: I find it kind of ironic that such a peaceful place is built on a man who really wasn’t that peaceful.
MAIWANDI: It’s true. Babur’s memoirs are filled with his conquests and his pillaging and military campaigns. But it seems that at that time, at that era, that was what was expected of a king.
It’s probably one of the most tranquil spaces in the city, if not the most tranquil space in the city. After the Mughal empire fell, the garden went with it. The garden had a brief revival in the mid 20th century, but then war once again came to Afghanistan: First the Soviets in the late 70s, then Civil War in the 90s, and then the Taliban years. The garden was a front line for battles, especially ethnic clashes. The trees were chopped down for fire wood and the land was baron.
HELMICK: This was a war zone
AMANULLAH SAHIBZADA: This was a war zone, yes.
Amanullah Sahibzada was part of the reconstruction started in 2002 after the end of Taliban rule here. He now is garden manager.
SAHIBZADA: First of all, I think of it as my home because it has been almost seven years that I spend more time than my home here.
Sahibzada worked with many others to get the garden back into shape. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture says the rebuilding of the garden put hundreds to work and still employs 75 people regularly.
But for Sahibzada it is more than just about numbers.
The Baghe Babur Garden was built in the 16th century but fell into disrepair over the years. The Swiss-based Aga Khan’s Trust for Culture gave 7 million U.S. dollars to rebuild it. (WRS, Alex Helmick) SAHIBZADA: So for me each stone, each tree, each flower has a memory because I was in the garden during the time when these stones and these trees were planted or the stone was placed. So I know when I look at all these things, I remember the first day to how this tree was and by who it was planted in the area.
Nearby, one of the workers is giving a tour to young school girls. Aurjura is their head teacher.
She says the children need to know the history behind Babur. It is part of their culture. And for her, she says this is a nice escape from war outside the garden walls.
Sitting on one of the smaller brick walls, looking far away in thought is Zanamilack. He is a young man with a tidy beard and he’s wearing ultra-clean, cream-colored trousers and matching shirt.
He says he thinks this is a great place to mediate and that maybe one day this country, his country, could reflect this garden and be peaceful.
Alex Helmick, World Radio Switzerland from the Baghe Babur Garden in Kabul, Afghanistan.
For the people of Iran and Turkey during the 16th and 17th centuries, trying to predict the future produced some incredible works of art.
The illustrated texts known as Falnama: The Book of Omens are being displayed together in a new exhibit at the Sackler Gallery in Washington.
The artwork on display has come from: Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum, New York; Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul; Arthur M. Sackler Gallery; Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Geneva; The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin.
14th century Cairo mosque restored to glory
By JOSEPH FREEMAN (AP) – 7 hours ago
CAIRO — Developers unveiled the restoration of a 650-year-old mosque in Cairo's old city, part of an effort to revitalize the impoverished district and boost tourism to the country's treasure trove of Islamic sites.
The three-year, $1.4 million project restored the Aslam al-Silahdar Mosque, built in 1344-1345 by Aslam al-Bahai, an amir or nobleman who rose to the position of "silahdar," or "swordbearer" for Sultan al-Nasir Mohammed, one of the most powerful of Egypt's Mamluk rulers.
It is tucked into Cairo's al-Darb al-Ahmar district, a dense warren of narrow, dusty alleyways. Many of its 92,000 inhabitants are among the poorest in Egypt, living on less than $1 a day, according to the Canadian Development Agency, which works in the community.
The neighborhood is also packed with antiquities — an Islamic monument about every 20 yards (meters), ranging from Cairo's early days in the 11th century to more modern times.
The area is "comparable to Rome" in terms of monuments, said Luis Monreal, the general manager of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network, which directed the renovation of the Aslam Mosque, unveiled on Wednesday.
A handful of American donors contributed to the conservation efforts, including the American Research Center in Egypt with a grant from USAID, and the U.S. Ambassador Fund.
The Aslam Mosque was redone from floor to ceiling. Hanging lamps illuminate Islamic-style archways and smooth stone floors. On the exterior, elegant green and black Arabic calligraphy scrolls around the base of the mosque's prominent dome. A square adjoining the mosque was also renovated.
Many of the mosques, mausoleums and Islamic schools in the district are delapidated and crumbling after decades of neglect. Until recently, the Egyptian government also did little to encourage tourism to the area, and most foreign visitors ignored the rich area in favor of pharaonic sites such as the Giza Pyramids.
Dina Bakhoum, conservation programs manager for AKTC's Egypt branch, said al-Darb al-Ahmar has "great potential to become one of Cairo's major attractions."
The agency — funded by the Agha Khan, hereditary leader of the Nizari branch of Shiite Islam — is carrying out a wider urban renewal project in al-Darb al-Ahmar. In recent years, the Egyptian government also has carried out extenstive renovations on mosques in the area and has sought to increase the amount of tourism to Islamic sites.
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