With the inauguration of celebrating Sharjah as Capital of Islamic Culture, the symposium on “Conservation of Urban Heritage: Living Heritage in Islamic Cities” concluded its activities that took place on 30 and 31 March 2014. The symposium was co-organised by the Department of Culture and Information and ICCROM-ATHAR Regional Conservation Centre in Sharjah, and was held in Dar Al Nadwa in Sharjah’s heritage area.
This symposium brought together several international and regional organisations: ALECSO (Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation), IRCICA (Research Center for Islamic History, Art, and Culture), Shurooq Investment and Development Authority, Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage in Bahrain, National Council for Tourism and Antiquities (NCTA), National Built Heritage Center in Saudi Arabia, the American University of Sharjah, University of Freiburg in Germany, and the Dubai Municipality.
During this two-day symposium, lecturers from participating organisations discussed risks faced by urban heritage in Palestine, emphasising the need to involve local communities in conservation and development projects in Arab cities. Guest speakers also presented experiences from Islamic cities in Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and UAE. The symposium served as an opportunity to address urban heritage conservation methodologies and standards, particularly those relevant to world heritage in cities such as Cairo, Damascus, Aleppo, Sana’a and Shibam in Yemen, and Bahla Oasis in Oman.
The interactive sessions of the symposium resulted in the following recommendations:
1- Fostering the use of the latest Integrated Territorial and Urban Conservation (ITUC) methodologies by adopting approaches aiming at conserving urban heritage as a vector for optimising sustainable development through:
- utilising heritage economy approaches with regards to tourism investment;
- offering incentives which would enable the communities and locale of historic cities to conserve heritage as per universal standards and local policies;
- involving local communities in the implementation of conservation plans and objectives through consultation processes to improve living conditions in heritage areas;
- safeguarding the spirit of heritage areas by emphasising living heritage as an integral aspect of conserving the authenticity of cities, as well as using historic buildings without compromising their livelihood and historic values. This is to avoid gentrification, which would inevitably transform these buildings into mere tourist museums.
2- The need to integrate concepts of urban heritage conservation in educational programmes on all levels, as well as to devise programmes aimed at social awareness and training and capacity building for professionals. Also, to promote knowledge of schoolteachers and university professors relevant to these concepts as a tool for a better knowledge dissemination in the field of urban heritage conservation.
3- Establishing partnerships with the community and concerned institutions to achieve integrated conservation objectives through cross-sectorial (municipalities, media, local community institutions…etc) cooperation and coordination.
4- Highlighting the importance of urban heritage management planning comprising mechanisms relevant to management of historic places, as well as devising appropriate budgets in order to achieve conservation objectives and to implement planning and restoration methods with the help of local communities.
5- Finding solutions for problems of private estate properties in cultural heritage sites in compliance with local communities, as well as avoiding the expropriation of private properties where possible.
6- Documenting oral heritage, promoting handicrafts and intangible heritage by reconnecting these immaterial aspects with the material heritage.
7- Supporting the establishment of an Arab urban heritage observatory which serves as a platform for sharing experiences relevant to urban heritage conservation, and to observe the damage that has taken place in Arab historic cities, especially in Jerusalem.
8- Developing policies and laws relevant to the safeguarding of urban heritage in Arab states.
9- Supporting research and studies, as well as providing support for students of higher education in the field of urban heritage by motivating students and teachers and by organising architectural competitions which address topics identified by sponsors.
In the context of Sharjah and the United Arab Emirates, the following practical procedures were recommended:
1- Finding solutions and studying them to reconnect the heart of Sharjah with Al-Khor (creek), and to revitalise the role Al-Khor has played in the community’s everyday-day life.
2- Organising a periodical forum on UAE’s urban heritage.
At the closing session, the organisers expressed their gratitude for the participants’ active contribution and scientific input, which ICCROM-ATHAR Centre will follow-up in close collaboration with ALECSO on a regional level, as well as with NCTA and the Department of Culture and Information, Sharjah.