Saving Historic Tripoli One Building at a Time
Published Wednesday, December 5, 2012
The group known as the Tripoli Heritage Protectors do not number more than 70 youths, yet many residents of north Lebanon’s Tripoli, are counting on them to preserve what is left of the city's archaeological sites and heritage buildings.
The Heritage Protectors campaign, which was launched 1 December 2012, has been welcomed in Tripoli as many of the city’s historical sites and buildings are under threat from destruction or neglect.
The ‘protectors’ are local activists dedicated to preserving the city's architectural heritage, which spans over several important historical periods.
Most members of the campaign are students from the Lebanese University. Ali Aloulou said he was motivated to join the campaign when he saw the history of his city being destroyed.
"Those who do not have a history, have no future," Aloulou told Al-Akhbar.
Tripoli's old town is nothing short of being an open-air museum, being the second most important city in terms of Mamluk antiquities after Cairo, and containing a wealth of historical sites and heritage buildings from different eras.
Today, these buildings are at risk, having deteriorated as a result of civil strife, economic pressures, neglect, and new development. Thus, many residents who valued the city’s history felt the need to take action to preserve it.
Nariman Shamaa, a member of the Civil Campaign to Save Tripoli's Antiquities, pointed out that it was due to the “systematic destruction” of heritage buildings and sites in Tripoli in the 1950s that had robbed the city of its chance to be listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
It seems the new initiative has struck a chord with many Tripoli residents. During Saturday's launch ceremony for the Heritage Protectors, the grand hall of the Tripoli Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture was packed with people from all backgrounds and affiliations who shared an interest in heritage conservation.
The initiative is being sponsored by the Civil Campaign to Save Tripoli's Antiquities.
"[This campaign] compensates for the lack of government and official efforts in this regard, whether by the relevant ministries, or by the municipal police," explained Dr. Khaled Tadmori, chairman of the Antiquities and Heritage Committee in the Municipality of Tripoli.
Tadmori said that the idea behind the Heritage Protectors was not new, and "had started with the launch of the campaign to save Tripoli's antiquities, back when the Inja Theater was demolished."
He added that the direct motive for their launch was "the demolition of al-Ajam Palace and Property No. 35 in the Tell area."
The chairman of the Antiquities and Heritage Committee said that so far, about 70 people had joined the campaign as heritage protectors.
"Their task will be to coordinate with the Antiquities and Heritage Committee and the Directorate General of Antiquities to document and photograph unregistered buildings in preparation for their inclusion in the list of heritage buildings," Tadmori said, emphasizing that there are buildings located outside the old city which are also neglected or on the verge of being demolished.
The volunteers will conduct weekly tours to Tripoli districts like al-Haddaddin, al-Tell, al-Qobba, al-Zahrieh, al-Nouri, al-Rummaneh, and al-Suwayqa. According to Tadmori, the volunteers will "routinely visit the buildings in order to spot any abuses they may be subjected to, and will then submit reports to the Antiquities and Heritage Committee, which will in turn duly inform the municipality, in order to compensate for the failure of the municipal police and the municipality's architecture department."
The role of the Heritage Protectors does not stop there. They will also "educate the residents of those buildings about their significance, and seek to restore them if possible," said Tadmori, who added that "launching this campaign and signing a charter on preserving Tripoli's historical sites signal a new phase in the efforts to protect the city's heritage."
Bakr al-Siddiq, president of the Tripoli Antiquities Club, said they began work eight years ago by observing a Tripoli Day each year on April 26.
“We organize a tour for high school and university students of historical sites in the city, beginning with the the Crusader castle, down to the Tinal Mosque, and the Turkish baths, khans [Caravanserais], mosques, schools, markets, and historical streets,” he explained. “With such tours, the youth are exposed to important information."
Siddiq pointed out that the heritage activists "believe in protecting Tripoli's heritage, and are aware how badly the conditions of the historical sites in the city have deteriorated."
For this reason, he said, the Heritage Protectors were established, and are set to begin their work in earnest next Sunday, 9 December.
Also present at the launch event were Inan Ozyildiz, the Turkish ambassador to Lebanon, who affirmed his government's support for the campaign, and Dr. Atef Attia, director of the Institute of Social Sciences in Tripoli.
"The youth participation in this activity has given us hope that there are still people interested in preserving the city's heritage,” said Attia.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.