The BAAL journal (journal for Lebanese antiquity) has published four articles about the restoration of Sūq Harāj in Tripoli, Lebanon, a project initiated and coordinated by AKU-ISMC Assistant Professor Stefan Weber. The articles focus on the history of the restoration project, archaeology and rehabilitation, the rescue excavations made in 2005, and the pottery found during the project.
The project was led from the Orient-Institute Beirut (OIB), which works intensively on urban and social life in the Middle East during the Ottoman period. During the last few years, several international conferences have been held and several books published on the research conducted. The restoration project is part of these efforts.
Sūq Harāj is a market in the central part of Tripoli dating from the Mamluk period (1260-1516). It consists of commercial premises on the ground floor and residential units on the upper floor. It is the most remarkable remaining piece of commercial architecture in the Eastern Mediterranean from the Mamluk period – the vaulted ceiling which is supported by two reused columns from antiquity is particularly impressive.
Many years of neglect due to changing socio-economic conditions, conflict and challenges in urban planning has left the suq, a major element of the city’s cultural heritage, in a precarious position. Through a Lebanese German co-operation financed jointly by the German Foreign Office and the Lebanese Ministry of Culture with contribution from the Municipality of Tripoli, the project of the Sūq Harāj has been a great success of interdisciplinary and international cooperation that aims to preserve an important component of the history of Tripoli and the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Stefan Weber, Assistant Professor of Material History at AKU-ISMC, noted that the project is an example of successful interaction between local people (the custodians of the architectural heritage) and experts on material history, working together to ensure the survival of a vibrant, living commercial and residential quarter in the centre of the city.
“Our limited human or financial resources would not allow us to manage follow-up maintenance or implement any educational or social program. A 'living' sūq would allow (but not yet guarantee) a sustainable one-time intervention,” Weber noted.
“In a first survey, prior to any plan and application, I visited the shop owners, obtained their opinions and asked if they would support such a project and follow up the sūq's maintenance. They agreed, giving me the initiative to take further steps. Sūq Harāj is a listed monument, but nevertheless a private property. ”
Weber noted that only an active involvement of shop keepers and residents in the project would guarantee a sustainable process through which the sūq would continue to be preserved.
Detailed restoration included repairs to structural damage, replacement of windows and doors similar to the old ones, but with iron reinforcements in the doors in order to protect residents and shop owners. Canopies and shamsiyyat (grills) were set out as a modern interpretation of the spatial lay-out in the 1900s. The canopies were also simplified and built as a light wooden structure inspired by historical models and techniques, without copying details of canopies of any one particular period.
The project also offered training workshops for students and open public forums which included public workshops with municipality and institutions and foreign experts from Syria, Turkey, Germany and France. The project also incorporated a comprehensive research element, including neighbourhood surveys, assessment of oral history, exploration of written records from the Ottoman courts, archaeological excavations and a thorough damage assessment.
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