Preservation and revitalization of ancient towns

Nowadays, one of the topical issues in modern societies is the concept of renewal–a term which includes restoration and redevelopment, or, in other words, revitalization of ancient towns. Substantial financial resources are purposefully spent in these countries on the revitalization and renewal of ancient towns. This trend is to a large extent influenced by a rapid industrial and technological development bringing about social, economic, technical and political transformations of the ancient towns. Compared to the Arabian world, highly developed industrialized countries have, undoubtedly, assumed a leading role in the field of revitalization and preservation of the ancient historic nuclei. They make use of the fairly precise standards set for numerous aspects of human activities including urban development. The applied standards are reflected in the fast and efficient redevelopment of the ancient towns. On the contrary, the majority of Arabian countries are faced with the decay process affecting their ancient towns. However, the significance of the cultural and historical heritage has prompted the international community to take the initiative and become actively involved in revitalization processes. Responsibility now rests with the Arabian countries to redefine their past and history for the purpose of protecting the major urban areas and fostering the growing prosperity of the present and future generations. Things seem to be moving in the right direction in many underdeveloped countries despite their generally poor conditions. One of the main bodies that has taken on the leading role in dealing with the revitalization issue is the Organization for Education, Science and Culture of the United Nations–UNESCO. A great number of foreign projects aimed at the rehabilitation and revitalization of the ancient towns have been quite successful, particularly those worked out for Alep in Syria, Fes in Morocco, San’a in Jemen and Nablus in Palestine. This paper focuses on the analysis of the present condition of the ancient Arabian towns with a short reference to the history of Alep, San’a, Fes and Nablus protected by the Organization for Education, Science and Culture of the United Nations–UNESCO.

The ancient town of Nablus in Palestine stands out among other towns. Therefore, special emphasis is placed on its specific revitalization. This paper presents a short review of its architectural and urban character including housing, religious structures and the old marketplace. These areas belong to the fundamental historical and cultural heritage of the town. Its socioeconomic identity is represented by its soap and candy industry as well as its recreational facilities such as public baths, hotels, inns etc. The aim of revitalization is to preserve the valuable parts, demolish the newly-built structures with no historical value in order to create green recreational areas absent from the ancient town of Nablus and to demolish the structures added onto the historic ones. The proposed restoration and conservation program is a priority for the city authorities of Nablus. Renovation and protection of the ancient structures starts with the assessment of their present condition, the extent of the damage, the type and quality of their essential materials taking into consideration their dating, uniqueness as well as their aesthetic and artistic value. The evaluation also refers to the given conceptions and proposals for improving the residential buildings, in particular those with patios. Housing should constitute the essential structure of the ancient town. It should be therefore taken into account in the renewal and conversion, i.e. planned reorganization that may be realized by minimal alterations and new structures with the retention of the external walls and street facades. Dwellers and owners are the only subject that can guarantee the preservation and maintenance of the buildings. If they continue to maintain and renovate their houses, it might become a desirable solution for most of the residential urban fabric of the ancient town. Ownership, social structure, commerce, public and private services and infrastructure are, therefore, central to this proposal.

In order to revitalize the ancient Arabian towns, a range of measures need to be undertaken at various levels including the government, city authorities, the institutions dealing with the protection of historic structures. Redevelopment strategies should be worked out with regard to all historical, natural and socioeconomic relationships, under the supervision and in cooperation with the most important government institutions and foreign experts, individual organizations under the patronage of the Organization for Education, Science and Culture of the United Nations–UNESCO.