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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research Special issue - July 2005   
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CULTURAL HERITAGE
Title  A shared heritage

Aleppo is believed to be one of the oldest cities in the world while Cairo’s Muslim quarter is listed by Unesco as a world heritage site. What is more, these two cities have remained the home of a rich architecture throughout the centuries while more recent buildings, from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, are today being listed, studied and restored. It is this activity which gave rise to the Hercomanes project, carried out – with EU support – by Arab teams from Egypt and Syria and European teams from France and Italy. 

Cairo – The Misr Bank. This oldest of the financial institutions in the ‘city’ of Cairo was built in 1927 by the Italian architect Antonio Lasciac.
Cairo – The Misr Bank. This oldest of the financial institutions in the ‘city’ of Cairo was built in 1927 by the Italian architect Antonio Lasciac.
Hercomanes stands for Heritage Conservation and Management in Egypt and Syria. That much is clear. But let there be no mistake: the focus is on late 19th and early 20th century buildings, witnesses to a mingling of cultures that illustrates the links between the north and south of the Mediterranean. The project aims to improve the management systems implemented in restoring and conserving the urban fabric and architecture of the period, in Cairo and in Aleppo.

Neighbourhood, street and building: a triple analysis
"The interest in this heritage began to emerge in the early 1990s,” explains Galila El Kadi, an architect and town planner at the IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement) and project coordinator. “In Egypt, it was following the terrible 1992 earthquake that increased national awareness led to a recognition of the architectural value of buildings of this kind. While in Syria it was rapid urbanisation coupled with land and property speculation that posed the threat to the legacies of the 19th and 20th centuries. Faced with the danger of losing the memory of the city, the intellectuals decided to act. The movement they initiated had a positive impact that took shape through the desire to improve the legislation, documentation and conservation relating to these periods in their past.” 

Aleppo – The Kassis hospital in the Azizeya district. Built in 1916 by an Italian architect and later converted into a hospital, the villa was very carefully renovated and modernised in 1987, while retaining its medical function.
Aleppo – The Kassis hospital in the Azizeya district. Built in 1916 by an Italian architect and later converted into a hospital, the villa was very carefully renovated and modernised in 1987, while retaining its medical function.
A general inventory and the beginnings of a classification began – in 1993 in Egypt, and from 2000 in Syria – to save the buildings of this period from demolition or uncontrolled transformations. In Aleppo and its surroundings, 39 buildings were selected and in Cairo 74. “We sought a better definition of the methodological framework for this inventory by making a study at neighbourhood, street and individual building level. This stage-by-stage approach makes it possible to evaluate interesting urban forms, to take into account the architectural and stylistic characteristics of groups of buildings, and then to analyse the buildings individually, in terms of structure, construction techniques, materials, deformation, etc.”

Quality of life and aesthetics
In Aleppo, researchers studied the Azizeya district that forms part of the modern town. The Kassis hospital – originally a villa built by an Italian architect in 1916 – was renovated very intelligently in 1987, conserving its medical function and modernising the care facilities. “This example showed that it is possible to renovate without disfiguring, and many building owners followed this example. It is also forbidden now to demolish the listed buildings.”

Cairo – The Omar Effendi department store.
Cairo – The Omar Effendi department store.
In Cairo, the project focused in particular on Emad El Dine street and the immediate vicinity. This street runs for 2.5 km through the city and is home to many cinemas and theatres. It is in its southern section, known as Mohamed Farid, that the Egyptian capital’s financial centre is located. The oldest of the institutions is the Misr Bank, built in 1927 by the architect Antonio Lasciac. Public and private partners were very closely involved in renovating this district, successfully conserving urban housing, modernising infrastructure, cleaning façades and converting some areas into pedestrian zones.

The social science researchers on the Hercomanes project also interviewed residents and shopkeepers to find out what they thought about it all. “We wanted to assess how they viewed the site, before and after restoration, and gauge the importance and meaning they gave to it. In some cases we also wanted to know if they would be willing to contribute financially to other operations. Many of them stressed the improvements to the quality of life in their neighbourhood and the aesthetic value of the results.” The historians, meanwhile, made an in-depth study of these neighbourhoods’ pasts and their symbolic value – information that could be used in generating greater awareness with a view to their preservation.

"One of the results of the Hercomanes project is also to have brought about a change in concepts. The notion of a shared Mediterranean heritage – or even of a cosmopolitan or eclectic heritage – is increasingly replacing the notion of a Western, exogenous or colonial heritage (1). This shared heritage is linked to a common civilisation that covers both sides of the Mediterranean – just like the Greco-Roman civilisation that is very evident in these regions and recognised as a source of wealth that is not limited by borders.”

(1) This concept was studied in greater depth at the Ismarmed (International Seminar on the Management or the Shared Mediterranean Heritage) meeting, supported by the EU and Unesco, which was held in Alexandria from 29 to 31 March 2005. The meeting was coordinated by the IRD, the principal Hercomanes partner.


Printable version

Features 1 2 3
  One sea, three continents
  A shared heritage
  The price of change

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  Partners

  • IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement), Paris, France
  • Centre of Architectural and Engineering Design Support, Cairo, Egypt
  • University of Aleppo, Syria
  • Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia, Italy
  • Université Lyon 2 Lumière, France
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    Features 1 2 3
      Partners

    • IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement), Paris, France
    • Centre of Architectural and Engineering Design Support, Cairo, Egypt
    • University of Aleppo, Syria
    • Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia, Italy
    • Université Lyon 2 Lumière, France

    TO FIND OUT MORE

    CONTACTS