Showing posts with label cultural preservation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cultural preservation. Show all posts

March 24, 2020

Two massive earthquakes create havoc in Zagreb in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic

Image Credit: Muzej za umjetnost i obrt Museum of Arts and Crafts
Two massive earthquakes, registering 5.3 and 5.1 on the Richter scale of earthquake intensity have caused untold damage to Croatia's capital city Zagreb  in the midst of a nationwide lockdown for COVID-19. 

Image Credit: Muzej za umjetnost i obrt
Museum of Arts and Crafts

At present no fatalities have been reported however massive damage has occurred at Zagreb's Muzej za Umjetnost i Obrt, the country's Museum of Arts and Crafts housed in the Hermann Bollé-designed palace built in 1888.  While assessments are still in progress, Croatia's Cultural Minister Nina Obuljen Koržinek has confirmed damage to the building structure itself, to objects on the second and third floors of the museum, and to the museum's restoration laboratory, responsible for conservation works on metal, ceramics and glass, textiles, painting and polychrome sculpture.  

At the time of this natural disaster the MUO is said to have held some 100,000 objects from the 13th century to present. The MOU's Director, Miroslav Gašparović, hopes that with the help of the City, the Ministry of Culture, UNESCO and other international institutions, his team will be able to repair the damage to the museum's external structure and to secure and conserve the collection. 

Like the MOU, the quakes also heavily damaged the physical structure of the  Vranyczany-Dobrinović Palace where the Arheološki Muzej u Zagrebu (AMZ), the Archaeological Museum of Zagreb is housed just off Zrinski Square.  This museum houses important objects from  Prehistory, Egypt, Antiquity, and the Middle Ages.  

Image Credit: Arheološki muzej u Zagrebu - AMZ
Documenting the damages, the AMZ has posted some 65 photos depicting objects impacted by the quake, only some of which have been reproduced here. The images show cracks in gallery walls and plaster, display cases cracked or completely shattered, statues and sarcophagi toppled or tipped over, and hundreds of objects smashed or severely tossed about. 

Image Credit: Arheološki muzej u Zagrebu - AMZ
The Muzej Suvremene Umjetnosti, the Museum of Contemporary Art, which houses some 12,000 works of domestic and foreign artists also reported significant damage to its own structure as will as to the collection.  In this museum, the anti-fire mechanisms caused flooding in some exhibition rooms, and water damaged has been reported in both the ceiling and floors.

Some of the other cultural heritage sites affected include the Croatian Music Institute in Gunduliceva Street, a protected cultural monument, the 140-year-old building which houses the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at Palmotic, the south tower of Zagreb Cathedral, which was under reconstruction,  and the famous 1905 Kolmar building on Ban Jelacic Square, where the Society of Croatian Writers is located.  Here the earthquake severely damaged one of its towers.  

Probably one of the most complicated heritage rescue missions to date, damage inspections and the securing of objects after this national disaster are being carried out during a world-wide pandemic, a situation which creates a perfect storm of events that makes salvaging collections and shoring up sites all the more complicated.  One of the strongest earthquakes to hit Zagreb in 140 years, there are more than 600 buildings impacted and in keeping with government rules, this means that the cultural ministry and city authorities will be utilising as few staff as possible, in accordance with the decisions of the Civil Protection Headquarters of the Republic of Croatia, with the aim of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

By:  Lynda Albertson

September 8, 2015

Destroying and Protecting the World’s Shared Cultural Heritage: Iconoclasm and Psychological Warfare

By Dr. Joris D. Kila
Heritage Researcher,  Lt. Col. (retired), International Military Cultural Resources Working Group and Senior Researcher, Centre for Cultural Heritage Protection, University of Vienna
The Hague, Netherlands

The world’s shared cultural heritage is under threat. Substantial damage has already been inflicted during armed conflicts that have taken place or are still ongoing, especially in parts of Africa and the Middle East.  To protect the world's heritage, it is important to gain knowledge about key concepts and mechanisms that underpin heritage destruction and protection including new phenomena, stakeholders and concepts such as urbicide (a term which literally translates as "violence against the city."), the military roll in heritage destruction and or preservation and the psychological warfare of heritage destruction.

Libya Appolonia artifacts hidden during the revolution November 2011
(c) photo Joris Kila
‘Cultural property’ that is, the legal term used  to describe the world's cultural heritage, is currently not only threatened by time, nature, and man-made development, but increasingly by armed conflicts and upheavals. In this context we see the return of iconoclasm driven and legitimised as an excuse for eliminating perceptions of heresy as well as the ‘’recycling’’ of antique monuments originally built as defence works like the Crusader castle, Krak de Chevaliers, Palmyra’s Fakhr-al-Din al-Ma'ani Castle or the now destroyed Temple of Bel in Palmyra which the Burids transformed into a citadel in 1132.

But Iconoclasm is not only directed at immovable heritage, it also aimed at written heritage making manuscripts and books equally at risk. The majority of today's warring parties are guilty of abuse and destruction whether intentionally or by accident, disregarding that cultural property is ‘’protected’’ under (inter)national laws. To make matters worse there has been an increase in the looting and illicit traffic of artefacts, the revenues of which are used to finance, and thus extend conflicts.

A museum guard displays a manuscript burnt by fleeing occupation forces
 at the Ahmed Baba Institute in Mali.
Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters © The Guardian
There is a distinction between material and non-material heritage. Materials are, for instance, sculptures and paintings but also libraries, archives, monuments and archaeological sites. Immaterial, also referred to as intangible heritage, includes languages, national anthems, and historic traditions. All heritage is strongly connected with identities and therefore potentially politically and socially sensitive especially in connection with conflict and disputes.

Within this framework, written heritage has a dual status: libraries, archives and manuscripts are material cultural properties but simultaneously carriers of intangible heritage like ideas and by extension, identity. Dualism can be seen too in overlaps between cultural and natural heritage, such as cultural landscapes like Ayers Rock and in ivory that is often smuggled.

In general terms books and documents can be considered to be containers of identity. Simultaneously the material manifestation of a book or manuscript can be an artifact or a sacred and thus religiously sensitive object. Specifically, archives can contain cultural heritage for a national society or smaller community as well as information that makes them strategic targets for the warring parties e.g. working archives can hold tactical information about persons and political issues. Military experts connect this information with military intelligence.  Additionally, libraries and archives themselves can be historic monuments.

Apart from the fragile characteristics there are many more issues within the realms of heritage. They include shifting insights on conservation, restoration, authentication (forgeries) and developments concerning digitization, manipulation, political propaganda, illicit trafficking, and legislation. Current attacks on cultural heritage show elements of psychological warfare, cultural genocide and, as acknowledged by the United Nations, war crimes.

This makes Cultural Property Protection (CPP) a complicated multi-disciplinary topic with stakeholders that include the military, police, diplomats, legal specialists, auctioneers, antique dealers, and religious experts to name a few, all of which represent and defend their own interests. Transnational crime is also present, not to mention collateral damage inflicted during battle.

Considering the complexity and the seriousness of today’s heritage conditions it seems fair to acknowledge that safeguarding issues cannot be taken care of by only as small number of cultural experts or enthusiasts who are not afraid to be pro-active and often need to act as private individuals. The main concern is that there is presently no operational protection concept being implemented based on international cooperation and coordination. Legal obligations and sanctions are not sufficiently implemented and enforced – for instance,  some cultural war crimes could and should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.

Although there are moral and legal obligations, funding is not in place for CPP training, education, research, and the deployment of ‘’new’’ stakeholders like the military who are equipped to operate in war zones.  Most contemporary asymmetric conflicts in which (written) heritage is endangered take place in the Muslim World. A lot of the world’s heritage from antiquity is located there but it is also critical to pay special attention to protection and restoration of Islamic heritage before the cultural and historical memory rooted in these regions is erased from the world’s common consciousness and lost to future generations.

To meet some of these challenges, the Islamic Manuscript Association in partnership with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has organised a course this coming October entitled Manuscript Collections in Conflict Zones: Safeguarding Written Heritage. This multidisciplinary course will also gives a general introduction about Cultural Property Protection and destruction in the event of conflict. The course will take place October 5th, 6th, and 7th at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall, London.

Confirmed speakers include:

Colonel Matthew Bogdanos,
Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan

Mr. Marco Di Bella,
Freelance Book and Manuscript Conservator and UNESCO Consultant

Mr. Karl von Habsburg-Lothringen,
President of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield

Dr. Joris Kila, Chairman,
International Military Cultural Resources Working Group

Professor Roger O’Keefe,
Chair of Public International Law, University College London

Mr András Riedlmayer,
Bibliographer in Islamic Art and Architecture, Harvard University

Professor Franck Salameh,
Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Boston College

Dr Christos Tsirogiannis,
Research Assistant, Trafficking Culture Team, University of Glasgow

Dr Hafed Walda,
(Pending) Deputy Ambassador to the permanent Libyan delegation at UNESCO

Dr James Zeidler,
Associate Director for Cultural Resources, Colorado State University

For information about course lecturers and how to register to attend, please contact the Islamic Manuscript Association linked here

June 20, 2014

The Tenth Islamic Manuscript Conference: Manuscripts and Conflict in Cambridge Aug. 31-Sep. 2

The Tenth Islamic Manuscript Conference: Manuscripts and Conflict, 31 August-2 September 2014, will be held at Magdalene College, University of Cambridge, UK.

There will also be a special programme on 3 September 2014, including a workshop on disaster planning for Islamic manuscript collections. Please find more information about the conference programme online.

The Tenth Islamic Manuscript Conference will be an occasion to reflect on progress in conservation, preservation, cataloguing, digitisation and research relating to Islamic manuscripts and manuscript collections during the decade since the founding of the Association, and to look ahead to anticipated developments in these fields over the next ten years. The conference’s special theme — Manuscripts and Conflict — will also constitute a timely opportunity to consider the above subject areas within the intensifying contexts of acute social and political instability or military conflict. Invited keynote speakers, round table sessions, poster presentations and workshops will promote active participation in a cutting-edge discussion of these subjects.

Poster presentations

Students and other interested persons are encouraged to submit posters about their work with Islamic manuscript collections for presentation at the conference. Please find more information about this online.

April 26, 2014

Al Ghat, A Hidden Treasure, Sets Example for Cultural Property Heritage Preservation

Al Ghat valley. Photo by Christiana O’Connell-Schizas
by Christiana O’Connell-Schizas

Al Ghat, a hidden treasure amongst the mysterious sands of Arabia, has set a prime example for other culturally rich rural villages and towns like itself; their renovation and restoration projects are attracting more and more people who are slowly starting to appreciate its patrimony and its eminent date plantations.

Located less than a three hour drive northwest of Riyadh, Al Ghat, with a population of less than 20,000, has a 30-bed hospital; a community center; two high schools; and hundreds of date farms. Unlike many other regions in the Kingdom, Al Ghat has sustainable soil and available water sources: three natural water springs; a well dating to the Prophet himself (Peace be upon Him); and, depending on the time of year, waterfalls.[1] In old Al Ghat village, one can find dilapidated mud-straw houses, the last of which were abandoned 40-50 years ago (these residences were made of the same materials used 500 years ago.)

Home of the Saudi dates

Traditional agriculture was confined to small plots along the valley banks, producing small harvests of dates, wheat, and various fruits and vegetables. In the 1980s, to encourage agriculture, the government distributed land, dug wells, and purchased farming tools and fertilizers which led to a huge expansion of Al Ghat’s farming sector. According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Saudi Arabian date production now represents approximately 12 to 14 percent of world production.[2]

Our camp site on the plantation. Photo by Nehme El Jorr
A few weeks ago, with some family and friends, I was fortunate enough to be welcomed and treated to the hospitality of a local date farmer. We camped out on his plantation for one night and he shared the following information with us: One date bearing palm tree can easily produce 200 kilograms of dates per season. Depending on the variety of date, each kilo is sold for SAR 20 (equivalent to approximately $5)[3]. The plantation has a modest 100 palm trees so if he sold his product, he would receive a gross income of about SAR 400,000 ($106,600) per season.

Al Ghat dates have even made an impact in London with the opening of the Bateel coffee shop in August 2011 on a corner of New Bond Street and with Saudi artist Budur bint Abdullah Al-Sudairy's piece titled: ‘Al-Ghat Dates: Candy for the rich, Nourishment for the poor’ which the Ulysses Prize at the London Art Biennale, 2013.

Heritage projects

A dilapidated house in Al Ghat. Photo by Costas S. Schizas
Aside from the remarkable date farms, Al Ghat is recognized for its cultural heritage and, in contrast to many Saudi towns, its commended efforts to maintain it. 

One way the Al Ghat Municipality is preserving its heritage is by renovating many of the old residences and turning them into a luxurious $1,000 per night hotel. It is unclear how many of the old houses will be restored to their former glory and the project is far from complete. This could probably be attributed to a lack of funding, and the fact that the same tools, methods and materials are being used for the reconstruction. This is extremely time consuming as the bricks have to be prepared in the same way as they were hundreds of years ago. Mud is obtained and mixed with straw (the binding agent), and sand (to stop the bricks from breaking). The mixture is subsequently packed into brick shaped molds and left in the sun to dry over an extended period. During the building process, wet mud is used in place of cement to hold the bricks together.

A caved in roof with more dilapidated
 houses in the background. Photo by author.
The roof’s structural beams are made of acacia wood that is scarcely obtained from the surrounding desert. Then, dry palm branches or thin bamboo shoots, found by the riverbanks, are tightly tied together to form a type of mat that is laid on the beams before a thick layer of mud is spread over the said to fill the gaps. This provides good insulation against the blazing desert sun.

Some of the completed projects include the old market and the central square of the old town. The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) worked effortlessly with the Al Ghat Municipality to ensure its unique cultural heritage is preserved. Their efforts have brought many tourists to this small town, local and expatriates alike. Special weekly festivals reminiscent of the Najd traditions and souks are arranged in the town on Thursdays and the local market offers farm products and tools.[4]

The other significant project has been the Al Ghat Municipal Museum. The museum was the palace of the late Prince Nasser bin Saad Al-Sudairy that was donated to highlight Al Ghat's social life and history throughout the ages and the contribution of its residents in the foundation of the Saudi State.[5] It exhibits Paleolithic tools and petroglyphs found in and around Al Ghat; traditional agriculture, clothing and crafts; traditional hunting using ancient guns, dogs and falcons; the governors of the village appointed by the King; the British explorers that passed through Al Ghat, such as William Gifford Palgrave; and the ‘jussah’, the room in the home set aside for the preservation of dates.

The production of the said bricks with some of the restored
buildings in the background and a workman's portacabin
on the right. Photo by author.
The international cultural community should applaud the SCTA’s endeavors in preserving Al Ghat’s cultural heritage and recognize the jewels the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has to offer.

[1] According to Sheikh Abdullah bin Khamis, Al Ghat received its name from the echoes of the gushing water through the canyon toward the town.

[2] During the summer of 2012, the annual Buraidah Dates Festival, the world’s largest dates festival, attracted more than one million visitors from around the Kingdom. Farmers and venders sold an estimated 300,000 tones of dates worth approximately SR1 billion over the 90-day event. Sukkari dates account for 80 percent of sales and are the most popular among Saudis according to vendors.
Long barks of acacia wood being used as roof beams.
Photo by Costas S. Schizas.

[3] Saudi has 450 varieties of the 2,000 species known worldwide.

[4] "Al-Ghat Becoming a Tourist Destination." Arab News, 23 Mar. 2012.

[5] Al Ghat supported the Salafi reform movement and acceded peacefully to the First Saudi State. Historical sources do not refer any military campaigns directed against the village. Oral reports mention that some of the Al Ghat inhabitants took part in the campaigns waged against the First Saudi State to help spread reform.

A view of a completed roof. Photo by author.

"Al-Ghat Becoming a Tourist Destination." Arab News, 23 Mar. 2012. Web.

Harrison, Roger. "Bateel London." Arab News, 28 Mar. 2012. Web.

Hassan, Rashid. "Heritage Sites in Riyadh See Massive Influx of Visitors." Arab News, 21 Oct. 2013. Web.

Hurst, Henry A. "Dates: The Fruit of Islam and Arabia." Saudi Gazette, 7 Nov. 2012. Web.

Informal discussions with Fawaz and Imad Al Azmi and Khaled Al Amar owners of the date plantation mentioned above.

"Saudi Painter Wins in London." Arab News, 29 Jan. 2013. Web.

January 12, 2014

Postcard from Paris: Sunday in Montmartre at Sacré Coeur and Musée de Montmartre

Musée de Montmartre: 12, rue Cortot
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

PARIS - The pitch black winter morning extends to almost 8.30 here in January -- well after my friends and I have selected a slice of quiche lorraine and a baguette from a warm boulangerie in Montmartre for Sunday breakfast. We pass the Le Bateau-Lavoir where Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and later on the second floor apartment (now available for rent) that once served as Picasso's first studio in Montmartre (Rue Gabrielle, 18).

Up a staircase that stretches alongside a very big Irish pub (Corcoran's), the 19th century Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, which survived bombings in 1944, overlooks the city. The basilica supports itself through donations, including the sale of 2 euro and 10 euro novena candles (I lit one for my parents). Although photographs are prohibited inside the church, exhibit panels outside of the areas for prayer include an appeal to support a campaign begun in 1985 to restore the century old Grand Organ. In addition to daily masses, Sacré-Coeur has maintained the Vocation to pray for the Roman Catholic Church and 'the whole world' in front of the 'exposed Blessed Sacrament' since August 1, 1885 (125 years). Exiting the church, I witnessed a head-scarfed woman arguing with one of the dirty ragged beggars sitting outside the door as if urging her to get out of the cold.

Vintage cars attract crowd on Sunday in pedestrian area
On Sundays car traffic is limited in Montmartre to residents and by ten o'clock I had walked through a crowd photographing vintage cars to the Musée de Montmartre, a complex that includes a 17th century house once inhabited by August Renoir; the site of the art supply store frequented by Vincent van Gogh; a park reserve open only to cats; and a vineyard looking down to the infamous cabaret Au Lapin Argile.

The oldest house in Montmartre, built in the middle of the 17th century, was restored in 1959 to house the museum (12, rue Cortot); next door was 'the lodgings of Mr. Tanguy':
Rear of the building under renovation, 10 Cortot
The caretaker's apartment at 10 rue Cortot was inhabited from 1866 to 1873 by Julien Tanguy, an art supplier. Pissaro, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Van Gogh came to get their supplies at his shop in rue Clauzel. When they couldn't pay Tanguy they gave him pieces of their work.
Inside the museum is an exhibit: "Impressions a Montmartre: Eugené Delátre & Alfredo Müller", including a 1897 "Death in a Fur Coat".

Death in a Fur Coat, 1897

Vineyard overlooking cabaret, Au Lapin Agile (red building)