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

September 6, 2013

Essay: Can there be a balance between the expansion of Makkah and the preservation of cultural heritage?

The Independent: 'Photo taken by activists in Saudia Arabia
 showing the destruction of the Grand Mosque.'
by Christiana O'Connell-Schizas

As the week of Hajj (October 13-18, 2013) is approaching, millions of Muslims around the world are preparing to visit the holy cities of Makkah and Medina. However, unlike any other year, the Ministry of Hajj is trying to reduce the number of foreign and domestic pilgrims due to the ongoing £690 million expansion work at Makkah's Grand Mosque. Islam is the fastest growing religion and every Muslim has to perform Hajj at least once in their lifetime. Twelve million pilgrims visit Makkah and Medina every year with the numbers expected to rise to 17 million by 2025. This justifies the infrastructure developments in Makkah. But at what cost?

Over the past twenty years much of Makkah's cultural heritage has been destroyed to facilitate the expansion and modernization of the city with luxury five-star hotels, skyscrapers and shopping malls. On the edge of the Grand Mosque, the house of Khadija, the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad (May Peace Be Upon Him), was demolished for public toilets. The grave of his mother Amina bint Wahb was bulldozed and gasoline poured over it. The house of the Prophet’s companion Abu Bakr is now the Hilton Hotel. The house of the Prophet’s grandson Ali-Oraid and the Mosque of Abu-Qubais is now the location of the King's palace in Makkah. The Ottoman era Ajyad Fortress was dynamited to build a skyscraper. Some clerics want the Mountain of Light, where the Prophet received the first verses of the Qur'an, demolished. There are plans to destroy the Grand Mosque's Ottoman columns that contain the names of the Prophet's companions. The Islamic Heritage Foundation fears for the house the Prophet was born in and the Ottoman and Abbasi sections of the Grand Mosque.

Why is it that the cultural heritage of these cities which have a spiritual and material significance, as they have a direct link to the Prophet himself, are being annihilated? First and foremost, Wahhabism, the Kingdom's fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, prohibits idolatry. This means that the cultural heritage associated with the Prophet, such as those mentioned above, encourage shirq, the worship of false or many gods, shrines and tomb visitations. (According to the Qur'an, verse 9.5, blasphemy is punishable by death: 'kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush'.) Secondly, some argue it is greed and opulence. The King Abdul-Aziz Endowment Project funded the $533 million Abraj al Bait Towers, the second tallest building in the world in 2012. These towers were built on the aforementioned Ajyad Fortress. They house the Makkah Clock Royal Tower, a 29-story Fairmont Hotel with 858 rooms renting for a minimum rate of $200 per night. Turkey protested the demolition of the fortress as cultural erasure. The Project planned to reconstruct it in the same traditional way as it was first built in the same location. This is not possible as the entire fortress was destroyed and the hotel now sits in its place. Today, eleven years on, there is no indication of it being rebuilt.

According to Mai Yamani, author of The Cradle of Islam: The Jijaz and the Quest for Identity in Saudi Arabia (London: I. B. Tauris, 2009) told The Independent, "what is alarming about this, is that the world doesn't question the Al-Sauds' custodianship of Islam's two holy places. These are the sites that are of such importance to over one billion Muslims and yet their destruction is being ignored... when the Prophet was insulted by Danish cartoonists thousands of people went into the streets to protest. The sites related to the Prophet are part of their heritage and religion but we see no concern from Muslims."
Why is this? With the exception of Turkey and Iran, many Islamic countries fear that any critical statement toward Saudi Arabia and its policies would reduce the number of its citizens' annual pilgrimage visas. Many locals are wary of what they say or are indifferent to the matter. Why the lack of concern from non-Muslims? Is it because they are not allowed visit these holy cities and have therefore never seen any of these sites? Maybe the international arena is not aware of the extent of the destruction due to the Kingdom's closely regulated press. These devastating events have been occurring over the past two decades yet have only gained recognition the past three years. What is left of early Islamic heritage needs to be saved and preserved. The monarchy and relevant ministries and authorities should act swiftly in finding a balance between cultural heritage and the expansion of Makkah and Medina.

Christiana O'Connell-Schizas, a solicitor, lived in Saudia Arabia for 18 years and returns frequently to visit.

August 15, 2013

Postcard from Istanbul: Sultanahmet Archaeology Park (Sultanahmet Arkeolojik Parki)

Sign for Sultanahmet Archaeology Park
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Across from the Haghia Sophia Museum and the Mausoleums of the Sultans is the Sultanahmet Archaeology Park, a fenced off area under excavation and part of the overall plan to preserve Istanbul's historical area as a World Heritage Site. In case you're curious (as I was) and can't walk over to the sign yourself (as I did), here's what the sign says and this is what you will see if you peer behind the fence:

"The lot is situated in one of the oldest and most renowned settlements of Istanbul. The perimeter of the area is closed off due to security reasons. 

"There is little information available on the city’s geographical position during Antiquity. However, it is known that the city entered PERSIAN rule in 512 BC, become part of ROME in 146 BC, and was eventually declared as the second capital of the Roman Empire by Constantine I in 330.

'The lot included the initial structures of the GREAT PALACE (Palatium Magnum), whose construction began during the reign of Constantine I. Between the 4th and 11th centuries, the palace continued to expand, spreading across nearly 100,000 square meters. It was burnt down, demolished and ransacked during the LATIN INVASION (1202-1261).

"Following the Ottoman conquest of the city, various wooden dwellings were constructed on the lot and its environs. The largest structure built upon the property during the Ottoman period was the Darülfünun (University) building.

"Commissioned by Sultan Abdülmecit in 1846, Darülfünun was designed and built by Swiss architects Gaspare and Guiseppe Fossati.

Excavation site (Sultanhamet)
"The Building was completed in 1863 and was later used as a hospital for French soldiers during the Crimean War in 1877, it was reopened as MECLIS-I MEBUSAN (Ottoman Parliament). In the ensuing years, it was allocated to the Ministeries of Treasury, Mortmain Estates and Justice, was eventually converted into ADLIYE SARAYI (Palace of Justice). 

"The entire building burned down in December 1933. Initiated in 1997 by the Istanbul Directorate of Archaeology, ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXCAVATIONS are currently in progress on the 17,000 square-meter lot.

"In the course of excavations, apart from remains of ROMAN, BYZANTINE and OTTOMAN structures, MOVABLE CULTURAL ASSETS such as the BYZANTINE BATH RUINS are cleaned, reinforced and reconstructed in part, to be preserved in situ. These cultural and historic assets are also protected against natural hazards.

"Apart from the works in progress with respect to the site’s function as an Archaeological Park and Museum, a Hotel Annex construction is presently underway in the area. The project of the Hotel Annex has been approved by the Istanbul NATURAL ASSET and CULTURAL HERITAGE BOARD. "

August 14, 2013

Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - ,, No comments

Boarded up Banksy art at La Brea and Beverly in LA to be sold at auction (NYT)

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

For years, this gas station located on the northwest corner of La Brea and Beverly covered up an artwork believed to have been painted by the street artist Banksy. Now, this work is scheduled to be sold at Julien's Auctions in Beverly Hills in December, Melena Ryzik reports in "Another Banksy Mural to Go from Wall to Auction" for The New York Times.

Here's an ARCA blog post we did in September 2012 on the gas station and its locale -- and you might be able to identify a second piece of artwork at the same gas station that has remained available to the public.

A second piece of street art at La Brea and Beverly 
Here's an ARCA blog post in 2011 that shows photos of the same gas station and an adjoining pink wall which is regularly scrubbed of street art. The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Little Toyko in Los Angeles exhibited on street art and graffiti in the same year.

November 7, 2012

Lawyer's Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation Conference Opens Tomorrow: "From Plunder to Preservation: The Untold Story of Cultural Heritage, World War II, and the Pacific"

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

The Lawyer’s Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation is opening its annual conference in Washington DC on Thursday, “From Plunder to Preservation: The Untold Story of Cultural Heritage, World War II, and the Pacific.” Here are links to information about the conference and its program. Here’s a link to the conference program: Panels include The Destruction and Plunder of Cultural Heritage in the Pacific War: A Silent Legacy; Old Records: New Possibilities, and The Legal Framework for Preserving the Pacific’s World War II-Era Past.

Thomas R. Kline, Of Counsel with the law firm of Andrews Kurth, volunteered on behalf of LCCHP to speak about the conference.  Mr. Kline began his work in the recovery of stolen art and cultural property in 1989 when he represented the Autocephalous Greek-Orthodox Church of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus in litigation against an art dealer in Indianapolis that led to the recovery of Byzantine mosaics that had been stolen from a Church in the Turkish-occupied area of Cyprus.

“We thought no one had done a conference on cultural property stolen during World War II in the Pacific,” Mr. Kline said via telephone from his office in Washington DC where he has practiced for 35 years. “When we tried to find people knowledgeable about losses and restitution in the Pacific arena, it was very difficult to identify such experts.”

Mr. Kline is moderator of the panel on Old Records: New Possibilities:
The National Archives here in Washington contain some historical American records and translations of captured Japanese records. Records on wartime and occupation looting in the Pacific Theatre parallel the European records, but the records on events in Europe have been closely studied and due to the interest in Holocaust-related events. Archives on looting in the Pacific have been largely untouched, but we will have as speakers the people with the most knowledge about those records and how they can be put to use by scholars.
Mr. Kline represented the Church of St. Servatii, Quedlinburg, Germany, in recovering world-famous medieval religious treasures stolen in Allied-occupied Germany by an American officer and mailed home to Texas in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Mr. Kline has represented families of Holocaust survivors and heirs of Holocaust victims in recovering art taken by the Nazis during World War II in the systematic looting of art owned by Jews and others.

Old Records: New Possibilities also includes Miriam Kleiman, Public Affairs Specialist for the National Archives and Records Administration; Greg Bradsher, Archivist with the National Archives; and historian Marc Masurovsky.  Mr. Kline explained:
Miriam Kleiman will talk about the history of these archives and how they developed. Greg Bradsher has produced a finding aid for the National Archives and he will discuss the records that exist and how his finding aid can be used.  Marc Masurovsky will discuss the history of losses and restitution in the Pacific.
Mr. Kline discussed the example of Okinawa, one of the outer Japanese islands.
Okinawa was devastated in one of the worst battles of the war, on the level of Stalingrad.  Whatever wasn’t destroyed was stolen later. Japanese soldiers are believed to have looted throughout the Pacific theatre that stretched all the way to India. The scope of Allied looting in Asia/Pacific region is not well understood. Recently an auction in Michigan attempted to sell 125 objects that shared the same provenance – that of an American sergeant who claimed that the pieces had been a gift to him after the Korean War. Fortunately the art market is getting more knowledgeable and more careful and these events are more commonly identified, followed up and referred to Homeland Security.
Mr. Kline mentioned that wartime and military occupation, beyond the loss of life and human suffering, raises many issues for the victor and the vanquished concerning the fate of culturally significant objects and sites.

"Stolen objects may remain concealed for decades in private collections or be donated or sold to a museum," Mr. Kline said.  "Whether or not the object ends up in a private collection or a museum, theft is theft and the ownership of such objects must be considered.”

October 22, 2012

The CHAPS Conference: A Personal Perspective on Preservation of Cultural Landscapes

by Kaitlin King Murphy, ARCA Alum 2011

The CHAPS conference ("Cultural Landscapes: Preservation Challenges in the 21st Century, October 12-14, 2011, Rutger's University) allowed me to see a new dimension of cultural heritage preservation and protection.  Landscapes themselves are tangible but as we heard from the presenters, there is a spiritual dimension that is lost to a Westernized mindset.  In celebrating the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention of UNESCO, I was pleased to learn about other cultures and what they have been doing behind the scenes for years in terms of preserving and protecting their lands.  These voices truly provided important perspectives on what we can do both locally and internationally to move forward in sharing the natural landscape.

In the news, we hear about war torn countries and their cultural losses within their landscapes which include geographical territories, sacred burial grounds, statues and other art works. Closer to home in the US, we have our own deep cultural history that has been firmly rooted in our terrain that is lost to development, environmental forces, and general lack of understanding.  From Pueblos to Olmsted planned gardens, we have our own struggles in how to preserve, re-discover, and protect our heritage.  We are fortunate because there are public and non-profit organizations dedicated to these sites as money is allotted and raised for such endeavors.  The challenge is in how to work together to establish and reach goals to continue with our combined traditions.

The conference was a great platform for the collaboration of efforts and helped me understand the importance of cultural landscapes through a non-Westernized perspective.  Thinking in this way was a bit of a deviation from my usual, show up at a world class museum and apply a Western interpretation to the history to the art works.  The landscapes are the museums, living museums.  While I don't practice the traditions of the other cultural groups, I can appreciate their pride, thankfulness, and dedication to their cultural preservation. 

The way in how we use and interpret our land is an art form across the world.

July 16, 2012

Reflections on a field trip to Narni

by Sally Johnson, Yale University 2012

It seems a wonder that day-to-day modern life continues amidst the historical architecture and culture of Narni. Layers of history are evident along every street: from buildings dating back several centuries to residences assembled from the remnants of older structures to modern Gelateria. While the historic sites—especially the churches—were striking, what was most inspiring was the mere fact that present day-to-day life thrives in the town while still maintaining enormous respect for the past.

From my experience, it seems that Narni preserves its cultural heritage by creating an easily accessible while simultaneously well-secured sightseeing district. Present-day town life itself takes place within the historic center; modern shops and restaurants line the cobbled piazza, citizens walk the pathways, and cars zoom down the streets. Children even play on the playground built along the ancient wall! At the same time, the town also houses a historic museum showcasing its treasures, and amidst the hustle and bustle (or shuttered quiet of siesta) one can descend underground for a tour of the chambers utilized by the Spanish Inquisition.

Narni takes advantage of the tourist industry, revenue from which can further aid in the protection of the sites and ensure its preservation for the future, while at the same time open up the rich history of the town to the public. From my day-trip experience, it seems that this can be a feasible and productive way to both protect and engage with cultural heritage.

May 24, 2012

Sustainable Preservation Initiative (Part two)

Larry Coben and Dr. Jaime Castillo with a local dance troupe
dressed in Moche costumes celebrating the opening
of the new artisan training and tourist center.
by Rebekah Junkermeier, Guest contributor

Continued from May 22.

Coben’s Sustainable Preservation Initiative attacks the problem of looting and decay in a completely new way, one he’s dubbed “People Not Stones.” Instead of focusing on the cultural heritage, SPI focuses on the local community. By investing in locally-created and -run businesses whose financial success is tied to the preservation of the site, SPI provides viable and sustainable economic alternatives to looting for the community.

A grand idea—but does it actually work? As it turns out, yes. Case in point, SPI’s first project at San Jose de Moro, an ancient cemetery and ritual center of the Moche, an ancient civilization that flourished in northern Peru from 100 to 800 AD. Head of SPI’s initiative at San Jose de Moro is Dr. Luis Jaime Castillo, Professor of Archaeology at Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru.  Dr. Castillo began excavating San Jose de Moro in 1991, uncovering the tombs of ancient Moche priestesses in the process.  but while the cultural heritage of San Jose de Moro is rich, the surrounding community is a poor one.  Unable to meet their basic needs, local residents often looted the archaeological site.

"For years we were making little contributions to the towns, schools, and to some pressing need, but we could never focus on a long term and sustainable effort," said Dr. Castillo in response to questions about community development in an email.

Upon meeting Coben at an archaeological conference, both saw the potential of an SPI project at the site.  With an SPI grant, local residents constructed a new artisan center, where local artisans are trained and create replicas of the famous MOche fine-line ceramics.  Adjoining is a new visitor center, where the ceramics are sold and where local residents, primarily local high school students, are trained as guides of the site.  Proper signs have been erected to direct tourists and explain the site.  Community members and Peruvian archaeologists have prepared a guidebook and brochure.

"Until now," Professor Castillo wrote, "the SPI program has transformed directly the livs of 20 people that work directly with the project producing ceramics or metal, of 30 others that work in the archaeological excavations, and by extension their families and relatives."

In just one year, the project has achieved economic sustainability and viability.  As a result, looting at the site has come to a halt.

With such success at San Jose de Moro, there's been an outpouring of requests for similar programs at other sites.  One of these is Pampas Gramalote in Huanchaco, Peru, site of SPI's latest initiative.  With a relatively small investment, SPI plans to create jobs and attain similar results at this ancient and modern fishing village, where archaeologists recently discovered a massive child sacrifice recently reported in National Geographic.

Young students at the artisan cent
"People can't eat their history," Coben writes.  "We need to provide an alternative to other potential uses of archaeological sites.  That enables us to help people better their lives and gives them a powerful economic incentive to preserve our shared heritage."

This is exactly what Sustainable Preservation Initiative is doing; not only stopping looting and decay, but, more importantly, transforming lives along the way.

You can follow Sustainable Preservation Initiative on Facebook and Twitter.

May 22, 2012

Sustainable Preservation Initiative (Part one)

Incallajta, the ancient Incan site in central Bolivia
by Rebekah Junkermeier, Guest contributor

Looting, growing crops, grazing cattle, and playing soccer. What do all these things have in common? They’re all destructive forces contributing to the decay of ancient cultural heritage sites (yes, even soccer). While ancient ruins are just that—ancient—often destruction comes as a result of actions beyond just the passage of time, particularly in remote and impoverished areas. In an attempt to provide themselves and their family with the essentials, residents of a poor, local community will often loot the site or use it for other purposes, accelerating the damage.

“About 75 miles east of Cochabamba, Bolivia, which is the third largest city there, Incallajta is truly in the middle of nowhere,” says Larry Coben, University of Pennsylvania archaeologist and founder and CEO of the Sustainable Preservation Initiative, describing the ancient Incan site in central Bolivia. While leading excavations at this endangered archaeological site, Coben saw looting and other destructive practices first-hand: “I would talk to the community time and time again about not growing crops on this site and not grazing cattle at this site, not playing soccer at this site and I was not able to stop them,” Coben recounts in a recent interview with, a website that features top thinkers and doers from around the globe.

Out of desperation, Coben bought a gate for $50 and put it up five miles away from the site in consultation with the local community. “I said to the community if a Bolivian comes through, charge them nothing, but if a foreigner comes, charge them $10.” In an area where the per capita income was roughly $100 per year, the residents didn’t believe him. Who would pay $10 to look at these rocks? “But I knew that a tourist who had rented a guide and a taxicab or a car and had driven almost 3 hours, would certainly pay $10,” Coben says.

In just the first two weeks, 8 tourists had already visited. “So we actually had a complete return on investment in a week and a half,” says Coben, “I wish I could do that with all of the transactions in which I enter,” he added.  Most importantly, however, the community began to view the archaeological site in a different light. “They stopped growing crops and paid people not to grow crops there. They stopped grazing,” Coben reports. “It became not just an important part of their past and history, which they knew, but this site had relevance to their daily lives, not just intangibly, but tangibly a real economic benefit.” The idea for the Sustainable Preservation Initiative was born.

“I can certainly preserve any archeological site in the world if you give me enough money,” Coben says. “I'll build Fort Knox around it and make sure that no one gets in, but that’s hardly a good risk/reward calculus. I’d be spending a ridiculous amount of money for very little preservation and no community benefit.” Unfortunately, this is still the tactic that most preservation organizations use, building large and expensive museums or visitor centers in an attempt to attract tourism and protect the site from looting and decay. This paradigm, however, repeatedly fails. The museums close, the visitor centers are empty, the site isn't preserved, and looting continues.

This post continues on May 24.