Protecting the Middle East’s Architectural Heritage

Nick Ames looks at ways the Middle East is conserving the architecture of the past for future generations to admire and learn from

Moves are underway across the Middle East to protect and celebrate the area’s unique architectural heritage – from prehistoric ruins to city centres.

Historically important sites across the UAE are currently under the spotlight as United Nations officials and local archaeologists work to preserve them for future generations, while plans are underway to celebrate the legacy of old Doha – but with a 21st century slant.

Meanwhile, a national campaign is calling for Lebanon’s traditional buildings to be preserved and Turkey wants to reconstruct lost and forgotten mosques.

Across the emirates are some of the most important examples of lives lived before the birth of recorded history – vital for those who wish to understand the very origins of humanity’s moves from a hunter-gatherer existence to farming and town dwelling.

Homes, tombs, forts, temples, irrigation systems and gardens are all among the legacy left to the 21st century from builders and engineers of previous centuries.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has recognised the value of four cultural sites in the Al Ain area of Abu Dhabi, including Hafeet, Hili, Bida Bint Saud and six date palm oases, by enlisting them in the World Heritage List.

Experts say Al Ain has a unique archaeological status. A UNESCO spokesperson said: “Al Ain constitutes a serial property that testifies to sedentary human occupation of a desert region since the Neolithic period with vestiges of many prehistoric cultures.”

And a total of six more UAE sites are on its “possible” list including Dubai Creek, Al Bidya Mosque in Fujairah, the structures at Ed Dur in Umm Al Quwain, the buildings and cemetery of Umm Al Nar Island in Abu Dhabi, Sir Bu Nair Island in Sharjah, and the “cultural landscape” of the central region of Sharjah.

These historic areas are currently protected by the authorities who now are bidding to win international recognition to ratify the work.

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