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Al-Manara Square: Monumental Architecture and Power

Contributed by Jerusalem Quarterly on 19.12.2007:

Adania Shibli

Jerusalem Quarterly

Issue 26

Spring 2006

This essay addresses one of Palestine’s renowned public spaces, Ramallah’s al-Manara Square. It examines the role of the square in developing the spatial practices of Ramallah area inhabitants, including visitors from neighbouring villages and cities. Moreover, it seeks to analyze the various dimensions of al-Manara’s role in the organization of Ramallah society and the definition of various social groups in relation to each other.

Architecture as Social Design

Individuals often view their spatial surrounding as if they are ‘natural’, and therein lies the power of architectural design–unquestioned surroundings. In his article, “The Eye of Power”, Michel Foucault re-examines the role of architecture since the late eighteenth century in orchestrating society and its various social relationships. Previously, most architectural designs were devoted to producing symbols and representations of power, such as castles, churches, and statues of kings and priests. With the dawn of the industrial revolution, and resulting transformations within the social, political, economic and religious spheres, the need arose to utilize public space for the control of people. Thus architecture began to be regarded by the powerful as a technique for regulating individuals, rather than merely as a means of representing authority or aesthetic considerations.

This shift in the role of architecture evolved following changes in the meaning of power. In general, power, after the Industrial Revolution, ceased to be viewed as the possession of one individual or a group. Rather, it began to be regarded as responsible for the production and reproduction of individuals and groups through a complex chain of power relationships in any given society.1 In other words, power began to be viewed as functioning in all directions, not only from top to bottom. Accordingly, architecture and urban planning developed, fusing material elements, in an attempt to orchestrate the daily movements and spatial practices of individuals.2

As these transformations took place in post-industrial European cities, flickers of change began to appear upon a dirt road linking two small villages located in central Palestine, a road used mainly by shepherds and their herds. Two centuries later, this road would become al-Manara Square, one of Palestine’s most important public spaces.

The first section of this essay will examine the major historic events and transformations in Ramallah area, which affected the status of that road. The second section will analyze the various roles al-Manara played in successive periods, under different power groups. The analysis in this section will rely on a number of critical approaches that address the relationship between power and public space, as well as the role of architectural design and social consciousness. The third and final section of this essay will describe, using urban architectural contexts, the threads that define and design pedestrians’ movement as they pass al-Manara Square.

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