Back to overview

Protecting Historic Town and Village Centres

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 25.02.2006:

By Farhat Muhawi

This Week in Palestine

October 2005

There are more than 422 historic centres found in cities, towns and villages in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Those historic centres, and according to Riwaq’s Registry of Historic Buildings in Palestine, contain approximately 50,230 historic buildings. The preparation of protection and development plans for this huge number of historical sites and buildings is a tremendous burden on the official heritage department that would be in charge of this task.

The existing cultural heritage risks destruction due to many factors such as urban sprawl, the scarcity of land in area A (under Palestinian control), the lack of laws that protect architectural heritage in Palestine, as well as the need for efficient cultural heritage bodies. Furthermore, cultural heritage is not yet on the national agenda; it is still seen as a liability rather than an economic and social development factor.

It is worth mentioning at this stage that the built-up cultural heritage in Palestine occupies 1% of the inhabited areas (areas of the master plan) in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and around 0.01% of the total land area. This minute area of land is considered Palestine’s genuine treasure and therefore should be protected for the generations to come.

While preparing master plans for the towns and villages in Palestine is the duty of the local government and the relevant municipalities, old cores of those sites are always excluded from these plans. Ever since the British Mandate, old cores have been called “out-of-land settlement areas” because of the complicated ownership and border problems; therefore, no plans or by-laws have ever been customized for these areas.

Pending the final ratification of the proposed Law for Cultural Heritage Protection in Palestine and the creation of a heritage department, we at Riwaq decided to go ahead and begin putting together plans for the protection and development of culturally significant historical sites, on the basis of laws currently in place, particularly the law regulating urban planning (Planning and Zoning Law 1966, # 79).

The main objective of preparing protection plans is to identify, classify and delineate the borders of historic town and village centres, and to propose by-laws for protecting those centres. It also aims at forming partnerships with the Ministry of Local Government and the concerned municipalities and village councils, and empowering local governments and communities on issues related to the protection, management and enhancement of cultural heritage.

The preparation of a protection plan includes, firstly, reviewing, updating and analyzing the available literature, documents and plans (maps) concerning architectural heritage. The second step is classifying historic buildings and identifying the significance of historic centres, historic buildings and monuments. The final step involves consolidating a protection plan that includes defining the borders of historic centres, grouping historic buildings and monuments, and proposing by-laws for their protection, based on their significance. The team responsible for the preparation of protection plans consists of experts in the various fields of cultural heritage, including architects, archaeologists and naturalists, as well as experts in urban planning, experts from Riwaq’s Registry of Historical Buildings, and a field researcher.

Riwaq has put together a number of protection and rehabilitation plans starting in 1997. Those are the rehabilitation and revitalization of the old city of Ramallah (1997–999) in cooperation with the Municipality of Ramallah; the rehabilitation and conservation plan of the old city of Hebron (1999 – 2003) in cooperation with the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee; the beautification of the old city of Bethlehem (2001) in partnership with Khoury Architects; and the protection and rehabilitation plan of the historic centre of Betunia in close coordination with the Municipality of Betunia.

The planning unit is currently involved in preparing protection plans for six sites a year, for the duration of three years (2005-2007). Plans are under-way for the historic centres of Deir Ghassana, Deir Estia and Birzeit. The next step of the project involves the approval of those plans by the concerned municipalities and village council, in order to present them for final ratification by the relevant planning authorities.

Farhat Muhawi is the Head of the Planning Unit at Riwaq – Centre for Architectural Conservation.

There are no comments. Add one!