The Ottoman-built walls of Jerusalem's Old City enclose a unique square kilometer of winding cobblestone alleyways, colorful bazaars, churches, mosques, synagogues and shrines. The historic enclave-designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1981-is also home to more than 30,000 Muslims, Christians and Jews.
Due to age, neglect, war and occupation, many of the ancient structures have deteriorated, and the Old City is in danger of losing some of its priceless heritage. The Old City of Jerusalem Revitalization Program (OCJRP), established in 1994 by the Welfare Association (WA), is tackling this problem by restoring, preserving, and protecting the architectural legacy of the Old City. At the same time, OCJRP's team of architects, urban planners, engineers and archaeologists consider the daily needs and quality of life of the city's diverse inhabitants. The Geneva-based WA, a private, nonprofit foundation, was founded in 1983 to provide Palestinians sustainable development. The organization works closely with the Department of Islamic Waqf, which administers many buildings in the Old City, as well as the Haram alSharif, an area of some 35 acresone-sixth of the Old City-and the site of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque.
Through primary funding from the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the OCJRP has restored several buildings in the Old City. For its efforts, it was named one of seven recipients of the 2004 Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
In June, this reporter and her photographer husband toured several restored structures, and others not yet completed, with OCJRP architects Dima Abu al-Saud and Bashar Husseini.
Husseini explained the process involved in restoring the buildings, beginning with historical research and followed by detailed physical surveys to establish the priorities of the projects. Finally, implementation of the plan begins, adhering to international laws of restoration, Husseini stressed. Only old materials, such as lime, for example, instead of more cheaply priced plaster, are used for restoration, the architect said, in order to simulate the original building components. New materials, he explained, could damage the buildings.
The largest and most spectacular of the OCJPR's award-winning projects was the restoration of the 600-year-old Dar alAytarn al-Islamiyya. The former Mamluk palace and pilgrim hostel, which also bears early Ottoman period additions, now houses an academic school, vocational workshops, dormitory and offices. …