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Jeddah's historical sites in the old city to get UNESCO care
By Diana Marwan Al-Jassem
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 04 - 01 - 2010

Visitors and tourists alike used to wonder why sites in Al-Balad - or the old city - were not better preserved as they allowed Jeddah to boast of its ancient roots through their heritage. The neglect was evident in the crooked, tilting buildings, crumbling walls, rickety windows, doors and balustrades offering quite a depressing sight.
During the past fifty years Jeddah has lost 600 of its traditional houses and buildings because of this neglect and fire has devastated some of the remaining ones. Indeed, only a handful of them remain such as the Naseef House, Imam Al-Shafei Mosque, the water cisterns, Bab Makkah area, and districts like Al-Mathloom, and Al-Sham alleyway.
These sites will not face anymore neglect, announced Muhammed Al-Amri, Executive Manager of Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiques (SCTA), who spoke to Saudi Gazette exclusively about its cooperation with Jeddah municipality to develop and preserve these historical sites and prepare them for adoption by UNESCO. This will ensure that they become some of the most important tourist sites in the Kingdom.
“The responsibility for the historical city's restoration has been given to both the Jeddah Municipality and the SCTA; both of them have defined their requirements and decided the future steps needed to improve the whole situation,” said Al-Amri.
Another issue that needs urgent attention is the impact of fire on some of the buildings. Jeddah Municipality and the SCTA are conducting a joint study on that and on developing a huge investment project to convert Al-Balad into a UNESCO site.
“Jeddah Municipality and SCTA have divided the responsibility into two parts; the first involves preparing a document of the plans that will be implemented and drawing up a special management team for the project while the second involves measures taken by Jeddah Municipality to ensure safety of the heritage sites from calamities like flood and fire,” explained Al-Amri.
“The municipality has confessed its mistakes during the past few decades.”
Al-Amri also spoke of preserving the existing traditional antiques in the area. “These antiques were under the supervision of the Ministry of Education for a long time and now their responsibility has fallen to the SCTA,” he stated. “We have less than one year to receive the responsibility of the division. In addition, we are required to provide our help, support and advice to the Jeddah Municipality.”
Prince Sultan Bin Salman has already approved several of the plans presented by the SCTA and approved by Jeddah's Mayor Adel Fakieh.
“I personally believe that the best solution is the change the ownership of these old buildings in Al-Balad from the original owners to the Jeddah Municipality,” said Al-Amri. “The municipality has only been able to purchase four buildings as of yet, but these are not enough and certainly not significant considering the entire area of Al-Balad.”
The SCTA has presented several of its requirement on the restoration and preservation of sites in Al-Balad to the municipality.
“These requirements include the rehabilitation of paths inside the area; an increased number of information centers; the transformation of some buildings into hotels, museums, presentation centers; the rehabilitation of dilapidated buildings, sustained regulation of all electrical connections and systems to prevent fire and restoration of berths which were destroyed some time ago. - SG
Photo Credits: SG photos by Mohammed Mazhar Siddiqui __


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