War and conflict lead to chaos and destruction, no doubt about it. But how often, do we associate it to art and artists? It is merely a matter of perspective, or perhaps I should say, narrative.
Art beholds stories. When it changes its appearance, it becomes a sequel to the story before, and a prequel to the story which time will give birth to afterwards.
To stand tall, after everything is in ruins around you is an art itself. To hang on, after withstanding attempted destruction, and watching everything surrounding you ravaged and reduced to rubble, is mastery at the art of survival. So in a way, it can be said that art, which witnesses decimation around it but survives, evolves into an artist.
This very special story will speak of art the world no longer pays heed to. Works of art which grew to become artisans: the architectural wonders of the Middle East and North Africa marred by wars.
This piece is dedicated to those buildings. They may be reduced to a shadow of their former glory, but they still stand tall. To those who stand, as witnesses to the legacy of the cities turned to ashes. To those who declared that standing they shall remain, as a reminder of those beautiful flourishing cities, and as symbols of our pride. Standing they shall remain, as a reminder of where we came from, and of what we lost.
Falasteen: forget the art and cultural heritage, even blood is cheap. Despite a brutal occupation, the remnants of some architectural artworks remain, as symbols of the ruthlessness.
The Great Mosque of Gaza
The Great Omari Mosque tells the story of Gaza’s civilisation and cultural history as it is believed to stand on the site of a former Philistine temple and a later 5th Century Byzantine church. It has acted as an important landmark ever since it was built.
Gaza’s second oldest mosque was also reduced to ruins. It was destroyed in Hayy Al-Najjarin in Al-Zaytun Quarter in Gaza’s Old City. It was built 700 years ago, in 1315, by the Mamluk Governor.
Reportedly, over two-thirds of Gaza’s mosques have been bombed, many of which were entirely razed to the ground.
A fine example of Mamluk architecture located off the main Baghdad Street, of which now only a dilapidated frame remains to overlook the neighbourhood of Gaza.
Al-Montar Mosque and tomb
The centuries-old mosque saw the rise and fall of many empires, but only its frame survived Israeli occupation.
The mosque was built 1,365 years ago during the rule of the Muslim leader Amr Ibn Al-’As and was named after him. It is also called. Now, the lone minaret stands as a witness to Gaza’s murder.
Orthodox Church of St Porphyrius
The oldest church in Gaza, dating to the 1150s, in Al-Zaytun Quarter of the Old City, is now home to displaced women and children. It is no longer a safe haven. Israeli airstrikes have riddled the walls with shrapnel and damaged graves.
Gaza Baptist Church
It received significant damage from the shelling of a police station nearby.
Gaza Catholic Church
Damaged by missiles, the lonely church lives on without it’s Parish members, as they left the strip.
From a graceful old town to a tarnished beauty, old city Nablus has lost its lustre but remains as a symbol of hope of good times to come.
An ancient city in the Nineveh Governorate of present-day Iraq, it lies 290 km northwest of Baghdad. Hatra was a strongly fortified caravan city and capital of the small Kingdom of Hatra, located between the Roman and Parthian/Persian empires.
Nimrud is an ancient Assyrian city located 30 kilometres south of the city of Mosul, and 5 kilometres south of the village of Selamiyah, in the Nineveh plains in Upper Mesopotamia.
Amongst other atrocities, Nimrud too remained brave in the face of attacks from the ISIL.
The ruined ruins are now a symbol of heartbreak and resilience.
An ancient city mentioned both, in the Bible and the Quran, was destroyed in 612 BCE by a coalition led by Babylonians and Medes which toppled the Assyrian Empire.
As a heritage site, it’s gates and walls stood proudly till the past two decades of war.
Bash Tapia Castle
Built back in the 12th century, it was one of seven castles within the city walls of Mosul. The sections you see standing today are those which braved many wars, from the Ottoman-Persian war to Daesh.
Dair Mair Elia
Elijah or Greek form Elias was, according to the Books of Kings in the Hebrew Bible, a prophet and a miracle worker who lived in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Ahab. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah defended the worship of the Hebrew God over that of the Canaanite deity Baal.
His monastery stood in present-day Iraq, still revered by local Christians. The US military carelessly converted it into a military base. Either because of poor military planning, and lack of awareness of its historical importance, or because they were aware, just not bothered enough to protect landmarks in a country they invaded on the pretext of protecting, who knows. Later, ISIL heartlessly blew it up, on accounts of being “un-Islamic”.
The site of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon was converted into “Camp Alpha” shortly after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. Another incidence of recklessness by invading forces.
The Mosque and Tomb of Nabi Hazrat Younus (The Prophet Jonah)
The tomb of Nabi Hazrat Jirjis (Prophet George)
Shrine of al-Imam Yahya ibn al-Qasim
He was the eighth Idrisid ruler and Sultan of Morocco.
The ‘Askariyya Shrine and mosque in Samarra was built in 944. It was an important Ziarat for Shi’ite Muslims.
The Great Mosque of Mosul
The Tomb of the Girl, a beautiful girl of legend who died of a broken heart.
Great Mosque of al-Nuri
Through nine centuries, the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, was synonymous with Mosul. It’s destruction was big news, and sent people into a conundrum of emotions. ISIL was losing their hold in Mosul, desperate for a show of anger, they left al-Nuri in ruins. Happy to be rid of the IS, the city was left bleeding profusely and heartbroken at the losses it beared, making it rather bittersweet.
Arba’een Wali Mosque
Many other sites, including mosques, shrines, and statues were razed to the ground. But this piece is about the who survived, even if they barely made it.
Yemen, rich in its culture, had several cities listed as UNESCO heritage sites. Inhabited cities, so old that the inhabitants were practically living in an open-air museum!
One can rebuild a fortress or a mosque, but to rebuild a cultural landscape is impossible. We can only hope that the military stalemate ends soon, and the Yemeni’s begin to work to rebuild a country which was a piece of art.
Sira Fortress, Aden
“Amiriya” in Radaa
A beauty indeed, it won the Agha Khan Medal for restoration and came back to life.
The “Manhattan of the Desert” is braving twin evils: neglect and war. For how long will the mudbricks of the city have to hold on in despair?
From a castle to a rebel ammunition store, the walls of the castle stand firm.
Another ancient city in Yemen, which weeps at what it has seen.
The artsy castle, which switched hands as a stronghold in ensuing civil war, and later met its tragic fate. It’s remains still overlook the city, mourning those lost.
I cannot bring myself to talk about what is left of San’aa, for it breaks my heart. See it for yourself.
If San’aa is Yemen’s heart, Taiz is its soul. Taiz deserves an ode. Like the mother who holds the world together for her children, Taiz struggles on. Its former colours might have faded away, but they’re still there, wheezing, and hoping.
Formerly the country’s cultural capital, it is now known as the “City of Snipers”.
Damishq and Halep may be wearing their battle scars with pride, but seeing them breaks my heart.
Great Mosque of Aleppo
Hamam El Nahasin, a historic public bath in the Old City of Aleppo
The Souq of Aleppo
The large medieval fortified palace, in the centre of the old city of Aleppo, northern Syria is one of the oldest and largest castles in the world. It walls have seen life since the middle of the 3rd millennium BC, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited places today. The bricks of it’s walls hold within them the Temple of the Storm God, memories of the Sassian Persian military setting fire to everything they encompassed, Ayubid baths, and Ottoman barracks. It has been partially reopened to public as of now, but it’s great iron doors and entrance will not be here to witness the end of the Syrian Civil War.
The entrance to Souq Al-Zarab
To what has been lost, and to what still remains…
Crac des Chevaliers Fortress
Tomb of Hujr Ibn Adi
The country has been in the news for all the wrong reasons for nearly a decade now. Little do people know that the North African country comprises three historical regions. With Tripolitania in the northwest, Cyrenaica in the east, and Fezzan in the southwest, these were first ruled by Ottoman authorities recognized them as separate provinces. Under Italian rule, they were unified to form a single colony, which gave way to independent Libya. For much of Libya’s early history, both Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were more closely linked with neighbouring territories than with one other. Ravaged by civil war, much of its cultural heritage is at great risk of destruction.
Also known as Fort Elena, or Fortezza Margherita, it is found on the back of 10 Dinar notes in the country. Missile clashes in the city severely damaged the walls of the fort. However, the wonder of art still stands, wondering why the same people who used to cherish it, ended up hurting it so bad.
The Ottoman-Era mosque was vandalized brutally. A group of gunmen stormed the mosque in Tripoli, removing ceramic tiles, marble decorations and severely damaging the floor. Days later, the UN agency noted, the historic Othman Pasha Madrassa was damaged and looted while another attempt to vandalize the Darghout Mosque was thwarted by local volunteers.
Shrines and Cemeteries
In battles for territory, over sectarianism, cultural heritage wept. Many Sufi shrines were attacked in what seemed like coordinated waves across the country.
Forget the living, even the dead were not spared in Benghazi.
Jamal Pasha Street
The historic marketplace bears witness to how things went wrong.
The heart of the city, still intact, but I wonder if this art misses those who used to come to appreciate its colours. I wonder if it hears the fighting on the outskirts of the city. I wonder if it mourns those who used to come to pay a visit but now float as ghosts.
The bombs took away over a hundred and fifty lives, but the house of worship was meant to stay. The structure of the Saad Bin Obadah Mosque will stay, and remind people of a Libya two decades ago, and of the bloodiest time in Libya’s history.
Libya’s ancient cities face multiple threats: extremist groups, airstrikes, and a dysfunctional government. Apart from that, libraries, archives, museums, and Ottoman Era Mosques are witnessing attacks and imminent danger as the civil war continues.
I conclude my piece here.
“To those who stand, as witnesses to the legacy of the cities turned to ashes. To those who declared that standing they shall remain, as a reminder of those beautiful flourishing cities, and as symbols of our pride. Standing they shall remain, as a reminder of where we came from, and of what we lost.”
This story is dedicated to the places my heart goes out to, and of course, to the people of Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. May God bless you all.