Sign In / Up

Add contribution as a guest

Your email will not be displayed publicly
Benefit of signing in/signing up to personalize comment

Comment as a guest

Your email will not be displayed publicly
Benefit of signing in/signing up to personalize comment

Login

Not a member Register   Forgot Password
or connect using
 

Email

 

Rudaw

People & Places

In 'city of shanasheel', Iraqi heritage crumbles from budgetary neglect

By AFP 27/3/2018
An Iraqi man walks in the courtyard of an old building with traditional
An Iraqi man walks in the courtyard of an old building with traditional "shanasheel", finely crafted bay windows complete with intricate wooden latticework and ornate stained glass which allow inhabitants to see outside without being seen, in the southern city of Basra on December 18, 2017. Photo: Haidar Mohammed Ali | AFP
by Karim Jameel

 

BASRA, Iraq —  As a child, Adnan Khalaf used to marvel at the Iraqi city of Basra's "shanasheel", finely crafted bay windows complete with intricate wooden latticework and ornate stained glass.

Today, the Iraqi retiree can only watch as the hallmarks of his hometown -- "the city of shanasheel" -- crumble out of neglect.

Authorities in Basra, the capital of Iraq's richest oil province, are struggling to provide the bare minimum of services to its inhabitants, as nepotism and corruption divert lucrative revenues from the black gold.

But the southern port city's "golden age" was not all that long ago. At 71, Khalaf remembers it well.

He can still name the city's wealthy old families — Jewish, Christian and Muslim — who lived behind elaborate shanasheel in traditional homes along canals of Basra's Old City.

"But the city has been neglected, rubbish has been dumped into its waters," said Khalaf. "No one cares about it anymore."

The latticework windows -- also known as mashrabiya -- date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, according to Abdelhaq al-Moudhaffar, head of the city's Palace of Culture and Arts.

They spread to other cities in Iraq, including Baghdad, and across the Levant and to Egypt.

'Dismantling' heritage


When lights are turned on at night inside the traditional homes, inspired by a mix of Indian, Persian and Islamic influences, a patchwork of orange, green, red and blue light is cast from the stained glass windows onto the streets below.

All the houses in the Old City, built by the commercial bourgeoisie and local aristocracy, were once adorned with shanasheel.

The wooden beams, coated with a natural wax to resist water and fire, made for strong homes.

Whenever King Faisal II, the last monarch of Iraq, visited Basra, he would stay with the governor on the river running through the city, now just a trickle of water where waste floats.

But with the fall of the monarchy, Saddam Hussein's rise to power and Iraq's multiple wars, the situation in Basra has slowly but surely deteriorated.

The 2003 US-led invasion was the coup de grace.

"The original inhabitants have gone, others have arrived. I've seen some dismantle the pieces of wood from their houses to sell them," said Khalaf.

The newcomers have "changed the buildings, demolished them and rebuilt them with breeze blocks", said heritage specialist Hashem al-Azzam.

"If there had been a mechanism for the renovations and financing, the shanasheel would still be in good condition," he said.

Of all Basra's traditional buildings and shanasheel -- which allow inhabitants to see outside without being seen -- "today about 400 are left more or less intact", according to Qahtan al-Obeid, head of archaeology and heritage in Basra province.

Where there once stood a Jewish library, a women's steam room and the home of a Kuwaiti sheikh, locals say, all that remains are crumbling walls, wooden beams eaten away by termites and dangerously leaning shanasheel.

Obeid said that decision-makers at the local and national levels were failing to prioritise "heritage preservation" in their budgets.

No budget for heritage


Like elsewhere in Iraq, power cuts in Basra are chronic.

The Old City's walls, where engraved inscriptions still remain, are now covered by webs of electrical wires connected to generators at every corner.

Air conditioners have been installed in holes dug into the weather-worn stone facades.

Some buildings, however, have been restored and now house a handful of cultural institutions, such as the union of visual artists, or centres dedicated to heritage.

In another rare success story, the home of Basra's most famous poet, Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, has also been saved with funding from local authorities.

With the ravages of time, the house had turned into a ruin piled up with rubbish. "Today, all the architecture and wooden ornaments have been redone to the original design," said Obeid.

He said the province's antiquities department had been "there to oversee and provide technical support, but not to fund the renovation because it doesn't have the funds".


3588 Views

Be Part of Your Rudaw!

Share your stories, photos and videos with Rudaw, and quite possibly the world.

What You Say

mehmet | 2/17/2019 7:40:30 PM
The question is where did those air strikes take place in village? no it happened in areas where The pkk is present.There is cause that cause is pkk....
Mohamedzzz | 2/19/2019 7:17:25 AM
Kurds fought on behalf of other powers, now is time to fight for their independence, without the Kurds there can't be peace in the whole area,...
Kurdish villagers driven off their mountainsides by Turkish airstrikes
| 15/2/2019 | (6)
Alan Saeed | 2/19/2019 12:27:43 AM
Well, we don’t even have to go into any prognostic mode to try and predict what would happen if Turkey joined the European Union. Just look at their...
Mohamedzzz | 2/19/2019 7:09:02 AM
For Turkey the only aim to join EU is to milk the cow, they hate EU, they hate Christians, they hate European culture.
Erdogan sheds crocodile tears for European Union
| 14 hours ago | (6)
Pakistani | 2/19/2019 6:24:59 AM
Turkey is making life easy for ISIS directly or indirectly , Turkey is a terrorist state ...
US-backed Syria force demands IS jihadists surrender
| 4 hours ago | (1)
Muraz Adzhoev | 2/18/2019 11:31:11 PM
The role of women in the Kurdish society began to lose its traditionally very high cultural and moral significance in families, tribes and ...
arjun | 2/19/2019 6:14:35 AM
next lets put all the gays in power! lol what a joke Kurdistan has become! why does having women as leaders matter? how does being a women make you a...
Women dominate leadership of Kurdistan Region parliament
| 13 hours ago | (2)

Elsewhere on Rudaw

Women dominate leadership of Kurdistan Region parliament 13 hours ago |

Women dominate leadership of Kurdistan Region parliament

"It is a pride for all Kurds to have a woman as more
EU states mixed on Trump demand to take back IS fighters 14 hours ago |

EU states mixed on Trump demand to take back IS fighters

“It is certainly not as easy as they think in more
Erdogan sheds crocodile tears for European Union 14 hours ago |

Erdogan sheds crocodile tears for European Union

Erdogan and his party stalwarts lost all interest more
0.187 seconds