L.I.S.A.: What is your project about and what got you interested in the chosen topic to begin with?
Masri: The city Aleppo is one of the oldest populated cities in history, and is known for its hundreds of historic, religious and scholarly landmarks that testify to the heritage left behind by various states and dominions that ruled the city; these states and dominions themselves had ancient civilizations that extended over thousands of years. The last one was the Ottoman Empire, which left behind scores of mosques and madrasas (schools) and khans (hostels) and other historic sites. Aleppo is also considered the economic capital of old and modern Syria. Old Aleppo itself is a masterpiece of rare and iconic value as it holds hundreds of buildings representing various civilizations and historic eras, which made UNESCO register it on the World Heritage Site List in the year 1986.
With the unfortunate and bloody events in Syria since 2011, and with the war breaking out in Aleppo in the year 2012, especially in the heart of the city, i.e., Old Aleppo, rain of bullets, splinters and bombs fell on the city. This led to unfortunate aftermath where most buildings and archaeological sites suffered between partial to complete destruction. In my study, I chose one of these important structures, and made a restoration project of the Ahmadiyyah School and its rehabilitation as a “Museum of Aleppo during the Ottoman Period”.
There are many significant reasons for why I chose Ahmadiyyah School to be the topic of my restorative study from among many buildings of Old Aleppo. First, this structure has many values including historical, religious, social, artistic, architectural, scientific, aesthetic, spiritual and symbolic values. It is also considered to be a unique extant example of its kind from the period of the Ottoman Empire, distinguished for its design, splendor and beauty. Along with the uniqueness of its location within the fabric of the walled city, as it is located in the area of Jalum, which is one of the most important and richest neighborhoods in Aleppo. Ahmadiyyah School is in the central of the old markets of that neighborhood. Another important reason for choosing this structure for this research is because of the damage caused to the building due to the recent events and the state of negligence and deterioration and the encroachments that have taken place. The school was under renovation prior to the war and was closed before the completion of the restoration work, so I found it necessary to re-do the study and to take into account what has been achieved during restoration.
The second objective of my study was rehabilitation of the Ahmadiyyah School as a “Museum of Aleppo during the Ottoman Period” - this museum will employ the use of modern technologies to display information that is related to the subject of the museum.
This proposal was chosen for several reasons; the main reason is Aleppo being the second state during the Ottoman period after Istanbul, which was the capital of the Ottoman Empire. This is what made Aleppo an important center; and the importance of it was economic, demographic and urban because most of the convoys of land trade towards the Arabian Gulf and Iraq (also the caravan routes from the inner lands towards the Mediterranean) were passing from it. I wanted to demonstrate the importance of this city in the Ottoman period. In addition to a museum, a library and a ''Center for Ottoman Studies'' - specialized in studies of the Levant in the Ottoman Period - were included in the school's restoration project.