Distorting Civic Surgery

Distorting Civic Surgery: The Peaceful War-torn Damascus

Hazem Raad/Damascus/ Syria


The ancient core of Damascus has always been the central touristic attraction of the city, not only for foreigners, but for the city and country inhabitants as well, capturing its every visitor with its historic and religious value, and extending millenniums into the past. The essence of the city resided in its being the largest urban space almost entirely dedicated to pedestrians in the capital, built by ages-old pillars and stones, and reserved as it has been since forever.

One might think that war and armed conflict might have destroyed such a vibrant, touristic life in the city. However, the old city of Damascus, a UNESCO world heritage site, saw one of its biggest booms in attracting new visitors within this time of war, being a sanctuary that is relatively safer to breathe in, in a city where taking a breath could cost lives. Mortars and guns have visited this place numerous times during this war, beyond counting, yet, it stays one of the safest spots of Damascus, one that is sacred to almost all parties involved in the war in Damascus.

Urban development in the old city of Damascus escalated ever since the war started in Syria. Regulatory bodies in charge of heritage reservation are all but shattered, the chaos of war leaves issues such as the disciplinary guidelines of urban development smaller than to be regarded when occasional mortar rains fall upon the place, and the pragma of both parties, the investors and the real-estate holders, will always justify their usage of the chaotic political situation to generate more capital at any given chance.

This core, thus, over the past six years, was transformed from a historic attraction to a nightlife district, leaving every traditional house capable of becoming a bar or a restaurant, gradually taking the right to city from the core’s very inhabitant, and handing it to those using war as their main fuel for mining their profit. There may not be bombings destroying the urban identity of the area, but the cancerous spreading of investments in nightlife venues all over the place leaves it just as vandalized, only in the opposite direction.

تحت وطأة الحرب تستحيل كل القلوب التاريخية للمدن المتأثرة بحاجة لتدخلات جراحية، لكن عملاً جراحياً من نوعٍ آخر في دمشق القديمة، هو ذاك الذي يستغل السلم النسبي السائد في حواريها، ويحول تلك الحواري إلى مقاهٍ وخمارات ومطاعم تستقطب ساكنيها الذين اشتاقوا إلى متعة الحياة إليها.

لهذا العمل أثر على التاريخ، وله أثره على الحياة، وله أثره على الانفصام في سبيل البقاء على كل مستوىً في هذه المدينة، وعلى سياقاتها أجمعين؛ عمارةً، وعمراناً، وبشرا.


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