EU and UNESCO restore Nablus' landmark Khan Al Wakalah to its former glory
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, European Union’s Head of Operations Mr. Sergio Piccolo and the Representative of UNESCO Office in Ramallah Dr. Derek Elias inaugurated on Tuesday Khan Al Wakalah in Nablus. The Khan Al Wakalah is a historical building at the heart of Nablus' Old City that used to be a Mamluk-Ottoman caravanserai. UNESCO - with € 2.5 million funding from the EU - rehabilitated the compound to become a hub for commerce, tourism and cultural services.
At the inauguration ceremony the compound was open to the public for the first time since the termination of the rehabilitation work. The works focused on conserving the ancient architectural structures and reconstructing the missing parts of the compound and surrounding area. Moreover, a business plan has been prepared on how to transform the site into a profit-generating centre to ensure that the restoration work has a long-term impact.
"Nablus is a city with an immortal spirit, full of history and full of life. We started from the heart of its old city not just to restore a site, but also to revitalize the commercial and cultural life of Nablus. We are very proud of what we have accomplished together with our local and international partners, after years of hard work and perseverance" said the EU Head of Operations Mr. Sergio Piccolo at the opening. "Looking at the quality of the renovation, this has been a worthwhile investment and one of huge potential in terms of job creation and economic growth for Nablus", Piccolo added.
Once fully operational the compound will house a small nine-room inn, a tourist centre and agencies to help visitors and several shops to sell traditional handicrafts such as the famous olive oil soap and traditional embroidery. There will also be restaurant on two floors and the old courtyard, where mules used to be tethered overnight for hundreds of years, is now a venue for public events.
“The inauguration is an event which goes beyond today’s celebration. It embodies the achievement of a decade of commitment and determination of the key stakeholders who have patiently overcome a variety of obstacles to bring this project to completion. It is a tangible and vivid reaffirmation of the importance of culture and heritage to the identity of the Palestinian people.” said the Representative of UNESCO Ramallah Office Dr. Derek Elias at the opening.
Through the cooperation with Al-Najah University, the restoration and adaptive re-use of the Khan Al Wakala was an excellent opportunity to transfer the traditional know-how to the young generation of workers in the field of conservation by organizing an onsite training activity called "yard-school".
The project also aimed at enhancing public awareness towards the protection and conservation of cultural heritage in Palestine by organizing several activities such as public lectures and site visits.
The khan was built in the XVII century, on the remains of Roman and Crusaders buildings, along the main road that stretches from Nablus to the Mediterranean Coast. Located within the city, at the western edge of the souk, Khan al-Wakala was known as an urban caravanserai, a warehouse with stables, shops and accommodation for travelers. It profited from being located on the way of goods transiting from Damascus to Jerusalem as well as of the pilgrimage route to Mecca and Medina.
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