ISSN 2330-717X

Renaissance Of Historic Rabat Old Medina: Testament To Recognize What Makes A City Vibrant And Diverse – OpEd

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Undoubtedly,  innovation in architecture of old cities (medinas) in Morocco is with no doubt extremely important, but preserving and restoring the old buildings is also important because those old monuments are the reflection of the Moroccans history.  They contribute to understand and respect people who lived in different eras with different habits and traditions.

Stunning mosques, monuments: madrasas, mosques, mausoleums, trading domes, hammams, old houses, and shops just to cite these few, represent an outstanding cultural equivalent of an old-growth forest.

However, the centuries are taking a toll. Inhabitants and visitors can easily notice the aging physical structure of the Medinas Shop doors are askew. Hand-chiseled tiles called zellij are faded and chipped. Ancient wooden doors collect the dust of ages. But while in some places the wear and tear adds to the aesthetic, in other places it’s precarious: Ceilings bow, and walls fissure. Some structures look downright dangerous and, in fact, are. There is always this risk of houses to fall down that menaces many families.

Therefore, these historic buildings have to be saved. It’s a “must”. Preservation and upgrading of medinas are far more effective means to honor our ancestors and at the same time create a multi-generational legacy for future generations.

 The Moroccan Press Agency MAP reported that King Mohammed VI visited, on Monday, several projects that fall within the framework of the Rabat Old Medina Rehabilitation and Upgrading Program, one of the highlights of “Rabat City of Light, Moroccan Capital of Culture” integrated program that was launched by the sovereign on May 12, 2014.

This visit, which gave a momentum to the site as a symbol for the country’s heritage, mirrors the sovereign’s will to preserve the architectural aspect of the Rabat old medina, inscribed since 2012 in UNESCO world heritage list, to promote its cultural and tourist influence and improve the living and working conditions of its inhabitants.

The King visited the Bab Chellah street, including the Mohammed V schools and the great mosque, the Souk Essabat street and Bab El Bahr, sites which have been revamped under the Rabat old medina rehabilitation program.

The sovereign also visited the restoration sites of El Melh square and Sabbaghine street which are nearing completion (75%).

Several operations, scheduled as part of the the Rabat Old Medina Rehabilitation and Upgrading Program, worth 625 million dirhams, were completed. They are the revamping of Lagza street, the rehabilitation of the Kasbah of Oudayas wall, the revamping of El Marsa avenue, the development of community sport fields in Bab Chellah, the building of a shopping arcade and the consolidation of the El Mellah cliff.

The upgrading of the river shoreline of Rabat old medina is in harmony with the mega project of the Bouregreg valley development.

Other projects are under construction as the development of public squares, the restoration of the wall from Bab Laalou to Bab El Had, the strengthening of run-down buildings, the restoration of inns and the construction of craftsmen area.

The implementation of this ambitious program was backed by the launch by HM the King, on May 14, of a complementary program for upgrading the Rabat old medina, totaling 325 million dirhams.

Elaborated pursuant to the royal instructions, the new generation program seeks to ameliorate access to the old medina and enhance its attractiveness, mainly via the building of two underground car parks, near Bab El Had and Bab Chellah, of 1,090 parking lots and the development of squares adjacent to the central market and Bab El Had.

It also includes the redevelopment of Tamejajet sports complex, the restoration of the surroundings of medina walls, the completion of street paving, as well as street, alley and small square addressing, and the installation of information markers.

The projects of Bab El Had underground parking construction and the completion of the medina street paving are under way while the other projects are being studied.

The Rabat old medina rehabilitation program is part of efforts made to preserve and upgrade old medinas in several Moroccan cities as Casablanca, Marrakesh, Fez, Meknes, Essaouira, Sale and Tetouan.

On this occasion, King Mohammed VI was greeted by representatives of associations in the old medina and handed, in a symbolic gesture, the keys to beneficiaries from bicycle-taxis, purchased under the tourist and ecological transportation project in the city of Rabat, as part of the National Initiative for Human Development (INDH).

The 50 bicycle-taxis worth 2.5 million dirhams will also be used for tourist rides inside the city of Rabat.

This project aims to promote clean transportation in the city, diversify means of urban transport, and create an income-generating activity for young beneficiaries looking for jobs. The latter have benefited from training in communication techniques, civic education, management, entrepreneurship and foreign languages, supervised by the cooperative “Al Anwar” for ecological and tourist transportation and the association “Espace point de départ”.

The medinas represent a tangible link to Moroccan’s culture. They serve as a point of both pride and heritage.  Major rehabilitation and upgrading projects of old medinas are launched. Dozen of monuments and old houses have come to life. Restoration work is still going on and the result is often breathtaking as such task is often tedious, intricate and costly process that rquires close collaboration and coordination between different government agencies. Skilled handicraftsmen, architects and designers work hand in hand to restore beauty to those historically valuable buildings. The community is involved during this whole process because this a Moroccan patrimony that should be preserved.

Revival of old medinas extend beyond their beauty. Their upgrading and especially preservation presents a lucrative economic opportunity that can generate jobs and boost tourism. These projects reinforce the handicraft sector as a source of job creation and value added. They promote the integration of the beneficiary women in the labor market, the preservation of some declining trades, the promotion of local handicraft products and the strengthening of the sector’s organization and structuring. Local economy is thus stimulated not to mention public interest, especially for children, in learning about historic sites and feel proud of all the work achieved by their ancestors. So the progress of rehabilitation and upgrading works of old medinas aim to enhance the building aspect of the city and ensure better integration into its urban environment.

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Said Temsamani

Said Temsamani is a Moroccan political observer and consultant, who follows events in his country and across North Africa. He is a member of Washington Press Club.

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