Syrian Heritage Initiative

The five projects of the Syrian Heritage Initiative are all devoted to Syria’s unique material and immaterial cultural heritage. Their research and archival efforts focus in different ways on documenting and making available a variety of materials.

The aim is to provide a basis for reconstruction as well as to build a participatory platform. At the Museums + Heritage Awards in London in May, the Syrian Heritage Initiative of the Museum für Islamische Kunst was singled out for special recognition in the International Award category. The project ‘Multaka’ has received three further national awards. The projects are led by the director of the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Professor Stefan Weber.

Syrian Heritage Archive Project

The systematic archiving of photos, plans, maps and reports is of fundamental importance for the documentation of Syrian cultural and natural treasures. The research carried out since the 20th century by the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (DAI), the Museum für Islamische Kunst Berlin and by other researchers has yielded copious materials in relation to numerous sites of significance for archaeology in Syria and the history of Syria’s architecture. These materials are being digitised by the Syrian Heritage Archive Project and, along with other, already digitised materials, integrated into existing archive structures. The digital archive will provide an information base enabling the reconstruction of destroyed monuments and the preservation of Syrian cultural heritage. It thus creates values for the future.

The central archival database is Arachne, the digital database for images in the DAI collection. In 2017, for example, 21,500 records were added to the database by the Syrian-German project team. Georeferencing, the linking of a photo, map or other object with an exact geographical location, plays a key role in this work. Thus it has been possible in the course of Project 3 to add 465 new locations to the virtual map of Syria in the digital locations register of the DAI Gazetteer. So far the project team of the Syrian Heritage Archive Project has received 45 collections from different lenders which it is currently adding to the digital archive. In total, 233,000 data elements have been made available. The data shed light on nearly all domains of Syrian archaeology and history of construction, but also on its geography and not least of all on recent events. Among the authors of the collections are notable researchers and documenters such as Eugen Wirth (†), Michael Meinecke (†), Jean-Claude David, Stefan Weber, Julia Gonnella and Stefan Heidemann, as well as Syrian architects and prominent photographers like Marwan Musalmani (†) and the director Sabah Qabbani (†).

The Syrian Heritage Archive Project belongs to the Archaeological Heritage Network and cooperates with Stunde Null – A Future for the Time After the Crisis. The Syrian Heritage Archive Project has given rise, among other things, to the project Multaka – The Museum as Meeting-Point.

Project director: Dr. Karin Pütt
Research Associates: Eva Al-Habib Nmeir, Issam Ballouz, Alaa Haddad, Issam Hajjar, Fidaa Hlal, Sandra Schaefer
Partner Organisations: Museum für Islamische Kunst Berlin, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut
Responsible Bodies: Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut
Sponsor Organisations: Federal Foreign Office, Gerda Henkel Stiftung
In operation: since November 2013

Multaka: The Museum as Meeting-Point – Refugees as Guides in Berlin Museums

The idea of this project was developed in late 2015 by Syrian team members of the Syrian Heritage Archive Project. The Multaka project involved training 24 Syrian and Iraqi refugees as museum guides, allowing them to offer museum tours to other Arabic-speaking refugees in their mother tongue. Since August 2018 the guides have also been offering English- and German-language tours to visitors to the Museum für Islamische Kunst, the Vorderasiatisches Museum, the Bode-Museum und the Deutsches Historisches Museum. In this context, multaka (Arabic: ‘meeting-point’) also refers to the exchange of different cultural and historical experiences. Commonalities are presented and experiences are integrated into a greater cultural and historical context spanning numerous epochs. This enables the museums both to function as a link between the refugees’ countries of origin and their host countries or new home countries, and to create a meaningful context for their life here. By reducing barriers to contact and through peer-to-peer communication, the project ‘Multaka – The Museum as Meeting-Point’ hopes to make it easier for refugees to access museums and to help them to find points of social and cultural connection while increasing their participation in public life.

Project website

Project directors: Salma Jreige, Hussam Zahim Mohammed, Cornelia Weber
Partner organisations: Museum für Islamische Kunst, Vorderasiatisches Museum, Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst, the Education, Outreach and Visitor Services Department of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Deutsches Historisches Museum and its Education and Communication Department
Sponsor organisations: Alwaleed Philanthropies, Freunde des Museums für Islamische Kunst im Pergamonmuseum e.V.
In operation: since November 2015

Built Heritage Documentation – Damage Mapping

This side-project arose out of the work of the Syrian Heritage Archive Project and became a second track of its archival work. The Damage Assessment Database augments historical data by adding information about destruction of architectural and archaeological Syrian cultural heritage caused by the present war. Data on, among other things, the administration, history and location of buildings is being collected via regularly updated photographs and sound and film recordings. To this data the team adds detailed evaluations of the condition of buildings and in each case estimates how urgent it is that a building be secured. The damage mapping is based on UNESCO rapid assessment surveys and the European Standard EN 16096, which provides guidelines for condition surveys of built cultural heritage, and thus on experience in cultural heritage preservation. The aim of the project is to gather detailed knowledge that can be used to plan reconstruction.

Project director: Issam Ballouz
Research associates: Rami Alafandi, Eva Al-Habib Nmeir, Alaa Haddad
Partner organisations: Museum für Islamische Kunst Berlin, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut
Responsible bodies: Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut
Sponsor organisation: Gerda Henkel Stiftung
In operation: since July 2017

Aleppo at the Meeting of Ways – Documenting the Built Cultural Heritage of Aleppo

Given that its countless mosques, madrasas, churches, bazaars, caravanserais, city gates and citadels have been particularly affected, Aleppo’s Old City is a focal point of condition documentation efforts. In view of the dimensions of this task, the Gerda Henkel Stiftung has, since 2017, supported an important side-project of the Syrian Heritage Archive Project, which documents the destruction of historical monuments in the Old City and catalogues its structures. Each entry in the catalogue focuses on a building in the old city of Aleppo, looking at the following:

  1. Photos showing the monuments before 2011, based on the Syrian Heritage Archive Project’s digital database.
  2. Reports and materials on the damage assessment of monuments from the side-project ‘Built Heritage Documentation’ (also funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung)
  3. Descriptions of the buildings, written from the perspective of art or architectural history by residents of Aleppo and international art historians
  4. The social and urban historical background
  5. Aleppo residents’ memories of these buildings and their surroundings in the form of texts, recordings, and films
  6. Detailed documents, drawings, and plans of the buildings

The goal of the project is, on the one hand, to enter into dialogue with Aleppines and Syrians about their cultural heritage, regardless of their political affiliation or their economic or social status, and, on the other, to start a discussion between residents of Aleppo, interest groups and experts. All groups are therefore invited to share their personal memories and to document the immaterial heritage of this city, which was known for its legendary food and the tightly woven fabric of its society and economy.

The project also aims to make national and international media aware of the importance of these monuments. In cooperation with UNESCO, it is making materials available for their reconstruction.

The catalogue will be published on the Gerda Henkel Stiftung’s scholarly platform L.I.S.A. The short films will also be shared on social media.

Project director: Zoya Masoud
Staff: Rami Alafandi, Eva Maria Al Habib Nmeir, Dr. Stefan Knost, Prof. Annalinda Neglia
Responsible organisations: Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut
Sponsor organisation: Gerda Henkel Stiftung
In operation: since July 2017

Interactive Heritage Map

An interactive cultural heritage map is being developed that builds on the work of the Syrian Heritage Archive Project and its database. Information from the database will be augmented by means of local knowledge pertaining to immaterial cultural heritage. Personal stories enable the creation of direct relationships between the community of users and archived material. With the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation it thus becomes possible to translate the results of archival work into a participatory map. People from Syria can embed their knowledge and their experiential repertoires in the cultural heritage map.

Project director: Rasha Kanjarawi
Staff: Alaa Alkasir, Kenan Melhem
Responsible body: Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz
Sponsor: The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Project in operation: since July 2018