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The Museum für Islamische Kunst is Supporting the Reconstruction of the Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo


For five years, the Syrian Heritage Archive Project has been investigating the destruction of the cultural heritage in this country that has been decimated by civil war. In February 2019, the project will be presented in an exhibition in the Pergamonmuseum.

The destruction of Syria’s cultural heritage through the civil war has been a focus of the Museum für Islamische Kunst of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin for five years now. In this endeavour, the museum is forging new paths in conservation, archiving, education and participation in times of war. The work on this cultural heritage is producing foundations for the reconstruction efforts and for participatory platforms aimed at wide-spread awareness raising. Some projects are more focussed on documentation, while others are more about providing material, however they complement each other in the communication of their project outcomes.

Funding from the Gerda Henkel Stiftung has placed a particular focus on Aleppo. A catalogue gathers together fundamental information on works of architecture, particularly in terms of their art-historical and historical significance, through personal recollections, photos and plans. The project group Built Heritage Documentation, with their detailed damage cartography of significant monuments based on historical monument preservation standards is collating the architectural foundations. The first buildings are now being put online and a data package to support the reconstruction of the Umayyad Mosque is being handed over. 

“The world-famous Ancient City of Aleppo has become the symbol of this horrific war. Through the detailed damage cartography, the collection of historical images and plans along with texts on the history of the constructions and personal recollections, we have been able to reconstruct three pilot buildings and put them on the internet. Our goal is to help the people of Aleppo to rebuild their Ancient City, and to provide UNESCO with comprehensive documentation to these ends”, says Stefan Weber, Director of the Museum für Islamische Kunst. In August, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation began with a third phase of the project: researchers are working together with two bloggers to produce a cultural heritage map that connects immaterial heritage, local knowledge and personal histories with the material heritage of the databank. Individual experiences can now be integrated into the interactive map as a “community archive”, allowing cultural heritage to be perceived as something personal, rather than a purely abstract concept.

The museum’s Syrian initiatives were recognised by this year’s Museums&Heritage Awards in London. “Impressive and timely, it not only protects the heritage and history of Syria but reminds us of our global responsibility” the jury stated. In the words of the SPK President Hermann Parzinger, the initiative is evidence of the expanded international role of the foundation: “To rebuild Syria’s destroyed world cultural heritage, there is a need for strong partners working towards the day when this war will be over. In the exhibition Syria’s Cultural Landscape – Conserving and Archiving in Times of War, the project will be presented to a broad public in the Pergamonmuseum in 2019.”

This work on Syria builds on the foundations of the Syrian Heritage Archive Project, a collaborative project between the Museum für Islamische Kunst of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, which has been supported by the German Federal Foreign Office for five years. It is part of the collaborative project Stunde Null: A Future After the Crisis. Syrian and German researchers are working together to systematically document the cultural and natural treasures of this war-ravaged country. The systematic archiving of more than 200,000 photos, plans, maps and reports has led to the emergence of the most comprehensive archive on Syria, which will be of fundamental importance for future reconstruction efforts.