Return to the Origin: Negotiating the Modern and Unmodern in the Old City of Damascus


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TOTAH, F. M. (1). Return to the Origin: Negotiating the Modern and Unmodern in the Old City of Damascus. City & Society, 21(1), 58–81.

Historic Restoration , Middle East-Syria , Modernity , Public Space , Suq

The 2002 government restoration of Suq al- Hamidiyya in Damascus led to disagreements between officials and merchants over acceptable spatial practice in the marketplace. Though both were vested in the Suq’s introduction to the historic Old City, they had different interpretations of this role. Officials emphasized a sanitized and ordered space whereas merchants focused on the commercial activities necessary in the marketplace over discipline. Eventually both interpretations, though at times contradictory, were included in the project. This article illustrates how the replication of modernity in a public space with inherent contradictions is a result of negotiations between formal and informal modernitites [sic].

Main finding
The author studies local, conflicting practices of modernity in the spatial context on an indoor market undergoing government-led restoration to return it to its original architectural splendor. This restoration is done in the name of tourism and representation of the city as an international, modern city. Conflict existed between local officials' desire for an ordered space suited for tourism in a "civilized", modern Syria and the merchant's needs for a space that accommodated their commercial interests and maintained the exotic, bazaar ambiance they believed tourists sought. The compromise resulted in facades that were restored to their former, Western architectural order while the merchants were able to rearrange the interior space as the saw fit, hence developing their own interpretation of modern (ie. the unmodern).

Description of method used in the article
Fieldwork included participant observation and interviews.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Economic Transactions
Field Observations
Physical types
Geographic locations