Challenges in Managing Cultural Heritage in Qatar

Challenges in Managing Cultural Heritage in Qatar

by Alice Bianchi and Ferhan Sakal via “Gulf Times”

Challenges in managing cultural heritage in Qatar

“The remarkable urban development in Qatar and the Gulf region poses a great challenge to those who are responsible for the safeguarding, conservation and management of heritage assets at regional level. Urban growth affects the territory and represents a threat to the country’s widespread heritage.

The new development reshapes not only empty spaces but also intervenes in those areas where towns and settlements have already risen or where evidence of older occupation persists. If, on the one hand, development responds to the new needs and requirements of an evolving country with a growing economy and an increasing population, for cultural heritage managers, on the other hand, the questions are how development interacts with the cultural heritage assets in the territory, how the past may live on in the present and how continuity and change may influence decision-making so that many heritage assets will be defined and preserved.

The Department of Archaeology, Architectural Conservation and Cultural Tourism is the section within the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) in charge of managing, conserving, protecting, enhancing and promoting the archaeology and cultural heritage of Qatar.

Heritage assets considered as antiquities:

According to Antiquity Law No 2, in force in the State of Qatar since 1980, article 1 defines what has to be considered heritage as follows: “An antiquity is considered anything left by civilisations or left by previous generations, … which dates back more than forty years’; meaning that heritage assets existing before 1940 are considered to be antiquities and, as in article 4 of the same law, they have to be documented, safeguarded, protected and promoted.

The achievement of this aim begins with and focuses on the documentation of all heritage areas and assets legally considered antiquity. The implementation of the recording procedures occurs through various steps which range from surveys, i.e. collection of data, to more detailed documentation carried out through excavation or systematic recording of many specific elements of a heritage asset, its historic, architectural or environmental context, its construction techniques, its materials, etc. The basis of an efficient and successful documentation methodology is the application of a coherent system of standards and well-defined working procedures, to which the Department of Archaeology, Architectural Conservation and Cultural Tourism is committed and has established based on international standards and best practices.

Projects that will reshape the landscape:

The records about a heritage area also allow its significance to be determined and its value and importance classified according to specific criteria. When the value is high the asset is untouchable, must be restored and monitored, whereas a medium to low value may impact the existence of the asset, i.e. the asset must be fully documented and recorded and, if it stands in the way of a relevant infrastructure project, it may then be dismantled. The classification of heritage areas supports informed decisions at municipal level for strategic urban planning and allows an integrated approach to infrastructure projects.

Before the present urban development the landscape of the Qatari peninsula was unchanged by human action. There was no major agriculture nor a highly developed web of streets or railway lines. Therefore many archaeological remains and heritage assets are still undisturbed.

This is a unique situation that is also a challenge for archaeologists, as many large-scale projects are under way simultaneously. Notably, the Hamad International Airport (2,200 ha), the New Port Project (2,650 ha), the Qatar Rail Development Program (17,000,000 m3 of excavation), the Qatar Local Roads and Drainage Programme, the Inner Doha Re-sewerage Implementation Strategy (IDRIS), the Qatar–Bahrain Causeway Project, the Sharq Crossing Project, the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee Projects for Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup™, Lusail City (3,800 ha), will reshape the landscape and have an impact on existing heritage areas.

The best method for documenting this impact is pre-development research based on desktop and field surveys. The Qatari peninsula attracted foreign researchers who started extensive surveys as early as the 1950s. While those first surveys mainly discovered archaeological areas with extensive remains, others are still not recorded. In co-operation and on behalf of the QMA, major foreign projects have, over the last five years, undertaken a systematic survey of the whole peninsula. The respective projects are the Qatar Islamic Archaeology and Heritage Project (QIAH) of the University of Copenhagen (Denmark); the Qatar National Historic Environment Record (QNHER) project of Birmingham University (United Kingdom) and the South Qatar Survey Project (SQSP) of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI).

QMA’s No Objection Certificate

The collected data have been archived in the QNHER database, which harbours over 5,000 records of all kinds of archaeological or heritage areas. Despite this impressive amount of data,  . . . .”

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