NAT Urban heritage-1617018928324
Officials at the panel discussion. Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: UAE’s heritage sites must be safeguarded as they are a symbol of national identity, a session heard at Sharjah Heritage Days (SHD) at the Heart of Sharjah district.

The comments came during a panel discussion held on the sidelines of the ongoing 18th edition of SHD, a celebration of cultural events being held till April 10.

Speaking at the session, titled ‘Problems and challenges facing urban heritage’, Ahmad Mahmoud, director of Urban Heritage and Archaeology Department, Dubai Municipality, said: “Heritage represents the memory of the people who lived in a place. Hence, it is important to preserve it as it represents the thread that connects us to the past, our national identity, and to the place itself.”

Preserving historic districts

He added: “Significant efforts have been undertaken to preserve heritage districts like Al Fahidi and Al Shindagha districts in Dubai. At first, construction was halted, and eventually, a comprehensive restoration was carried out for these areas. Committees were formed to maintain it, and strict regulations came into effect that forbade the demolition of any historic building. All these efforts have helped in protecting these heritage areas.”

Value to tourism

Mahmoud continued: “Historic buildings play an important role in the tourism sector. Therefore, it is imperative to carry out studies before restoration to determine how that location would be used, and detail all what is essential to enable that heritage site to serve as source of revenue while also maintaining its historical value.”

Building awareness

Touching upon the importance of raising awareness of the preservation of architectural heritage and historical places, Rashad Bukhash, chairman of the Architectural Heritage Society, cited examples of several heritage areas, including Al Shindagha, which was demolished before being rebuilt in its original design style.

Bukhash said: “Over the past years, the awareness levels of the Emirati community in protecting historic buildings have increased. It stems from a recognition of the legacy these buildings convey and its depiction of the history of the region during that time, which can be read through the designs and decorations that distinguish the old houses and areas.”

Urban heritage

He added: “Urban heritage is an essential part of any country’s history and heritage; its importance lies in the fact that it is key to learning the history of the area.” He pointed out that the design elements of the UAE’s historic buildings reveal the environmental and physical conditions experienced by people at that time.

The panel discussion was moderated by Hunaida Al Khalidi, an architectural expert at Sharjah Institute for Heritage, organisers of SHD.