of Fez-Medina: A Post-Impact Appraisal
It would sound strange in
the 1970s if the term ‘post-impact’ was mentioned, as far as
conservation is concerned. Broadly speaking, conservation signifies
archeological preservation of valuable objects that may likely become
extinct. Today, it goes beyond a mere celebration of an historical icon.
The pressure of human needs in urban heritage sites has widened the
scope of conservation in order to go in tandem with social and economic
Conservationists came to
realize that their task of scrutinizing stones and cleaning surfaces is
negatively affected by a dearth of funding. The pressing need of the
people whose heritage is a living and not a static legacy is
The changing dimensions
of the significance of conservation have divided opinions among
conservationists into two. One opinion maintains the classical dimension
while the other includes economic development in conservation. However,
both dimensions are essential. The evolution of a new framework which
will appeal to both opinions and at the same time guarantee the
continuous existence of heritage sites is imperative.
Urban heritage sites have
their peculiar development potentialities, the sustainability of which
should not be allowed to be altered by any negative or positive
intervention from outside. It is this sustainability that Richard S.
Levine describes as the ‘nested realms’ of social and cultural magnets
that make an historic city a vibrant one.
To achieve this there should be a defined vision before implementation
of physical projects is embarked upon. However, this vision should not
be assumed to be a mere parachuted idea or complex equation but rather a
holistic approach which can be translated into action in the
The planning theories
that forecast what a city should look like in the next two or three
decades no longer stand today. Therefore, instead of spending much time
on preparing a long-term urban scenario, a less time-costly alternative
is now being discovered by planners. This alternative is learning from
best practice and averting the risks and errors observed. As each urban
site has its peculiarities the array of their vast problems should
therefore be considered.
This paper discusses and
brings into focus the model of best practice, taking the conservation of
the historic city of Fez as a case study. This, however, does not imply
that a model of best practice is the most superior or is error free. It
is, instead, that which faces many difficulties and constraints. It is
the solutions found to overcome these difficulties which make
conservation a success and with maximum positive outcomes.
Fez, a World Heritage City
Fez is the spiritual,
scientific, and cultural capital of Morocco. It was founded by the
Idrissid sultan, Idrissid II in 808 C.E. The importance of its medina is
reflected through several factors:
A unique geographical
site with abundant springs, rivers, and landscape.
A vast geographical
area that covers an area of around 800 acres.
A large number of
historic buildings (about 13,385).
A large number of
historic monuments (about 3,000).
An intact pedestrian
structure throughout centuries.
A long historic wall
of around 20 kilometers.
university, which is considered as one of the oldest universities in
the Islamic world: the Qarawiyin.
A dense medina: 800
to 1200 persons/hectare.
A most active
historic site with vibrant artisanship.
A most sophisticated
built environment with an architectural and urban intricacy.
These factors, and the
dynamic urban evolution, render Fez a unique Islamic capital. Its
original and age-old urban environment still survives despite the
pressure of modernization and industrialization. The intact physical
environment of Fez presents an unaltered Islamic city, which provides a
rich ground for researchers and visitors who are eager to unravel the
roots of Islamic civilization. The amalgamation of the social, cultural,
spiritual, political, and economic elements forms a coherent urban
system that has survived through centuries. The magnificent heritage of
Fez is the embodiment of its excellent legacy. Accordingly, Fez is a
city of its inhabitants, who have guaranteed its existence as their
bequest to urbanism. Fez was listed as a world heritage city by UNESCO
The Rise of a Conservation Vision
The momentum for
conservation of the historic Fez was initiated by a local team that
believed in the sustainability of the city as a living and breathing
built environment in collaboration with a small team of UNESCO
consultants, which was led principally by a talented architect: Titus
Burckhardt. This team of Moroccan professionals, who were trained in
France, recognized the utter decay of the medina in the aftermath of
colonization. The first outstanding document produced by this team was
the first Schéma Directeur d’Urbanisme of the city of Fez in
1975. This document laid the solid foundation for the launching of the
International Campaign for the Safeguard of Fez in 1976 in Nairobi.
The vision of this team
was to rejuvenate the heritage of Fez through the improvement of the
living conditions of its inhabitants. It also made the historic medina
the core of the whole urban agglomeration of Fez with the projection of
its urban extension in the east. Although this document could not be
implemented in its totality, its major parts relating to the development
of the historic medina were maintained. It projected a rehabilitation
process through three lines: social and economic development, insertion
of urban facilities, and rehabilitation of housing.
rehabilitation program has followed along these lines in order to shape
comprehensive projects which aim at upgrading the entire medina, to
ensure that the process is not distorted by a set of pilot projects for
the development of one area at the expense of others. Thus, the
challenge has been to solve root issues and not to emphasize superficial
actions such as the polishing of facades for a mere formal inauguration.
The insistence on doing so put the local team of conservationists under
continuous pressure by top political stakeholders. Nonetheless, their
determination and wise conflict management has led the conservation
program to reach an unprecedented resolution of contrasting concepts and
views about how the conservation should attract different partners
In this regard, the
vision needed leadership and field expertise to be met. Fez is among the
rare cases that presented a sound grass-roots conservation strategy
which many other historic sites in Morocco and elsewhere emulate. The
quintessential point of this strategy is described by Fouad Serrhini in
these words: “The [backbone] of the success of the conservation of Fez
derives from a philosophy and a [brilliant] reflection of history,
culture, heritage, society, and the resolution of the inhabitant’s daily
problems in the medina.”
This discourse is
difficult to understand and articulate, and is challenging to implement.
Nevertheless, the continuing efforts on significant projects, and the
reactions of the inhabitants, have taught the conservationists about the
political and financial opportunities that produce the maximum positive
impact. This serves as an inherent orientation for the conservation
process to adopt constructive means that generates a synergy for
While it is hard to
formulate the vision of the conservation of the city of Fez in a set of
words, for the sake of conveying a lucid message, it could be
crystallized in the following concise statement:
The conservation of the heritage of Fez is an attempt to
awaken the active history of the city, which encompasses all the
positive intangible and tangible synergies, in order to catalyze its
sustainability, in which its inhabitant is the vital player.
In addition, this vision
was also derived from the nature of the historic Fez as the first
Islamic city to be part of the international campaign for the
conservation of unique human heritage. This was echoed by Mr.
Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow, the former Director General of UNESCO:
…Nevertheless, it is by
its very nature a campaign without precedent in the activities of
UNESCO. It is the first campaign to be undertaken on behalf of an
Islamic city. The operation to be carried out exemplifies, by virtue of
its scope, one of the major challenges to which humanity must rise if it
is to preserve and enrich its cultural heritage in the face of the
constraints imposed on us by a process of accelerated modernization and
industrialization. This challenge is of a nature to tax man’s capacities
and imagination to the full…
Conservation Management and Tools
The conservation program
could not be launched without seeking adequate tools for its
implementation. These tools range from the institutional, financial, to
the technical, etc. They are as follows:
The conservation program
of Fez was initiated first by a team of architects within a unit for
conservation in the Housing Delegation of the city of Fez under the
auspices of the Moroccan Ministry of Housing in 1976. This team was the
first to consider the destiny of an ancestral medina that fell into a
state of neglect and abandonment. The physical dilapidation of the
medina, and the deterioration of its living conditions, had reached an
alarming rate. Since the intricacy of the case of Fez provided the
largest number of urban issues that a Moroccan city might present, some
of these architects and planners eventually became top planners and
decision makers in Morocco.
In 1982, a Delegation for
the Safeguard of the Medina of Fez was created under the auspices of the
Moroccan Interior Ministry. Although it was awkward for a conservation
program to belong to a wing of an Interior Ministry, the national
supervision of the Collectivités Locales (regional municipal
councils) was centralized in this ministry. The Delegation was under the
authority of this entity. This created, undoubtedly, a tension among the
players who represented different government institutions, political
entities, NGOs, and private institutions.
This Delegation had the
mission to structure the conservation program through an administrative
organization that would be the hub for the initiation of different
projects in the historic Fez. The main outcome of this stage was mainly
experimental, which generated the first feed-back on how Fez should be
preserved effectively. With tremendous institutional challenges, the
local team of experts maneuvered well in order to pursue the vision of
conservation without submitting to the whimsical and sentimental choices
of a rigid political hierarchy. Thus, the Delegation established the
foundations of the conservation program of Fez. Its main role could be
summarized in three points:
the conservation of the city a planning issue and be part of the urban
development of the whole city;
Expand the scope of restoration and rehabilitation of monuments to be a
catalyst for up-grading neighborhoods;
between the governmental actions and the inhabitants’ initiatives.
In 1989, the need to make
this Delegation more efficient by moving it from the stage of diagnosis,
research, and limited physical projects to the stage of implementing
strategic projects for the city was met. The government decided to
create a new institutional framework. This new framework was the
creation of ADER-Fès (Agence pour la Réhabilitation et la
Dédensification de la Médina de Fès) that is still operating now.
ADER-Fès, a semi-private organization with public capital, had the task
of generating funds out of per-equation projects, and acts as an
inter-governmental agency. Its board of directors comprised
representatives from all Moroccan ministries concerned with the
conservation and development of the city of Fez.
ADER-Fès could be viewed
today as a unique agency that has been created exclusively in order to
undertake the conservation and development of an historic city: Fez.
Currently, its role in the planning and development decisions of the
whole agglomerate of Fez is crucial. This is because it associates
meticulous information about the city with the management of physical
The most crucial question
is the financial resources for an operation of this sort. How was the
conservation program of Fez able to generate funds for its projects? If
the inhabitants are asked about this matter, some might even claim that
a huge amount was donated by UNESCO, supposedly due to the role it
played in having it listed as a World Heritage City. UNESCO has been
very active in raising funds for the conservation of Fez, and its
network of international experts participated effectively in shaping the
local expertise of Fez, but UNESCO is not a financial institution. Being
listed by UNESCO does not guarantee a site access to an easy financial
resource. It is the primary duty of the national and local
representatives of a heritage site to seek financial means in order to
rescue it from decay and neglect.
The main source of
financing for the ADER’s operations is the Moroccan government. The
different ministries participate financially in different programs
following their prerogatives. However, if one considers the large number
of projects implemented within the confines of the medina, the financial
structure of the conservation program might reflect a very advanced
participation of local authority, municipal councils, NGOs,
national/international donors, and national/international financial
institutions. This made the case of Fez the most successful in
attracting resources to its conservation projects. This is because of
the success of many implemented operations that left positive impacts on
the environment of the medina.
While this positive
impact has made the medina a better place, the increase in the number of
foreigners competing over the purchase of historic houses may jeopardize
the stability of the local community. Therefore, while ADER attempts to
balance between the stability of the inhabitants in their neighborhoods
through the improvement of their urban environment, and the new
opportunities for investment that pose new challenges, there is an
inclination towards the continuous ceding of the medina to the
antiquarians of historic cities. Why antiquarians of historic cities? It
is because the current international antiquarians have shifted from the
acquisition of artifacts to the creation of a fervent market of buying
and selling historic properties all over the world.
The local authorities
encourage foreign investment in the medina, but at the same time are
keen to control this investment in order not to destabilize the local
communities. While the cases of Marrakech and Essaouira are thrilling in
terms of the rapid improvement of their built environment, their local
communities are completely ceding their medinas to a new community of
mixed residents comprising people of different nationalities. These two
cities would become rather a gentrified theme-park.
The positive and negative
impact of this trend in Marrakech and Essaouira is a good example for
Fez, which reveals more resistance in this respect. The structure of its
community is still coherent with its function as a city. Therefore, PDRT
(The Regional Program for Development of Tourism) is playing a major
role in sustaining Fez as a cultural destination through different rich
programs of improving and diversifying the tourism infrastructure in Fez
and its region.
The challenge for
heritage cities like Fez is how to make financial institutions invest in
high value cultural and historic environments. In addition, it is how to
engage heritage in economic development without endangering its
non-economic value. To persuade the international financial institutions
to fund development projects in a World Heritage Site is a challenge.
In 1993, Fez hosted an
international colloquium on “The Financing of the Rehabilitation of the
Historic Cities by Whom? How? And Why?” During the same colloquium the
World Heritage Cities Organization (WHCO) was created officially. This
event attracted many international financial institutions, and ever
since the World Bank has shown interest in the participation in the
development of historic cities.
Fez being among its first
cultural projects, the World Bank needed to train its experts in the
field of cultural heritage.
Thus, Fez was among the cities that influenced the World Bank team to
venture into heritage sites. Of particular mention is its former
president James Wolfensohn who visited Fez several times before and
during the tailoring of the project to be financed by a World Bank loan
to the Moroccan government.
ADER-Fès, a well prepared
agency for conservation and development, was the main interlocutor of
the World Bank team in charge with the case of Fez. The project was
entitled: “The Rehabilitation Project of the Medina of Fez.” This placed
ADER-Fès in a strategic position with its signing of a Project Agreement
directly and the World Bank and its role as an execution agency for the
whole project. The importance of the Fez project, financed by the World
Bank loan, is embodied in the exploration of local expertise in order to
shape an integrated program that goes with the line of action of
ADER-Fès, and not to step-over or undermine the local expertise. This
was not an easy task for both sides, but an agreement was concluded on
the necessity of such an ideal.
The global budget of the
project was 126 million MAD (12.6 million USD ), and covered the
following components: Development of Programs that Encourages the
Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings; Improvement of Emergency
Circulation Network; Improvement of the Medina Environment; Exploration
of the Rehabilitation Process to Eradicate Poverty; and Institutional
Reinforcement. All these components were achieved in 2005, and the
project has had a tremendous positive impact on the development of the
medina of Fez. Although in terms of financial indicators, the
achievement of a project of such a size is not always fully met, it has
generated many synergies of actors and investors pursuing the lines of
the components. This established a model in the level of practice of
development in a conservation zone.
In addition to the World
Bank loan, other financial actors participated in Fez such as FADES
(Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development). FADES has been involved
widely in the rehabilitation of the monuments, housing, and
infrastructure of Fez. Its financial contributions were always through
donations, and it has been among the few financial actors to venture
into saving the rivers and water system of the old Fez. Private national
and international donors supported the restoration of many monuments in
The large number of
implemented rehabilitation projects in the medina of Fez has made it a
successful case study, particularly in fund raising and financial
investment in the heritage sector. Despite the fact that a historic city
of 160,000 inhabitants could not be conserved or fully saved from
danger, Fez is very advanced in the implementation of its vision of
conservation compared to other historic cities in Morocco or in the Arab
The different investments
made in the conservation project of Fez between 1981 and 2005 show that
infrastructure is the most important with 52.9% of the whole budget. The
second largest investment is made in the rehabilitation of buildings
with 22.1%. The third is the restoration of monuments with 11%. The
fourth is the protection of environment with 6.6%. The fifth is cultural
and tourism development with 4.9%. The sixth is training and
institutional reinforcement with 1.3% and 1.2% respectively.
The technical aspect lies
in the qualified personnel and technical tools applied in order to
undertake the mission of conservation in Fez. Without this aspect, the
institutional and financial tools would never be sufficient. The
challenge of many historic sites is that their conservation projects are
managed by people who have no expertise in the field of conservation.
This delicate task does not only require blue collar administrators and
big financial equations. The necessity of a permanent qualified staff,
with local expertise and knowledge about the field, is vital for the
continuity of any conservation project. Conservation is a training
ground. Without sustainability, a conservation project would never reach
a stage of maturity that can innovate with appropriate strategies for
The conservation team of
Fez is always seen as a centralized entity of individuals consumed by
the project. Nevertheless, without the determination of some
professionals who are devoted to this task, no tangible progress would
be made. The conservation program of Fez has, from its initial stage,
been a training school of many professionals from various disciplines,
who are interested in embarking upon heritage development. Therefore,
the success of the project is also related to the large network of
professionals connected to ADER-Fès, who are consulted whenever a new
large project emerges. Technicians, engineers, researchers, professors,
architects, economists, environmentalists, historians, sociologists, and
so on are an integral part of the conservation strategy of Fez.
The interaction between
these professionals and the field of the medina has forged a new
generation of experts who are aware of the intricacy of conservation
projects. Accordingly, new technical tools are developed in order to
create a technical infrastructure for the project. Among these tools
that Fez has pioneered are the GIS (Geographical Information System),
Restoration and Rehabilitation Laboratory, Socio-economic and Urban
Observatory, Survey and Spatial Analysis Group, and Environmental
The GIS of Fez is an edge
management tool for the conservation data and supervision of projected
and implemented projects. It is a crafted GIS for the simple reason that
it is a computer program that has been adapted to cope with the
complexity and the intricate urban fabric of the medina.
It was launched in 1992
based on SYGER (System of Resources Management designed by the Moroccan
Cad-Tech). The results of the interaction of the GIS’s interfaces are
exceptional. With MicrostationTM, a map of the medina is
digitalized in order to have an interface with a database through OracleTM.
Thus, the Fez’ GIS is based on an active plan (vectors), and it is more
efficient than the other GIS programs that rely on aerial photos or
static geographical plans.
The many layers of
information, and the possibilities to navigate through them horizontally
and vertically, allow endless innovations in terms of design and
projection of scenarios of development. The digitalization of the
different implemented projects on the GIS provides a close monitoring of
the repartition of interventions in the medina, which helps in
understanding and guiding the mechanisms of rehabilitations.
The Master Plan of
Rehabilitation is, furthermore, adapted to the GIS platform, which
renders the task of control and legal references easily accessible. This
has an immediate impact on the acceleration of the authorization permits
of the different proposed private projects.
The Restoration and
Rehabilitation Laboratory was established under a convention between
ADER-Fès and the University of Fez, Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah. The
laboratory’s work consists mainly in the follow-up of the stability of
physical structures, control of the rate of degradation, as well as the
auscultation, diagnosis, and analysis of the quality of materials. It is
very effective in the prospecting and control of the quality of the
In addition to the scientific data, this laboratory is also exploring
the technical know-how of the master builders through the interaction of
engineers with the historic techniques applied in monuments.
The Socio-Economic and
Urban Laboratory was created in 1992 with the support of UNDP and
Moroccan experts. Its information is centralized around the transfer of
polluting activities and the decreasing of the population in the high
density districts. The laboratory is a piloting tool for the stability
and movement of households, and it is an indicator of the socio-economic
mutations in the medina.
The Survey and Spatial
Analysis Group is a team of skilled technicians whose main task is to
gather data and survey the different buildings and structures of the
medina. With its hands-on expertise, this team is able to pursue any
newly proposed projects, be it at the level of an individual house or an
urban district. It assists continuously the different permits of
rehabilitation and reconstruction. The intricacy of the structure of the
medina needs permanent control in order to protect it from destructive
and inappropriate infiltrations.
Analysis Group is formed by experts in the field of environment. The
medina of Fez is acutely threatened with the increase of the number of
semi-industrial activities that are using toxic materials. The
tanneries, for instance, are a major user of chromium that poses a high
pollution threat to the water system in the medina. Therefore, ADER-Fès
has established advanced studies about the environment in order to alert
officials about the risks, and find appropriate measures to resolve the
mounting issue of pollution. The most important operation undertaken by
ADER-Fès in this matter is the participation in the transfer of the
polluting semi-industrial and industrial activities from the medina to a
newly planned district of Ain Nokbi outside its walls. The Environmental
Group is very active, and has woven multiple partnerships with national
and international research institutions.
The technical capacity of
the conservation project of Fez was always being tested by the myriad of
challenges it faced during the implementation of projects. Thus, it is
an accumulated expertise of years of practice in the field. Yet, the
need to synthesize such knowledge is required in order to apply it in
many other projects or in other historic cities in Morocco.
Conservation of Fez: a best practice
The assessment of the
conservation program of Fez seems difficult because of the overlying
political, institutional, technical, and economic parameters. However,
many lessons could be learned from this complicated case study. Why is
Fez a model of best practice for conservation of heritage cities?
When the expression “best
practice” is mentioned what may quickly come to one’s mind is an ideal
and successful project. Yet, it would be difficult to assess any project
as fully ideal without errors and constraints. One of the master
builders in Fez views innovation as the shift from the normal line of
production to take up new constraints that have never been encountered.
This means that the “expertise,” according to this master, is the
accumulation of ready solutions for common issues. The true challenge
is, hence, to explore this expertise and project unprecedented
strategies for the constraints that have never occurred before. The best
practice is, consequently, the one that displays the maximum number of
challenges and subsequently the maximum number of solved issues.
This notion of “best
practice” goes beyond the commonly applied definition of one effective
method or process with a particular outcome. This very definition is
tailored to deduce possibilities of duplication of success stories, but
by no means reflects the reality of things. Any successful practice has
its share of risks and errors. The best practice is indeed the
optimization of used resources, the sustainability of the action, and
the tackling of forthcoming risks.
The conservation of Fez
represents, in this respect, a vast array of issues and innovations that
makes it a case to be considered for other heritage cities. It is not a
best practice for solving the issue of one isolated monument or of a
luxurious museum. It is rather a best practice for tackling the issue of
a living historic city used by 160,000 inhabitants, 36% of whom are
below poverty level. It is therefore a study of a rehabilitation
practice with an outcome that directly impacts on the living conditions
of the people. Heritage is in this case a catalyst for enhancing the
lives of people.
The areas of success in
the Fez project could be summarized as under:
Participatory process and community development
According to Fouad
the conservation of Fez is not based on one specific view of heritage,
but rather an amalgam of perspectives of different partners in the
process. He added that heritage is the property of everyone, and if it
becomes personalized its richness is subsequently lost. Therefore, the
participatory process is vital for the continuity of conservation as a
When the first
experimental projects were launched in the medina in the 1980s, the
inhabitants could not comprehend them. They were seen as putting a
needle in an ocean. The restoration of some monuments could not reflect
the true dimension of the rehabilitation of a medina that exceeds any
imagination. In addition, the large number of studies conducted made
people very vulnerable to questionnaires. The first attempt that secured
the inhabitants’ full co-operation was the one relevant to their
immediate dwellings. This proves that housing is central for urban
conservation, and it is vital for the sustainability of the medina as a
comprehensive historic city.
Housing presented a high
risk because of the threat of collapse of their physical structures. In
1991, ADER-Fès launched an innovative emergency actions program that
targeted the saving of human lives from this threat. This program
consisted of an emergency team of builders, architects, and engineers
who engaged themselves in the service of stopping the collapse of
physical structures on residents from the inside and outside of their
individual dwellings. The success of this program led to the signing of
a convention with the Fez municipality in 1993 over immediate rescue
operations and prevention of risk. This program also became a model at
the national level when the Moroccan government released special funds
for carrying out similar programs throughout Morocco.
Examples of consolidation and rehabilitation of houses
This is an example of how
a participatory process could be a means of developing a conservation
project. The participatory process is also a way of enticing the
concerned population to be active. In Fez, when the population was
participating in rescue operations, it became more aware of its built
environment. The medina today contains a large number of neighborhood
associations created to voice their needs and be effective in improving
their living conditions.
Among the weaknesses that
the conservation project of Fez bridged is the community dimension of
the medina. Criticisms were made by some experts that the link between
technicians and community views ought to be interactive. On the other
hand, the expert technicians should not be authoritarian. Guidance and
observations of technicians is required, but should not be excessive or
undermine the efforts to keep the project on track. Thus, Fez has
learned from this interaction and has reached an advanced stage in terms
of the participation of the community in the conservation program.
meetings with the associations of neighborhoods
Community Center of ADER-Fès
The outcome of community
development in Fez is crystallized in the link between physical
interventions and the awareness of inhabitants about the process of
conservation. The increase of community awareness about the project
transformed their status from a watching audience to an effective actor
in the process.
The participatory process
also involves the different partners concerned with the project. Private
and public investors should be engaged to participate in the process of
conservation and development, and be part of it. This participation adds
a momentum to the financing of projects and creates new innovative
and conflict resolution
Among the difficulties
the conservation program of Fez faced was dealing with the political
structure. Opposing and diverse views regarding the program subjected
the whole project to the crisis of who is doing what, and who has the
right to do what. While acting in a political environment where every
actor is a decision maker with a respective administrative and power
hierarchy, coordination is thorny, and the overlapping of tasks becomes
common place. The interests of individuals can overwhelm the need for
working as partners in a project. Many projects might be buried because
of this daunting issue of power play and communication gap.
The involvement of
political parties who lead municipal councils with different
perspectives, powerful investors, and technicians of different
administrations with different aspirations influence the course of any
project. But, if all grasp a vision and embrace the strategies that seek
long term positive impacts they are bound to generate a remarkable
synergy. The big winner will be the city and its inhabitants.
When the stakes are not
multiple, and the stakeholders are eager to maximize profit, the overall
outcome of conservation is jeopardized. Meanwhile, multiplicity of
stakes, and diversity of projects, provides an ideal and active
environment, where all partners have something to do, and everyone
becomes essential for the success of the whole project.
Fez has progressed
through a number of stages in terms of speeding up the negotiation of
conservation decisions among stakeholders. Since 2003 an ideal political
environment has been created because of the maturity of the conservation
program. The many implementations and their success stories are
incentives for making stakeholders adhere to the vision of the program.
The case study of Fez
provides, therefore, a rich best practice in the way conflicts were
managed in order to keep the conservation program dynamic by integrating
different views without shifting from the primary vision or tampering
with the substance of conservation.
The economic growth
generated by the project of Fez is remarkable. Visitors who came to Fez
in the 1970s and return to it today will easily notice great changes in
the built environment. The medina is today a major economic center for
the whole urban agglomerate of Fez. The number of rehabilitation
programs and the continuous concern for the improvement of the
infrastructure has created an ideal milieu for growing businesses. Its
vibrant economic sectors are artisanship and tourism. These economic
activities are supported by the housing capacity of the medina. Though
the population density is high, the job opportunities created are very
significant. It remains the largest employer compared to other urban
zones in the city of Fez.
The interest shown in the
medina through the striking increase of rehabilitation and restoration
programs attracts many investors to the heritage sector, particularly in
the areas of tourism and artisanship. Nationals and foreigners are,
moreover, purchasing historic buildings, and some do exquisite
restoration work. Investment in heritage has evolved from exclusive
government financing to private financing which is growing fast. That is
a good indicator because private investors would never venture into a
site if it was not promising in terms of profits. This also indicates
the recognition of the economic value of the urban heritage of Fez that
has suffered years of neglect.
The economic growth in
the medina is also manifested in the investments made by the house
owners in order to restore their properties. Without signs of good
annual returns, the owners would never repair their properties that were
deemed dead in the last decade. The proliferation of rehabilitation by
private individuals is good testimony to the momentum for the continuity
of the conservation program.
On the other hand, the
rehabilitation of individual houses is judged today to be an excellent
investment since their financial value is mounting exponentially. This
is due to the number of dwellings converted to guest-houses, a market
that is growing fast.
With these investments,
innovative ideas of design and adaptation of historic structures are
explored. Many dilapidated palaces are considered for potential
investment. However, a major restraint in many cases is land tenure and
ownership status. The complicated legal status of properties, especially
inheritance issues, hinders the purchase of many abandoned houses.
The conservation of Fez
has as one of its major concerns environmental improvement. The
rehabilitation of the infrastructure and the upgrading of the built
environment are central to this improvement. The image of the medina has
been improved from that of a decaying urban fabric to a site where
living conditions are continuously getting better.
When the medina was
neglected before the 1980s, it became a dumping ground for all kinds of
polluting semi-industrial activities. The environmental nuisances
increased with the lack of control and absence of urban legal
guidelines. They range from the use of heavy machinery in a delicate
historic physical environment to very poisonous and toxic substances
contaminating water resources.
According to a study
about the city’s environment conducted by Scandiaconsult International
AB, the activities in the medina account for 24% of the pollution of the
Sebou river (the main river crossing the landscape of Fez) out of the
other sources from the whole urban agglomerate, and the discharge of 100
tons per year of heavy metals, most of which is chromium.
Concern for the
environment in the medina was only shown seriously by decision makers in
the 1990s. Many measures have since been taken to resolve the issue of
pollution and its consequences. First, the government launched the
program of detecting and transferring polluting activities in the medina
to a newly created semi-industrial district (Ain Noqbi) outside its
confines. The transfer is still in progress. This new district has a
recycling station that will start operating after the completion of the
The level of awareness by
the inhabitants in the medina is high, and the results of environmental
studies are made public. Presently, due to new regulations and permanent
control, no polluting activities are taking place in the walled city.
Coordination between the different departments and sectors concerned
with environment issues is effective. However, the technical and
financial issues of the environment projects are not obvious, and
difficulty remains in conflict resolution between industries and the
intricacy of relations between different partners.
The built environment has
shown significant improvement as shown by the number of public squares
that have been rehabilitated such as Boujeloud, Seffarin, Nejjarin, Oued
Zehoun, and Bin Lamdoun. The large number of ruins evacuated has reduced
the density of some neighborhoods, and eliminated a serious source of
bad odor and solid waste nuisances.
Restoration as urban
The restoration of
monuments in Fez was the result of interactions between skilful
master-builders and apprentices. The Nejjarin Caravanserai (17th
century) was the first important restoration site where the restoration
method was explored by local experts. The outcome of this restoration
rested on how donors would follow the steps of the former prime minister
of Morocco, Mr. Karim al-Amrani. Mr. al-Amrani ventured into financing
the biggest restoration operation of a monument that is the Nejjarin.
Instead of focusing on the inside of the building, the restoration was
expanded to the whole immediate environment: the public square, the Suq (market) of carpenters, four houses, and a mosque. This proved
that restoration is not limited to an individual building, but could
generate an urban rehabilitation if the donor is concerned with the
importance of its social and urban impact. This example has been
followed in subsequent restoration projects such as the 14th
century madrassas (schools) of Buinanya and ‘Attarin.
The importance of
restoration as urban rehabilitation is due to the urban morphology of
the medina. The overlapping of the physical structures, and the
convoluted urban fabric, is dictating the limit and extent of the
interventions. For instance, the structural walls of Nejjarin are
interconnected with the neighboring houses, which form a compact block.
This constitutes many risks when one of the walls is threatened because
of the domino effect. Thus, to save the caravanserai is to intervene in
all related structures, and consequently, to save the whole urban block.
also has impacts on the social environment of the medina. It shows that
a restoration project is not part of a gentrification policy, and
instead is a way to improve holistically the built environment of the
medina. The Nejjarin has had remarkable impact on the whole neighborhood
with its name. The neighborhood of Nejjarin is today a vibrant center of
retailing and craftsmanship.
Yet with limited scope,
the restoration of the madrasa Buinanya in the neighborhood of Buinanya
has the same effect as Nejjarin. Buinanya was financed through a
donation by one of the prominent bankers in Morocco, Othmane Ben Jelloun.
The completion of the
restoration of the scientific complex of Qarawiyin could have also a
remarkable outcome. The ministry of Cultural Affairs financed the
restoration of its library, the ministry of Islamic Affairs and Waqf is
financing the main mosque, and FADES is financing the madrasa ‘Attarin.
Also, a major restoration program of the façades of the whole Qarawiyin
and Sidi Ahmed Tijani shrine neighborhoods (described as the golden
triangle of the medina due to its historic and cultural value) is being
undertaken by al-Omarane Holding (a Moroccan Housing Agency).
With these major restoration projects, and work undertaken on the
infrastructure, the whole neighborhood of Qarawiyin will be rejuvenated.
The response of the
residents of this neighborhood is highly positive because they are
witnessing a record up-grading operation in one of the most authentic
and vibrant hubs of the medina.
rehabilitation in Fez means, therefore, the expansion of specific
restoration projects in order to improve the urban environment. This is
indeed a best practice that should be emulated in other historic cities.
Since monuments are urban anchors in a city, their revival induces the
strengthening of the whole built environment.
Following the first
vision of conservation of Fez, the success of the revitalization of the
medina is greatly associated with the up-grading of its infrastructure.
The work on the infrastructure prepares the ground for development and
rehabilitation projects. Private investors don’t want to participate in
infrastructure projects, and this remains a critical issue for funding
big budgets for macro-infrastructure operations that aim at making a
city a functioning one. Government policies are not always effective in
this area, which is deeply influenced by the financial resources of
local municipal councils. In a developing country such as Morocco, while
the scale of private investment is not significant, taxation remains the
main sources of financing for public projects.
Despite the limited
public budget for the medina, innovative methods have been employed in
order to improve its infrastructure. Moving from the small scale
interventions, a number of large scale projects have been implemented in
the medina. This includes the following:
Water and sewage
the municipal council, RADEEF,
and ADER-Fès are the main actors in the improvement of water and
sewage systems. ADER-Fès has restored more than seven kilometers of
traditional water channels under the ground of the medina. These
channels are among the most advanced historic water distribution
systems in Morocco, and date back to the 10th century.
This project was financed by FADES, and included the restoration of
springs and public fountains. The municipal council and RADEEF
joined hands in up-grading the whole modern sewage system. This is a
complicated task, particularly the intricacy of housing patterns in
the medina. All the individual buildings in the medina are connected
to the sewage system, and this is very important for the sanitary
environment of the city.
In order for the medina to communicate well with the new city
outside its walls, the traffic network has been improved especially
surrounding the historic walls and their monumental gateways. The
limited number of vehicular roads for transit in the vicinity of the
medina causes serious traffic jams, particularly in rush hours.
Accesses and parking:
Whenever these two words are mentioned, conservationists loudly
raise objection in order to keep the medina exclusively pedestrian.
If this is so, the accesses here simply mean the pavement and
existing pathways in the vicinity of historic walls. This is a
strategic action in order to maintain movement in the medina, and
make provision for merchandise and raw materials of commercial and
artisan enterprises. The accesses facilitate enormously the parking
of cars outside the pedestrian road network, and they contribute to
the increase of the economy and real estate value of many parts of
the medina because of the easy accessibility.
Emergency and liaison
These two networks are appropriate solutions for easing movement
through the dense and twisty roads inside the medina. These are not
for common vehicles. They are only for emergency ones (fire
vehicles, ambulances, solid waste collection, and so on). ADER-Fès
surveyed the whole traditional road system and pointed out the best
plan for reducing the distance between the strategic parts of the
medina with minor changes. The emergency and liaison networks have
noticeable impact on the communication and transportation networks
in the medina.
Since the 1960s, the municipality and the RADEEF played a major role
in the electrification of the whole medina. Yet, more public
lighting is required in order to increase tourism activities at
night, which would decrease the influx of passersby during the day.
The electricity infrastructure has increased the number of
businesses in the medina. In addition, the telephone network in the
medina is highly reliable, and it is affordable to households
(except the poor ones who constitute a significant number).
In their attempt to meet the challenges of modern norms of
establishing many urban facilities, many ministries have found ways
to adapt their norms to the historic building capacity. For
instance, ministries of education and health have built a
significant number of schools and nurseries in the medina.
The infrastructure cited
above are only examples of the efforts made by many actors to increase
the living conditions of the medina. It is also a lever for balancing
the image of the medina from a destitute urban district to a habitable
and decent one.
Research and Training
The major strength of the
conservation program of Fez is the rich data collected and endless
research activities carried out since the start of the project. This
might be also a source of criticism of the team for investing too much
in the field of studies. Yet, the handling of a site such as the
historic Fez merits wise decisions based on reliable field information.
A local proverb about tailoring says: “Think twice before cutting a rich
material with scissors.”
The continuous errors due
to ignorance in the field of conservation may engender disastrous
consequences. Before the launching of the conservation program of Fez
many irremediable errors were made in the medina. High value heritage if
destroyed is irretrievable. Therefore, data and documentation about the
precious monuments are needed. However, the continuous research for
recording the site contents should not hinder the effectiveness of the
interventions. Futile arguments are sometimes raised on small details
while neglecting the overall view.
ADER-Fès today owns
invaluable documents about the historic Fez that range from meticulous
surveys, cartographic supports, socio-economic data, topographical data,
and multidisciplinary information, to the knowledge on building
materials and techniques of restoration. On the other hand, the 30 years
of data gathering also means that there are individuals who grew up with
the project and are an invaluable human resource for the conservation
program. The mastering of the field is a crucial factor for the success
of the conservation project.
Training is not limited
to technicians of conservation, but covers different sectors that are
related to the conservation of the medina. An Institute of Traditional
Crafts and Arts was created more than two decades ago and is training
qualified technicians specialized in the conservation field. Some the
laureates of this institute are now successful entrepreneurs of
restoration in the medina of Fez and elsewhere. This is only one example
among others of how training is vital for forging a new generation
capable of exploring the opportunities offered by heritage development.
While the first concern of apprentices in the conservation vocation has
been employment, the conservation sector is today a good job provider
with the increase of investment in artisanship and heritage areas.
These are some areas of
success of the conservation program of Fez. It could be a true model for
experts seeking to avoid errors and learn from the field. This has made
Fez one of the unique projects of conservation. The expertise acquired
in the field of Fez is unprecedented as to the number of disciplines
involved, and the national and international institutions that
participated in the program. It is also the difficulty and intricacy of
the historic medina of Fez that overwhelms professionals. Thus, the
challenge to painstakingly resolve the issues of such a site might
inspire future generations on the genius of long centuries of crafting
and modeling a city.
What has been written in
this article is, unquestionably, neither covering fully the whole
process of conservation of the World Heritage city of Fez nor providing
exhaustive information. It is intended to decipher the myth around a
project that has been active for more than 30 years. Absence of case
study research on this conservation project, nationally and
internationally, created different images among professionals,
politicians, and researchers. It is also meant to present the project of
Fez as a best practice in the field of conservation, and make it a case
study worthy of consideration by professionals who are seeking to
explore new challenges in different geographical and cultural areas in
is an Assistant
Professor, Department of Architectural
Engineering, University of Sharjah, UAE.
Richard S. Levine is co-Director of the Center of Sustainable
Cities and professor in the University of Kentucky. Our
interaction through the HAMMAM Project with Oikodrom, Vienna,
for exploring the sustainability of historic urban contexts was
Following an interview with Mr. Fouad Serrhini, the actual
Director General of ADER-Fès (Agence de la Réhabilitation et de
de la Médina de Fès) on Sunday, January 21, 2007.
Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow’s speech, Former Director General of UNESCO,
for launching the international campaign for the safeguarding of
the city of Fez, Fez, April 9, 1980
This policy is well described in the Agreement documents that
were signed between the Moroccan government and the General
Union of Enterprises in 2001 under the patronage of His Majesty
the king Mohamed VI. It stresses the importance of tourism
development in the Moroccan economy. It also explores the rich
geographical and cultural resources of Morocco in Regional
Programs for Development of Tourism in order to increase the
number of tourists within a vision called VISION 2010. However,
the impact of such a vision is to be studied.
“The World Bank has increasingly emphasized over the last two
decades the need to deliberately and proactively take into
account the cultural dimensions of every economic and
infrastructural sector within which it works for development. In
turn, the cultural sector itself requires increased support…For
practitioners in the domain of cultural heritage management,
this strategy framework is not intended to be a set of rigid
prescriptions, but rather to offer an array of operational
suggestions. Each situation is different and requires locally
tailored solutions and innovative adaptations…” Jean-Louis
Sarbib, Vice President, Middle East and North Africa Region,
Foreword in Cultural Heritage and Development: a Framework
for Action in the Middle East and North Africa (Washington
D.C: The World Bank publication, 2001)
“Investissements Consentis pour la Sauvegarde de la Médina de
Fès (1981-2005)” in Sauvegarde de la Médina de Fès: Situation
Provisoire des Investissements Consentis en Médina entre 1981 et
2005 (source ADER-Fès, Réf: 226/06, Juin 2006)
Abdaljalil Bennani, “Laboratoire de Restauration et de
Réhabilitation de la Médina de Fès : Système d’Auscultation
d’évaluation et de Suivi des Risques,” Plaquette d’Exposition du
Matériel du Laboratoire, ADER-Fès, Janvier 2007.
Ma’alem (master-builder) Driss Khattun participated in the
restoration projects in the medina of Fez from 1982 until his
death in 1999 at the age of 80. Ma’alem Driss trained many young
builders who are now very active in the different restoration
projects in the medina.
Interview with Mr. Serrhini, op.cit.
Scandiaconsult International AB, “Sauvegarde de la Médina de
Fès: Etude de Restructuration de l’Artisanat de la Médina de Fès
et de Médina de Fès et de Protection de son Environnement,”
(ADER-Fès, March 1996). Even though
this research was conducted in 1996, its findings remain
credible. These findings are still alarming for the environment
of the medina.
As an unprecedented step, al-Omrane has participated widely in
the rehabilitation of individual houses in the historic sites
over the whole territory of Morocco. This is indeed a promising
action on behalf of this government holding. Other Moroccan
ministries ought to pursue this path in order to boost these
sorts of projects within the historic cities. This will
certainly alleviates the pressure on one agency or institution
to do the whole work, and makes the rehabilitation program a
join adventure between all partners.
Régie Autonome de Distribution de l’Eau et de
l’Electricité à Fès.
Source of all illustrations in this article is
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