Those fleeing Syria have not only lost homes, security and often loved ones, they've had to endure the destruction of their cultural heritage. Exiled artists in Jordan's Za'atari Refugee Camp are fighting back to preserve these historic landmarks by creating miniatures from local stone and recycled waste materials. Read on to meet some of the artists and admire the beautiful structures they've built with painstaking care, so that future generations will not forget where they come from.
Working only with basic tools and materials sourced at the Za’atari camp. Refugees are reconstructing iconic Syrian sites such as Palmyra and the Krak des Chevaliers castle in Homs. “We chose this project to highlight what is happening in Syria, because many of these sites are under threat or have already been destroyed,” explains project coordinator Ahmad Hariri from Dara’a.
Hariri brought the group together and helps collect raw materials. He hopes the project will educate children in the camp about their homeland. “There are lots of kids living here who have never seen Syria or who have no memory of it. They know more about Jordan than about their own country. The project has also given the artists a sense of purpose. By doing this work, they feel like they are at least doing something to preserve their culture.”
Mahmoud, from Dara’a, built a model of Palmyra using clay and wooden kebab skewers. As he worked, he learned that the site had fallen under the control of armed groups. “I’m very worried about what is happening,” he said. “This site represents our history and culture, not just for Syrians but all of humanity. If it is destroyed it can never be rebuilt.”
Erected for pedestrians in 1927, the Deir ez-Zor suspension bridge spanned the Euphrates River in north-eastern Syria. It was destroyed by shelling in 2013, but is remembered in this miniature replica, shown at the community centre in Za’atari. The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, built 1,300 years ago, is said to be one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world. It’s now replicated and restored in miniature.
Ismail Hariri, 44 worked as an interior designer before the conflict forced him to flee to Jordan with his wife and children in 2013. He sculpted from a young age but arriving at the camp he was reluctant to take up his craft again. The project helped him rediscover his passion, now UNHCR partner International Relief and Development have invited him to run art classes for 44 children at the community centre.
Ismail made several sculptures for exhibition. His favorite depicts the Nabatean gate and arch at Bosra, near Dara’a. Like the original, it is made from volcanic stone, which he found in the camp. “It was a large stone, and it took me two months to finish it, working with the simple tools I could find,” he said. “It’s the first thing I’ve made for a long time. For the first few days I hit my hand more than I hit the stone.”
Famed military and political leader Ayyubid Sultan Saladin also features among the replicas created by the artists. A huge bronze statue of the man who successfully led Muslim opposition to the European Crusaders in the Levant during the 12th century has stood in front of the medieval Citadel of Damascus since 1993. The statue was unveiled to mark the 800th anniversary of Saladin’s death. The Ancient City of Damascus is the only one of Syria’s six UNESCO World Heritage Sites that has so far not suffered significant damage during the conflict.
The Citadel of Aleppo is one of the oldest and largest castles in the world, towering over the old city from a strategic position atop a 40-metre-high plateau. Construction of the current fortress dates from the 12th and 13th centuries A.D., but the site itself contains evidence of occupation by civilizations dating back millennia. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 as part of the Ancient City of Aleppo, the citadel was placed on a list of endangered sites in 2013 as a result of the threat posed by the conflict in Syria. It has been one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, but since combatants began using the fortress as an artillery battery in 2012, it has suffered significant damage, the full extent of which is still unknown.