Preserving the Past, Envisioning the Future: Innovative Approaches to Cultural Heritage at the International Conference

The final day of the conference was filled with a fascinating panel discussion on Initiatives of “Excellence in Culture and Heritage”, as well as scientific discussions and poster sessions.

Moderated by Eng Bilal Chebbi, an ICESCO expert, the panel discussion on “Initiatives of Excellence in Culture and Heritage” convened five speakers, showcasing commendable efforts in heritage preservation. Chebbi, expressing gratitude for the preceding day’s enlightening trip, lauded Nizwa as a prime example of community involvement in sustaining heritage.

Dr. Marvat Abdul Nasser, the Founder and Director of New Hermopolis, was called to the panel telling the story of New Hermopolis. She expressed genuine passion in searching for solutions and creative ideas from the past to help humanity find new ways to get out of troubling times. A new Hermopolis means that the new one is a ‘revival’ for the ancient one, stating that “the ancient past is a reservoir for opportunities” and that it is about utilising the past for today and tomorrow.

Furthermore, Dr Marvat stressed the importance of revisiting and leveraging the past to address current and future challenges. New Hermopolis is depicted as a revival effort, a one-woman show aiming to capture the spirit of ancient Hermopolis. The project seeks to utilize heritage as a means to offer solutions and opportunities, positioning the past as a valuable resource for today and tomorrow.

The tangible remnants of ancient Hermopolis, such as Ashmunin and Tuna El Gebel, are described as neglected yet vital parts of Egypt’s heritage that deserve preservation and attention to enhance tourism and cultural appreciation. The intangible aspects of Hermopolis, including its role as a center of thought, healing, and the mythical city of primordial forces, are also emphasized.

Dr. Marvat also stated how the city of Hermopolis is comprise of both tangible and intangible components. Tangible such that it is a tangible monument. For example Ashumin, which witnessed a fusion of so many cultures. As for the intangible aspect, Dr. Marvat explained how the city has so many attributes such as, metaphorical, methodological, philosophical and healing. She also talked about the activities that are carried out in the Thoth’s festival like theatre and stick dancing, which is inscribed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

The next paneslit was Dr. Rafia Ghubash, a professor of Psychiatry and Founder of the Woman’s Museum located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  During the discussion, Dr Ghubash shared her journey from medicine to heritage and history, culminating in the establishment of the women’s museum. She described herself as a lifelong student and recounted how a request from her mother to write about her grandfather ignited her passion for heritage in 2005. This led her to write a book about her family and delve deeper into the history and heritage of the region. She discussed her research on the famous female poet Ousha Al Souidi, emphasizing the poet’s contributions beyond love poetry, touching on political and social themes.

The inspiration for the women’s museum came from a house sale, which she transformed into a space dedicated to documenting the culture of old villages and the lives of women who remained unmarried. Her interest in women’s masks highlighted the cultural significance beyond mere beauty, focusing on the intricate designs.

The speaker detailed her collaborations with artists for creative exhibitions, including a dress designed by Fatma Lutab, and her efforts to link heritage with art and history. She also presented a timeline of women’s political involvement and significant achievements in the region, including a notable defense against the British in Ras Al Khaima in 1819.

Her narrative underscored a personal commitment to documenting and preserving heritage and addressing women’s issues in the Arab region, offering a unique perspective through the lens of her diverse experiences and the establishment of the women’s museum.

Next to take the stage was Mr. Alessio Re, the Secretary General of Fondazione Santagata for the Economics of Culture. He emphasized an economic perspective on cultural heritage, highlighting his affiliation with a pioneering company in cultural economics recognized by UNESCO and a member of the G20. He posed critical questions about the essence and preservation of heritage, acknowledging the challenges of environmental degradation and limited resources.

The discussion delved into the complexities of cultural heritage management (CHM), stressing that heritage is an evolving landscape that requires tailored approaches rather than a one-size-fits-all manual. He argued for viewing cultural heritage as an economic resource, necessitating innovative management processes and responsibilities.

The speaker advocated for the integration of conservation instruments and collaboration across different heritage categories, citing the example of horn players recognized by UNESCO in Italy. He highlighted the importance of communication among professionals in various heritage fields and the use of financial tools for site preservation.

Addressing the production of culture from an economic angle, he emphasized the need for creativity, digital tools, and incentives for entrepreneurs, alongside the importance of linking cultural dynamics with global issues like climate change to impact tourism.

The discussion also covered stimulating demand through community rather than audience development, engaging stakeholders, investing in youth, and scaling impactful practices. The importance of empowering organizations and measuring the effects of cultural heritage initiatives was also discussed.

Mr. Re framed cultural heritage as an economic good that encompasses cultural values and generates a broad ecosystem of economic activities, urging the audience not to miss the opportunities cultural heritage presents for economic and community development.

Following Mr. Re’s intervention, Dr. Ahdaf Soueif, noted author, presented ‘A flotilla for the Future’ during which she shared the compelling story of her engagement with Cairo’s houseboat tradition, aiming to preserve and revitalize a dwindling heritage. The project focuses on the houseboats moored on the Giza side of the river in an area known as “Kit Kat,” where once a vibrant community of residential houseboats thrived, now reduced to a mere 30.

The speaker, who moved from London to Cairo in 2012, invested in a houseboat to maintain this iconic piece of Cairo’s tradition. Her journey took a dramatic turn in June 2022 when she received an eviction order, a consequence of a new law that outlawed residential houseboats. The order was followed by aggressive measures, including cutting off utilities and a demonstration of a destroyed boat by authorities as a warning.

Despite negotiating fines and facing the eviction deadline, she and her son launched a campaign to raise awareness about the eviction of houseboats. They envisioned a project to not only preserve these boats but also repurpose them for social and commercial uses. Ultimately, only six of the original 30 boats remained, earmarked for this innovative project.

The final days before the eviction deadline were marked by uncertainty and struggle, with the remaining boats being moved and awaiting official permissions to moor and operate. The speaker’s vision for the boats includes transforming them into spaces for arts, crafts, wellness, and a children’s play center, all while adhering to sustainable practices and generating income.

Despite the challenges, including bureaucratic hurdles and the need for licenses and a docking location, the speaker remains hopeful. She has begun the process of restoring the boats to make them viable for public use, emphasizing the importance of preserving Cairo’s houseboat tradition for future generations.

This story highlights the complexities of cultural preservation, the impact of urban development laws on traditional lifestyles, and the resilience and creativity of individuals committed to keeping cultural heritages alive.

The panel discussion concluded with an intervention by Mr. Ian Thomas, the Head of Arts Research & Insight at the British Council.  He discussed the Cultural Protection Fund’s significant role in preserving cultural heritage. Established in response to the violence in Iraq and Syria in 2016, the fund aims to foster peace and prosperity through cultural relations. It has three main components:

Enhancement of People’s Capabilities: By focusing on cultural heritage, the fund encourages individuals to consider the legacy left for future generations, thereby enhancing their capabilities and vision beyond the immediate future.

Support for Communities in Conflict Areas: The fund promotes social cohesion in regions affected by conflict, addressing issues like climate change through local capacity building and emergency response programs. It has supported 149 projects across 17 countries since its inception, reaching millions of people and preserving both intangible and tangible heritage.

Capacity Building and Learning: In collaboration with museums in Iraq and other areas, the fund has worked on organizational and digital strategies, fundraising, and supporting heritage at risk in Ukraine and Syria through damage assessment. A key focus is on evaluating their work, investing in peer learning across heritage projects, and exploring the role of cultural heritage in achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The Cultural Protection Fund emphasizes local community ownership and a people-centered approach, recognizing the value of culture in bringing people together and fostering local, regional, and international community development. By studying the effectiveness of their projects and fostering community engagement, the fund serves as a tool to promote dialogue and support solutions rooted in local societies, making local communities active players in heritage conservation.

This intervention highlighted the British Council’s commitment to leveraging cultural heritage for social cohesion, peace, and prosperity, demonstrating the broad impact of cultural relations and heritage conservation in fostering sustainable development and community resilience.

The conference also highlighted diverse scientific discussions across various disciplines, focusing on the intersection of heritage, innovation, and sustainability.

An Entrepreneurial Approach, moderated by Mr. Alessio Re, explored the role of digital media in heritage preservation and sustainable tourism. Prof. Dr. Lorenzo Cantoni discussed the “abcde” framework, emphasizing the importance of making heritage accessible to a broader audience, not just experts, through digital exhibitions and storytelling. A collaboration with Google Arts and Culture aims to test storytelling’s impact on heritage preservation.

Adaptive Reuse and Historical Facts by Dr. Chih-Wen Lan focused on the adaptive reuse of the last complete German historical building in Taiwan. Her research illuminated the reinterpretation of German culture through Taiwanese lenses, showcasing how cultural heritage can be adapted and celebrated in contemporary contexts.

Folding Furniture in Ancient Egypt by Prof. Dr. Dalia Abou Stet revealed the sophistication of ancient Egyptian carpentry, specifically in the development of folding furniture. Through a descriptive-analytical approach, she showcased how these designs served not only practical purposes but also symbolized status and craftsmanship, with pieces like folding stools and beds found in the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Developing Traditional Handcrafts Products by Dr. Douha Attiah from The Royal Institute of Traditional Arts, KSA, discussed the challenges of preserving the authenticity and identity of Saudi traditional arts while meeting contemporary needs. The study aimed to balance innovation with tradition in developing a curriculum for traditional crafts, emphasizing the importance of maintaining craft authenticity.

Koofan Heritage Lodge, Oman: A Dhofari Model Towards a People-Centered Heritage Entrepreneurial Approach by Dr. Ali Akaak highlighted how heritage preservation can be leveraged for socioeconomic development. The Koofan Heritage Lodge serves as an example of transforming heritage homes into entrepreneurial ventures that contribute to cultural tourism and community empowerment, aligning with UN SDG goal 11 and Oman’s vision 2040.

These sessions underscored the multifaceted role of heritage in fostering innovation, sustainability, and community engagement. Through digital media, adaptive reuse, preservation of traditional crafts, and entrepreneurial ventures, heritage can be a dynamic force for cultural and economic development.

During a scientific discussion moderated by Dr. Dawood Al Jahwari, scholars gathered during the conference to discuss and shed light on ‘Sustainability, Tourism and Heritage’ to explore the critical topics shaping the future of global tourism and heritage preservation.

Dr. Gabrijela Vidić from the University of Zadar, Croatia, shared insights into Visitors’ Perceptions of World Heritage Sites in Croatia, drawing from TripAdvisor reviews. Her presentation highlighted the satisfaction among tourists visiting Croatia’s historical sites, offering valuable insights into the tourist experience.

Dr. Kristel Kessler, an independent researcher, conceptualized Islamic Tourism as a tool for achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within the Arab Region. Emphasizing the importance of sustainability in tourism development, she explored the potential for Islamic tourism to contribute to societal well-being.

Mr. Florian Eitzenberger from Constance University for Applied Sciences, Germany, provided Postcolonial Perspectives on Tourism Landscapes and Nation-Building in Uzbekistan. His research shed light on the significance of heritage landscapes in shaping the identity of Uzbekistan’s young nation, emphasizing the need for heritage preservation.

Dr. Tamadhar Alfahal from the University of Bahrain advocated for Designing for Heritage, emphasizing a pedagogical approach to cultural sustainability. Through case studies, she underscored the role of design in preserving cultural heritage and promoting sustainable practices.

Dr. Manuela Gutberlet from Breda University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands, explored tourist imaginaries and experiences in the desert, focusing on Oman’s inbound tourism. Her study revealed varied perceptions of desert tourism and emphasized the importance of sustainable tourism practices.

Dr. Abeer Allahham from Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University, KSA, examined the intersection of capitalist reform and Islamic tradition in achieving sustainability. Questioning the sustainability of Islamic-built environments, she highlighted the role of heritage in addressing contemporary issues.

The symposium facilitated thought-provoking discussions and interdisciplinary insights, offering a deeper understanding of the complex relationship between heritage, tourism, and sustainability.

Dr. Yaqoob Al Busaidi skillfully moderated a dynamic scientific discussion on ‘Heritage Management and Conservation’, featuring esteemed speakers who shared their insights and research findings.

Prof. Edgar Stach delved into the principles of museum daylight systems, drawing from nine built examples by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. He emphasized the importance of quantitative daylight analysis to imitate natural lighting for virtual reality experiences, providing recommendations such as surface skylights and point skylights.

Dr. Serkan Günay explored the role of digital technologies in heritage visualization, particularly in remembering the past through virtual reality. Using architectural examples from Turkey, he highlighted the significance of virtual environments in preserving historical sites that may no longer exist physically.

Mr. Georgios Toubekis showcased beautiful images of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage, focusing on the reconstruction of the Buddha statue in Bamiyan using 3D technology. He underscored the cultural, religious, and artistic influences of the Bamiyan landscape despite the tragic destruction by the Taliban.

Dr. Marinos Ioannides discussed the digitization of craftsmanship techniques of artifacts as a means of cultural, experiential, and sustainable tourism, emphasizing the importance of designing engaging experiences. He highlighted the value of digital reproductions in addressing heritage conservation and accessibility issues.

Ms. Elena Karittevli presented Mnemosyne’s methodology on holistic documentation of the past, aiming for excellence in research and innovation in comprehensive heritage documentation. Her work focuses on obtaining, managing, and reusing data, including tangible and intangible aspects of cultural heritage.

Dr. Lucy Semaan explored the potential of maritime heritage data and databases in the MENA region, with insights from Lebanon. Highlighting the rich archaeological record and various threats faced by maritime heritage, she emphasized the importance of collaborative projects and data repositories to streamline access to archaeological data.

The symposium provided a platform for insightful discussions and innovative approaches to heritage management and conservation, contributing to the advancement of knowledge in the field.

The second poster session of the conference showcased a wide array of research and initiatives focused on heritage conservation and urban development. Dr. Ahmed Salam, from Aswan University, Egypt, presented innovative conservation practices aimed at preserving mural paintings in Luxor’s Tomb of Keamun TT93 amidst environmental challenges and tourism pressures.

Dr. Abeer Allahham, from Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University, KSA, stimulated discussions on preserving the traditional essence in Islamic cities undergoing heritageization, raising questions about cultural authenticity amid urban transformations.

Mr. Mohammad Saad Hanif, from Eastern Mediterranean University, Cyprus, explored the complex dynamics between heritagization, urban modernization, and cultural identity in Gulf States, using Souq Al Baraha Shopping District as a case study.

Jordan’s heritage management efforts were highlighted by Mr. Ahmad Almousah, representing Sela for Training and Protection of Heritage, Jordan, emphasizing collaborative models between governmental and non-profit sectors.

Ms. Eman Taha, from the Conservation Center at the Grand Egyptian Museum, Egypt, presented innovative approaches to heritage protection, including the use of biopolymers, offering promising solutions for the longevity of cultural heritage sites.

Ms. Sabha Alheimli, representing the Ministry of Education in Oman, shared initiatives aimed at reinforcing national identity and sustainable tourism through education.

Manal Al Mughairi, from Sultan Qaboos University, Oman, discussed strategies for enhancing the resilience of UNESCO World Heritage Site tourist attractions, focusing on the case study of Falaj Daris, contributing valuable insights into sustainable tourism practices.

Lastly, Ms. Mariam Bernieh, from the University of Sharjah, UAE, provided insights into traditional techniques for conserving vernacular heritage in Al Ain City, stressing the importance of preserving cultural identity amidst urban development.

During the scientific presentation session on ‘Heritage Management and Conservation’, Dr. Zaydoon Zaid from the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC), USA, addressed the pressing issue of post-war reconstruction and conservation efforts in Yemen’s cultural heritage. Highlighting significant projects such as the National Museum in Aden and the Zinjibar National Museum in Abyan, Dr. Zaid emphasized collaboration with local NGOs to stabilize and preserve damaged sites.

Ms. Maria Elena Ronza from Sela for Training and Protection of Heritage, Jordan, discussed Sustainable Heritage Management through Community Engagement, stressing the importance of empowering local communities in heritage preservation.

Dr. Ahmed Salam from Aswan University, Egypt, presented a pioneering study on Enhancing Mud Brick Durability through Graphene Oxide Nanoparticle Additives, focusing on closed box tombs in Aswan and innovative conservation techniques.

Dr. Bozena Krce Miocic from the University of Zadar, Croatia, highlighted the importance of recognizing cultural heritage in tourism development, using Ravni Kotari in Croatia as a case study.

Prof. Dr. Mirella Loda from the University of Florence, Italy, discussed safeguarding cultural landscapes, with a focus on Bamiyan, emphasizing the importance of preserving landscape character and promoting public awareness.

Ms. Rawda Abd-Elhady from the Raquda Foundation for Art and Heritage presented on GIS applications for hazard assessment in maritime cultural heritage management at El-Max Maritime Area in Alexandria, showcasing efforts to preserve maritime heritage through technological interventions.

The presentations provided valuable insights into diverse aspects of heritage management and conservation, highlighting the need for collaborative efforts and innovative approaches to safeguard cultural heritage for future generations.

As the conference “Opportunities for Heritage” drew to a close with a culmination of insightful discussions and innovative presentations, it showcased a diverse array of perspectives and initiatives aimed at preserving cultural heritage and fostering sustainable practices.

From dynamic panel discussions to scientific presentations and poster sessions, the conference provided a platform for scholars, researchers, and practitioners to exchange ideas, share findings, and explore collaborative opportunities in the field of heritage management and conservation.

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