Wednesday, April 25, 2012
7:20 PM No comments
Weeks 9 & 10: Literally “Saving the Stones”!!! ...and writing up reports.
After a much needed break during the week of Pesach (Passover), we jumped right into a week long intensive course on stone conservation with Jacques Nageur, Head of Art Conservation for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), and his team. Our week with Jacques was highly anticipated, as it had been built up by the Saving the Stones staff, and it definitely did not disappoint. Plus, the course was open to other conservators so we got to meet some new people, including people who work the grounds at the Ba'hai Gardens in Haifa and students from the conservation program at Western Galilee College here in Akko.
Before jumping into practical work on the city walls and the roof of Akko Prison, Jacques made sure we knew what we were doing and why. The first 2.5 days were spent in the classroom discussing mineralogy, how to assess risks to the stone, deterioration patterns, cleaning and treatment processes, practical considerations, and many case studies.
On the third day, we split our time between the classroom and two trouble-shooting workshops. We visited both the tombs of Al-Jazaar Mosque and the archway to a local courtyard in order to examine their states of preservation and assess the risks to these structures. Of course the typical causes of deterioration were evident: climate, water, and human intervention. We also tried our hand at cleaning a section of graffiti across the street from the ICC, which we returned to later in the week.
On day four, we went to jail. The roof of Akko Prison (which we visited on week 6) is part of a museum which is now owned and operated by the Israel Ministry of Defense. The Museum of Underground Prisoners in Akko tells the story of Jewish rebel inmates who defied the British through a grand escape in 1948. While the prison was in operation, convicts spent part of their time on the roof where there is nothing to do except take in the panoramic view of Akko and the coastline. Oh yeah - and scratch your name into the floor and walls.
These inscriptions are part of the museum's maintenance plan and an attraction for tourists. The wind was particularly strong that day, so we couldn't use many of the chemicals we planned, but we were able to remove weeds (which formally fall into category “bio attack”) from a section of the roof using herbicides and a pressure washer.
On our final day with Jacques and his team, we learned about sandblasting, aluminum blasting, and plastic blasting. We applied these cleaning techniques to the graffiti we worked on early in the week – only to find it repainted the next morning! Jacques told us that graffiti removal is a booming business and now we see why. Well, at least we don't have to worry about running out of work here in Akko!
Week 10 opened with a lecture titled The Construction of Built Heritage in Israel: Status and Assessment from Raz Efron, Head of Planning in the IAA's conservation department. Raz gave us an extremely helpful overview of the global, national, and local organizations that are responsible for conservation in Israel. His main point was that, by and large, conservation happens because the local people want it. It is up to local bodies to organize, plan, fund, and execute the work. Raz's lecture didn't go in this direction, but it connects to what I talked about at length before – tangible and intangible heritage. I won't repeat myself here (because you can read all about it in my entry on week 4 :) ), but the conservation of a live city must be a joint effort between the locals, conservators, and authorities. Afterall, all of our work has people in mind.
We spent the rest of the week formally documenting the work we did at Hatzeva (week 7) and in our time with Jacques and his team (week 9). Next week, off to Jerusalem!
Friday, April 13, 2012
2:41 PM No comments
"Please let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness..." (Exod 5:3) Masada, Hatzeva, and Ein Boqeq - Week 7
Nothing beats building with mud the week before Passover (see Exodus/Shemot 5). As a biblical scholar myself and one who is particularly fond of the Book of Exodus (שמות), I found the timing of our 3-day trip to Hatzeva brilliant. The work was dirty, tedious, and very hot, but I feel more at home working on Iron Age (1,200-586 BCE) sites than I do at the local shopping mall.
Our week in the desert began with a stop at Masada. Like Old Akko, Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the Hellenistic Age (332-167 BCE) and draws visitors from around the globe (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1040). There, we went to the new museum, toured the archaeological site, and talked about conservation issues.
On Sunday evening, we arrived at Hatzeva which is an Iron Age (Biblical) site in the Aravah, the southern part of the Great Rift Valley that runs along the border of modern Israel and Jordan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabah). The site is also referred to as Biblical Tamar, as it has been associated with the place mentioned in Judges 20:33. It is unclear whether this fortified city was Israelite or Edomite because site excavations have produced evidence of both cultures; for example, the “Israelite 4-room house” and an “Edomite” shrine (http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/History/Early%20History%20-%20Archaeology/Ein%20Hatzeva%20-%20an%20Israelite%20Fortress%20on%20the%20Border).
Whoever ran the place in antiquity, it is now maintained by the non-profit organization Blossoming Rose (www.blossomingrose.org) and a sweet young couple, Derek and Kate, who are expecting their first child. They run the facilities at Biblical Tamar Park (http://youtu.be/aw-VJgh9lGg), which is built around the archaeological site and a place where people of all walks of life are welcome to visit, volunteer, relax, retreat, and enjoy the quiet surroundings. Managing this site is truly a labor of love for Kate and Derek who, I might add, really know their way around a barbeque.
The 4-room house was our project for the 3 days we spent at Hatzeva. In the ancient Near East, particularly in desert regions where resources are even more scarce, houses were built with stone foundations and mudbrick walls, all held together by mud mortar. Our job at Hatzeva was to reconstruct the stone foundation of this building on the first day and to conserve sections that did not need reconstruction on the second and third days. Like the ancient builders, we used mortar made of mud, but also lime to make the mortar last longer. Our time at Hatzeva was interspersed with lectures about the site, how to do section drawings, excavations at Sobibor (a concentration camp in Poland), and a tour led by Oren, the site’s excavation director.
We were exhausted by the end of day 2, but one of Saving the Stones own participants convinced us to go on a small hike with the promise of water for swimming. Now, Nani is known for his “short cuts” which take an extra 20 minutes and his “short trips” which last twice as long as planned. Even though the 20 minute ride to the hike was the somewhat expected 40, we were pleasantly surprised to find that he was talking about Ein Boqeq, a beautiful spring that produces fresh, cold water year round. Hiking Ein Boqeq entails wading through water that is perfectly cold and refreshing - something our feet and minds needed after 2 days in the desert sun.
We returned to Akko after a half-day of work on Wednesday. We slept in on Thursday before heading to the ICC, where we prepared a mini Passover seder and celebrated the birthday of Hadar, Shelley’s 7 year old daughter.
Now we are all winding down after a week off. Three of us traveled to Jerusalem, Eilat, and Petra, while others traveled to Wadi Ram (Jordan) or stayed in Akko for a bit of relaxation. The weather has been perfectly warm and sunny - a great opportunity to catch up on laundry and blogging, sip Arabic coffee, and begin that summer reading.
We are all excited for the next segment of the program as we head to Jerusalem in 2 weeks, then Tzefat the week after that - but first we have a week long workshop on stone conservation with Jaques!
Thursday, April 5, 2012
10:54 PM No comments
Week 6: Architecture as Language
Week 6 sits between two very action-packed weeks. Last week, we spent three long days working at Caesarea and next week we will be working at Hatzeva, an Iron Age (ca. 1200-586 BCE) site in the Negev. We spent the bulk of Sunday and Monday on a technical write up of our Caesarea workshops, but the remainder of the week was full of fascinating tours. All of the tours took place in Old City Akko, but each gave us a new perspective, a new set of lenses through which to examine the surrounding buildings, culture, and the connection between the two.
Coincidently, the metaphor of architecture as language was used by different people throughout the week. This metaphor proved helpful as we ended the week with a discussion on interpretation and presentation. The final step in conservation is public presentation of the conserved object or place and its story - but who’s version of what story?
Our first tour of the week was with Raafa Abu Ria, a specialist on Ottoman architecture who works for the IAA. He showed us examples of how culture influenced architectural design in the Ottoman period. For example, ground floor windows are small and sit high so that even if someone were on a horse, they could not see inside. This reflects the cultural concern for women’s privacy in the house, especially in their bedrooms, where they can work uncovered. Windows, then, speak a language that tells us something about the people who designed them. The trick is to be able to translate architectural language into cultural language and vise-versa. We also visited the beautiful Al Jazzar mosque here in Old Akko.
Our second tour was with Raanan Kislev, Director of the IAA Conservation Department. He took us around the citadel in Old Akko (our 4th tour, I think?) but with a different perspective than our previous visitors had presented. Raanan is head of the Conservation Department for a reason. His tour enlightened us concerning the decision making processes that go into conservation projects. Every choice must take everything into account, and I mean everything - from structural engineering to aesthetics, from original builders to tourists in funny outfits. Every detail of a conserved site is the product of a lot of thought, a lot of discussion, and a string of decision making.
This is a nice place to segue into our tour of Akko Prison, a museum which is now owned and operated by the Israel Ministry of Defense. The fact that the museum is owned by the military should flip the switch on your bias radar to the “on” position. The Museum of Underground Prisoners in Akko tells the story of Jewish rebel inmates who defied the British through a grand escape in 1948. Although some managed to get to safety, many of these fugitives were killed or executed after their attempts. The museum glorifies the Jewish individuals who died for their nationalistic beliefs and the courtyard serves as a place where important military ceremonies are conducted today. The museum tells a very particular story - one of rebellion, martyrdom, nationalism, and underground Jewish groups in the era of the war for independence.
Raafa’s and Raanan’s metaphor of architecture as “language” echoed through our tour of the Museum of Underground Prisoners. The narrative presented has a very specific, very transparent bias to it and that bias is even reflected in the conservation work that has been carried out. The offices and Jewish wing of the building have been perfectly plastered and turned into minimalistic exhibits with projected audio-visual displays.
The Arab wing, on the other hand, has not been touched and neither has their story. At the time of the escape in 1948, the majority of prisoners were Arab and Akko was still a completely Arab city. During our tour, the Arab wing was only pointed out because one of us asked why this part of the complex wasn’t treated. The Arab inmates were only mentioned because some of them were able to escape through the same hole as the Jewish rebels and we were only told this because someone asked what the Arab inmates did during the jail-break. Their story is completely absent from the museum’s narrative. The complete lack of care for the Arab wing reflects a complete lack of care for the Arab story of this place.
We wrapped up the week with a talk on this very subject. After accompanying us on the museum visit, Yael Mosenzon gave a lecture and led a discussion on Preservation and Conservation of Audience Oriented and Professionally Integrated Heritage Management. Through our previous studies, lectures, and workshops, we had learned a lot about the planning and processes of conservation, but Yael drew our attention to questions of public presentation. Who’s story is told? Who’s voice do we hear? Why this particular narrative? Who’s purpose does it serve?
As I’ve mentioned before and will certainly mention again, conservation is not just about architectural structures and features. It is also about society. At its very core, conservation is about people - past, present, and future. Every building or object that is conserved is conserved with the intention of being seen so that someone in the future may grasp its past importance. Just as the planning and process stages of conservation are interdisciplinary, pulling from history, engineering, architecture, etc., so the presentation stage must also be interdisciplinary and these professionals must listen to and incorporate the voices of the local residents wherever possible. Architecture, like language, is developed and employed by communities and our role as conservators is to explain the connection between the two.