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Who of us doesn't dream of a few hours in an old typical Damascene house, gazing at the spacious courtyards with a cup of coffee under the shade of a citron or a jasmine tree? Part (2)

Residents of Bab Touma complain of the noise and the large numbers of strangers strolling all the day in the streets which were safe and calm havens for them in the past. But what does this mean? Close restaurants?. They say no. The solution is in the tourists because openness to the world is the means of success. Mr. Yousef Ma'arrawi realized the importance of intimacy, friendliness and warm reception. So he chose the right name for his restaurant "Haretna", it means our dear quarter, a place which acquired a good reputation in just four years of time. Mr. Ma'arrawi told the story of restoring "Haretna" saying that it was completely abandoned and subject to decay. "You can't imagine my feelings when I saw walls, ceilings and rooms being cleaned and restored.

The strict conditions of restoration imposed by Damascus Governorate and the administration of Old Damascus were in the right side of the city and its future, because these old houses constitute the valuable heritage of the city.

Yousef Ma'arrawi didn't join this job from scratches. He is a graduate of the Hotel Institute and believes that tourist investments need patience. He blames investors who believe that their projects should become hens laying golden eggs from the first days of operation. He joins in opinion Mr. Michael Hilal and Mr. Samir alNa'asan that many investors came from different professions and don't enjoy the necessary expertise. All they need is quick profits. He also believes that tourism still lacks experience work force because promotion is not enough for success. Good performance creates distinction and excellence.

Obliteration or restoration

Many people criticize the chaos in the old city. They also say that restaurants and coffee shops have deprived the old city from its traditional jasmine and citron trees, and the gurgling water ponds replacing them with the strong smells and smoke of the tobacco of narjilas.

So should we announce the death of the old city or blow the alarm horns? Are these tourist projects a good economical tourist enterprises? or the beginning of the end of the quarter declared by UNESCO part of the World Heritage?

Owners of restaurants gave answers tailored to their interests and also the residents of Bab Touma gave convincing answers. Therefore we went to the administration of the Old City to know their opinion about this phenomenon.

Engineer Amjad alRizz denied all the criticism directed to establishing restaurants in Bab Touma in particular and Old Damascus in general. He said that although no new licenses were granted since 2005, there are 106 restaurants in the old city.

When asked about violations of the strict conditions and about the negative aspects of this trend he gave us full details about the present status proving that he is aware of all the minute details, stressing that the trend of changing old houses into restaurants was a positive sign since it encouraged people to restore old decaying houses and return them to their glorious past of the 1930s., which is a privilege presented by restaurant owners. He asked us which is better; to leave these houses fall into rubble or to rebuild them and invest them?. He added that there are 15% of the houses of Old Damascus on the brinks of deterioration, so it useful to restore and invest them.

Mr. alRizz wondered at the campaigns launched against restaurants and said that they have revived the Old City and added a new life to it, and made of it a good source of successful economy. About the jam in the square of Bab Touma he said that all the streets of Damascus are jammed with cars, so the square is not an exception. The solution is to build underground parking lots and to rearrange the traffic circulation in the streets of the city and to limit it in certain lanes and for limited periods of time. Mr alRizz said that Old Damascus suffers from a greater problem which is the eroded infra structure. He said that there is a new organizing plan to renew this infrastructure and to return the smell of Jasmine and citron trees into the alleys of the jewel of the crown of Damascus.


Interviewed by : Haifaa Mafalani