Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

WATCH: How an arts programme is helping to preserve Old Jeddah

Old Jeddah's buildings are hurting and crumbling. The Jameel House of Traditional Arts is trying to change that

Al Balad at sunset. Willy Lowry / The National
Al Balad at sunset. Willy Lowry / The National

The narrow, winding streets of historic Jeddah evoke the city’s rich history. Structures spring from the streets adorned by intricate woodwork and what seem to be impossibly detailed doors.

The area known as Al Balad is a Unesco World Heritage Site, but the buildings are hurting, crumbling in the middle of the city’s outward growth.

The Jameel House of Traditional Arts is trying to change that.

The organisation offers a one-year programme in traditional arts that it hopes will equip young Saudis with the tools to preserve the structures and cultures of Old Jeddah.

“It’s very important for the participants to learn more about how to preserve the traditions and how to preserve the place,” said Fatimah Mazeh, the programme director. “They will be taking this forward to future generations.”

Over the course of a year, participants are trained in a variety of skills.

“We teach them six modules, said programme director Ahmad Angawi, “starting from the geometry, nabati, which is the floral design, ceramics, gypsum, woodwork and then they get to do their own final project.”


Read more:

Changing Saudi art scene: New arts complex to open in Jeddah


The programme, situated in a beautiful old building in the centre of Al Balad, has 16 women enrolled.

Lujain Badrig, 23, hopes to use the skills she has acquired from the programme in her future profession as an architect. “It teaches you discipline, she said. “I mean, everything was based on our belief system, our morals and our integrity. Those things were represented in these things in this kind of art.”

The Jameel House of Traditional Arts also runs research projects and is trying to use digital technology to help record and preserve heritage structures throughout Al Balad.