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Reconstruction of Al-Nouri mosque complex. How is Mosul regaining its soul?

Marta Kowalska
13 of May '21

Revive the Spirit of Mosul. The architectural competition, announced by UNESCO last November, has been awarded. As the name says, it aims to restore the spirit of the city, destroyed by Islamic State jihadists during the fighting in Iraq. An international jury selected the best plan for the restoration of the historic Al-Nouri complex. Is this the future of preserving lost heritage?

A place of worship and a chance for new functions

The winning team is from Egypt, and among the architects: Salah El Din Samir Hareedy, Khaled Farid El-Deeb, Sherif Farag Ebrahim, Tarek Ali Mohamed, Noha Mansour Ryan, Hager Abdel Ghani Gad, Mahmoud Saad Gamal and Yousra Muhamed El-Baha. Among the international jury was Jerzy Uścinowicz, professor of architecture and head of the Department of Architecture of Local Cultures at the Faculty of Architecture at Bialystok University of Technology.

After the IS attack, we separated from Christians for three years, but now we are all happy that together we can rebuild this unique city

- said Anaz Ziad,
UNESCO's assistant construction coordinator, announcing the 2020 competition


zwycięski
projekt Courtyards Dialogue — wnętrze © UNESCO / Salah Hareedy; Khaled Farid El-Deeb; Sherif Ebrahim & Tarek Ali Mohamed

The winning project Courtyards Dialogue - interior

© UNESCO / Salah Hareedy; Khaled Farid El-Deeb; Sherif Ebrahim & Tarek Ali Mohamed

The Muslim place of worship will be rebuilt, along with majestic gardens. The plan also calls for the establishment of educational and recreational facilities.

Al-Nouri Mosque, which was built in the 12th century, was destroyed in 2017 by Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists during the bombing of the city. The memorable battle for Mosul was one of Iraq's worst bloody battles, and it also left its mark on cultural heritage. After three years, UNESCO announced an architectural competition that is expected to be just the beginning of changes, and the restored architecture is expected to restore the city's soul.

The first two symbolic structures being lifted from the rubble are the bell tower, which housed the famous clock that struck every quarter hour, giving Mosul a sense of time, and the iconic minaret, which had existed since 1180 and was a landmark for everyone in the city. One knew where one was by looking at where one was in relation to the minaret. The two structures are a few hundred meters apart, so this is also a religious dialogue, a dialogue of a city that for two thousand years at the center of its existence has always been multicultural.


Courtyards Dialogue - a model for the preservation of lost heritage

The winning project selected by an international jury, appointed by UNESCO , is called "Courtyards Dialogue," or "Courtyards Dialogue." The competition attracted 123 teams of architects from around the world. What kind of preservation is needed where fate has not favored architecture, and conflicts have brought total destruction? Is the future in 1:1 mapping of the original space, restoring its former splendor, or weaving new elements of history into the restoration plan?

zwycięski projekt Courtyards Dialogue — wnętrze © UNESCO / Salah Hareedy; Khaled Farid El-Deeb; Sherif Ebrahim & Tarek Ali Mohamed

The winning project Courtyards Dialogue - situation

© UNESCO / Salah Hareedy; Khaled Farid El-Deeb; Sherif Ebrahim & Tarek Ali Mohamed

The reconstruction of the Al-Nouri Mosque complex, a historical site that is part of Mosul's urban fabric and history, will be a breakthrough in the reconciliation process for the war-torn community. National heritage sites and historical monuments are powerful catalysts for people's sense of belonging, community and identity. The [Al-Nouri renovation] is key to reviving the spirit of Mosul and Iraq as a whole.

- said Audrey Azoulay,
director general of UNESCO


Courtyards Dialogue winning project - bird's eye view

© UNESCO / Salah Hareedy; Khaled Farid El-Deeb; Sherif Ebrahim & Tarek Ali Mohamed

restoration or enhancement?

The Courtyards Dialogue project involves not only the restoration of the historic Al-Nouri prayer hall, razed to the ground in 2017, but also the visual and formal integration of the surrounding space of Mosul's Old City. The entire complex will also be improved, the architects announced, gaining numerous enhancements that will make the space more functional, with much more daylight between the buildings. It turns out, however, that the reconstruction of Al-Nouri is only the beginning of the transformation. The architects are also reckoning with the need to include additional spaces, particularly an enlarged women's area and VIP area. These additional spaces have been added on either side of the main architectural mass and connected by a partially covered open structure that serves as a summer prayer area and provides continuity of facades toward the mosque's main courtyard.

The project selected as part of the international competition for the restoration and renovation of the Al-Nouri Mosque complex is a milestone in the initiative to revive the spirit of the city

- stated Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi,
Minister of Culture of the United Arab Emirates

a return to the past

In a description of the project, the architects announce that the complex will be revamped to look like itused to. The project will integrate original salvaged fragments and even remnants and reclaimed materials from destroyed temples. The mosque's minaret will be rebuilt to mimic the original, but the surrounding structures will be upgraded to make the interiors more functional and modern. Priority will be given to natural ventilation and access to daylight.

zwycięski projekt
Courtyards Dialogue — strefa wejściowa © UNESCO / Salah Hareedy; Khaled Farid El-Deeb; Sherif Ebrahim & Tarek Ali Mohamed

Courtyards Dialogue winning project - entrance area

© UNESCO / Salah Hareedy; Khaled Farid El-Deeb; Sherif Ebrahim & Tarek Ali Mohamed

Other buildings in the complex, which are not temples and have recreational and cultural functions, will be distinguished from the others. Facilities intended for education, social activities, serving the residents of Mosul will be characterized by perforated brick, modern and environmentally friendly materials, and simple masses.

The entire complex will have 5 public entrances along the main streets around it, with a special emphasis on those recalling the north-south avenue that originally separated the historic perimeter of the Al-Nouri complex from the expansion area.

Work is expected to begin later this year. The UNESCO director stresses that an equally important element in restoring the city's soul is precisely inter-religious dialogue. This one is taking place as Christians and Muslims work together to rebuild the city.

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