The Village

Adh Dhahiriya is the southernmost populated town in the West Bank, bordering the Negev desert.  As the hills become bare and vegetation disappears, the town appears on the last hills of the West Bank overlooking the desert.

 

The town is an archaeological site. It has always been the southern gateway to the central highlands of Palestine, and has played a defensive role fending off Bedouin raids and foreign campaigns. Part of the Roman Fort still stands, and remnants of Hellenistic, Roman, and Crusader structures can still be found in and around Adh Dhahiriya. The reuse of antiquity stones in the historic structures is evident of continuous habitation on the hill since ancient times. 

 

Adh Dhahiriya is known for being a commercial hub that connects Hebron with the Negev desert. This peripheral location made the town a central market of commerce for surrounding smaller communities as well as for Bedouins residing in the desert.  Historically, the town hosted a weekly cattle market. The historic marketplace, known as the old souk where buildings still stand, is a 200 meter long street, that up until the late 1970s, had shops advertising local merchandise and cattle products, along with a local oven that baked bread for residents and shoppers.The new commercial market, on the other hand, lies on a longitudinal main street that cuts the historic center into two parts (east and west); it is on the western side, where the old souk is, that RIWAQ’s work took place. Today, the main street is a lively and crowded daily market place.

 

As a result of Israeli mobility restrictions that have made it more difficult for Bedouins and residents of the Negev to reach Hebron City, Adh Dhahiriya functions as a major alternative market and service center for the region. Moreover, the presence of a southern Israeli checkpoint used by Palestinian workers has resulted in an overflow of traffic through the town.

The Historic Center

The beauty and scale of Adh Dhahiriya’s historic center is a definite surprise to newcomers.  It is relatively intact. Buildings and extended family courtyards are numerous and huge in scale.  Reused large-cut stones are almost everywhere and a system of underground caves underneath homes and streets still exist.

 

Settlement in Adh Dhahiriya was originally in the caves underneath the current historic center. Although there are several archaeological remains that date back to Roman times, most of the buildings within the historic center have the characteristics of Ottoman architecture in Palestine. This implies that during a certain point of history (most probably during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), families relocated from the caves and constructed their homes on top of them using local stone and recycled materials from surrounding archaeological sites and ruins. We can still see massive stone blocks in peasant houses with Roman and Crusader ornaments and decorations.

 

According to RIWAQ’s Registry of Historic Buildings in Palestine (2006), there are 850 historic buildings still standing in Adh Dhahiriya. The reason the historic center was spared destruction is that its lands are vast, and expansion moved away from the area for agricultural and grazing lands.

 

The historic center was deserted in the second half of the twentieth century, presumably as a result of the rapid increase of population and subsequent construction of modern houses with new construction techniques. The area was not demolished to reuse the land for common buildings because of ownership fragmentation and property rights; yet at the same time, buildings were left to decay. The historic center became home to only a few economically underprivileged families, and generally only used as a passage to different parts of town through the multiple alleys (including the old souk) linking the new commercial market street in the east to residential neighborhoods in the west.

 

The old souk starts at al Harajeh plaza and continues south towards a populated residential neighborhood, and extends to the Omari ancient mosque located at the southern edge of the historic center. The old souk passes by local landmarks such as the Caesarea building (which is most likely an old caravanserai) and Hosh al Sabbar (courtyard).

Rehabilitation

Snowballing Regeneration: from sporadic interventions to interconnected vision

 

For almost ten years, RIWAQ has been regenerating the historic center of Adh Dhahiriya, marking our work there the longest process adopted through the 50 Villages Rehabilitation project. The duration of our work there has allowed some pauses for RIWAQ and the community to evaluate the progress and impact of the project’s many transitional phases; the emerging uses and functions were a driving force in determining succeeding plans and strategies.

 

In 2004, a local initiative comprised of municipal employees contacted RIWAQ for the first rehabilitation project in town.  This project proved to be the first of many to come, and was the first nucleus to an island of restored buildings that continued to grow in scale and scope.

 

The rehabilitation of Adh Dhahiriya was an incremental process. The advantage of using the abandoned historic center as a shortcut to link different parts of the town benefited several institutions that opened later in the newly restored buildings with adjoining plazas and alleys. Over time, this has increased the influx of people to the historic center, prompted other services to open, and given the historic center new life. By 2011, most of the work was concluded and a significant portion of the historic center was restored, clean, and functional; yet the new commercial center was still the focal point of town and had not made the necessary linkages to the historic center that RIWAQ had envisioned.

 

2011 marked the first year of a more comprehensive approach to the regeneration of the historic center. RIWAQ’s goal was to position the historic center to regain its commercial power, which had been lost to the new commercial center over the years. A main focus, in addition to upgrading housing conditions for families, was rehabilitating the old souk, and providing a sleep-over facility for those interested in visiting the town and its amazing surroundings.

 

The Adh Dhahiriya municipality has been quite active during the rehabilitation process; the Old Town Protection Committee was established in order to facilitate work with homeowners, residents, and new investors, and to begin gathering funds for the continuation of the project after RIWAQ’s departure.

An island of restored buildings
2005-2007

In 2005, RIWAQ’s inaugural project was al Tall courtyards, known as al Khokha. This eleven-room two-story complex was rehabilitated into a community center that now hosts a computer lab, the governmental religious courthouse, office of the Ministry of Interior, and a local radio station. In 2007, two complexes surrounding al Khokha were restored; these also belonged to al Tall family. The initial goal of the project was to reuse the abandoned buildings as a primary school, however because families were skeptical of the security and function of the historic building and its neighborhood, the building was replaced with a more modern structure.  The municipality turned a portion of the courtyards over to the Southern Electricity Company (SELCO) to be used as a full service center (open 24 hours, 7 days a week). Other parts of the complex were used for local institutions and NGO’s such as the farmers union and a youth club.

Protection Plan
2006

While working on restoring several buildings in the historic center, RIWAQ worked with the municipality on local planning laws in order to sustain the protection of historic sites and buildings in Adh Dhahiriya. A protection plan for the historic center was prepared. This included identifying all of the town's historic buildings and archaeological sites, delineating the boundaries of the historic center, and proposing a set of planning by-laws to guarantee the protection of the town’s cultural heritage properties. It is important to note that to date, RIWAQ has worked on the development of sixteen protection plans for sixteen towns and villages in the West Bank, has lobbied with the Higher Planning Council, and has a decree prohibiting demolitions endorsed.

Expanding conservation work to surrounding areas
2008 - 2009

In 2008, a series of buildings owned by al Rabba’ family were restored with their adjoining plazas and streets; nine cross-vaulted rooms in addition to 950 square meters of open space were rehabilitated, including a water well and two caves. External spaces were designed to include a basketball court and venue for outdoor performances. The municipality leased parts of the courtyards to a restaurant and a café, and turned the rest into small prayer halls serving the town’s western neighborhood, as well as offices for the local women’s association and a local charity.

In 2009, RIWAQ began working on al Harajeh plaza, in addition to seven rooms that still needed restoration in al Tall courtyards and their adjacent open spaces, and connected them to structures that needed further restoration. Upon completion, these rooms were leased to SELCO, the Red Crescent Society, an architectural private practice, and a surveying services bureau. The plaza continues to be used for local festivities.

The Roman Fort: Adh Dhahiriya Information Center
2009

There is no sufficient data about the original size of the Roman Fort, locally known as al Hisin, and all that remains are three barrel vaulted rooms, an ancient water well, and two cross-vaulted rooms that were added early in the twentieth century. In coordination with the Department of Antiquities in the Hebron region, debris amounting to three meters in height was removed from the rooms, internal walls were torn down, and new wooden floors were installed. With minimal intervention, the space was designed as an information center for visitors and hosts a small collection of artifacts owned by the municipality. In 2014, the abandoned buildings north of al Khokha and up to the Roman Fort were safeguarded. Fifteen buildings were restored and consolidated, and courtyards and streets were cleaned to prevent further deterioration. The realization of this work provided a walking path from the tourism information center to the old souk, and onwards to the future guesthouse.

Bringing life to the historic center’s old souk
2010

The approach in working with the municipality shifted from rental agreements with established firms, to activities aimed at attracting people to return and live in the historic center, and to use it as a hub for commercial and cultural activities. More attention was given to the old souk, which used to be the main artery of the historic center. The idea was to reclaim commercial uses and to restore local landmarks, providing the residents of Adh Dhahiriya with new activities other than those related to services.  In total, fifty-five historic structures were subject to preventive conservation (external walls, facades, and roofs). In 2014, the rehabilitation of plazas and alleys situated within the old souk went hand-in-hand with the rehabilitation of residential houses, and included the addition of seating areas and a pergola to the main plaza. The municipality implemented new infrastructure in the market street (sewerage, electricity, water, telecommunications), and installed tiles, lighting, and street furniture.

Adh Dhahiriya: a key RIWAQ Biennale venue
2009, 2012 and 2014

Between 2009 and 2014 and parallel to all of the projects described above, RIWAQ has been working on softer tools of interaction; mainly cultural activities and discussion forums. In cooperation with local organizations and the municipal council, RIWAQ hosted part of its third and fourth biennales in Adh Dhahiriya. In 2009 and 2012, the town was a cornerstone of the biennale program; visitors toured the town, visited projects, and viewed exhibited works. The 2012 edition provided a residency for an international artist in the town. The Cypriot artist Socratis Sokratos, who visited Adh Dhahiriya several times and stayed for a month at the guesthouse, created a temporary ethnographic museum in one of the caves underneath the historic center with audiovisual performances derived from local traditions and material culture.

Adh Dhahiriya: a key RIWAQ Biennale venue
2009, 2012 and 2014

Between 2009 and 2014 and parallel to all of the projects described above, RIWAQ has been working on softer tools of interaction; mainly cultural activities and discussion forums. In cooperation with local organizations and the municipal council, RIWAQ hosted part of its third and fourth biennales in Adh Dhahiriya. In 2009 and 2012, the town was a cornerstone of the biennale program; visitors toured the town, visited projects, and viewed exhibited works. The 2012 edition provided a residency for an international artist in the town. The Cypriot artist Socratis Sokratos, who visited Adh Dhahiriya several times and stayed for a month at the guesthouse, created a temporary ethnographic museum in one of the caves underneath the historic center with audiovisual performances derived from local traditions and material culture.

Hosh al Sabbar and the Caesariyya
2012

This project included the reconstruction of three cross vaults in Hosh al Sabbar, an architecturally unique building that was deteriorating rapidly. The town had a potential of becoming a tourist attraction for local and alternative tourists, but the closest accommodation was in Hebron. After an involved process of discussion and negotiations in the community, RIWAQ— together with stakeholders— agreed to design and readapt al Sabbar courtyard into a guesthouse. The building was restored to host a total of twenty-five beds in eleven rooms. The guesthouse would offer different types of rooms and services with a 250 square meter courtyard and 400 square meters of terrace space. The municipality is now advertising the space for investors.

Working with residents
2013-2014

This phase was geared towards residents and owners interested in leasing their buildings for residential and retail space. Information sessions were held to advertise the idea. The municipality advertised on its boards and RIWAQ publicized in local newspapers. The project built upon the ‘oneh experience in the village of Hajjeh, in which property holders worked together to share the costs of restoration. RIWAQ offered to provide building materials, design, and supervision. Twenty-four submisisons of interest were received and ten homes were chosen to initiate the process. During the project, nine buildings were restored for the benefit of five families.

A visual and physical linkage
2014

RIWAQ proposed the creation of a visual and physical linkage between the new commercial street and the ancient market street. This was realized via the treatment of the passageway entrance to the historic center, and the beatification of a street going uphill from al Deir roundabout on the new commercial market street to al Harajeh plaza in the historic center’s old souk. The project would include pavements, signage, infrastructure, landscaping, lighting, shades, and parking spaces. The municipal council approved the project and invested in it by leading the negotiation process with shop owners along the street. This project concluded in September 2014 with total cost of $80,000, 75% of which was contributed by the municipality.

Soft interventions as an integral part of the regeneration

On different occasions, music, story-telling, writing, and photography events were performed in Adh Dhahiriya’s historic center, utilizing the many restored open spaces as arenas for social interaction. The events were aimed at making connections between the younger generation and their ancestors’ living spaces, and to inject new meaning into restored spaces.

Community dialogue was critical to the project. In the spirit of this work, for the first time, RIWAQ opened a satellite office in the nearby town of Yatta, where RIWAQ was carrying out another revitalization project. The entire staff of RIWAQ spent two days in town sleeping in restored rooms to discuss ways of regenerating the historic center while screening films and sharing meals with the local community.

More formal discussions were held through focused workshops with engineers and decision makers. In February 2011, four architects from RIWAQ worked with municipality staff over two days to evaluate the impact of completed projects to date and strategize ways to move forward.

Maps & Illustrations