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Ottoman history flows back into Gaza

Turkish government pays to restore centuries-old public fountain after learning of its link to the Ottoman Empire.

Last updated: 04 Jun 2014 11:21
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Restrictions on access and movement made the fountain restoration challenging [Shuaib Abu Jahal/Al Jazeera]

Gaza - To many Palestinians in Gaza City, it just looked like a hole in an abandoned wall, surrounded by splatters of concrete and spray paint.

In fact, this was all that remained of a public fountain dating back to the 16th century. This month, restoration work on the al-Rifa'yia fountain was completed, and cold, purified water once again runs from its taps.

The Turkish government offered to pay for the renovation after learning the fountain was linked to Sultan Abd al-Hamid II, the 34th sultan of the Ottoman Empire, said Mohammed Mourtaga, director of the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) in Gaza. After discussions with the Hamas-run tourism ministry, TIKA paid about $30,000 to restore the fountain, Mourtaga told Al Jazeera.

This is mainly to protect the Palestinian heritage and to emphasise the depth of Palestine's connection to the Islamic culture that flourished during the Ottoman state.

- Mohammed Khela, Deputy Tourism Minister

"This will be the second time that it is revamped and the third time water is coming out from it," Deputy Tourism Minister Mohammed Khela told Al Jazeera.


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As Gaza was a commerce hub and a route linking Asia and Africa during the Ottoman Empire, the al-Rifa'yia fountain was built around 1570 to provide people and traders with water. The water came from a nearby well, Khela said.

The fountain was repaired in 1900 during the era of al-Hamid II, but fell back into disuse during World War I. Although the Ottomans built three other fountains in Gaza, al-Rifa’yia is the only one that remains standing. It overlooks a vibrant street in the old district of Gaza City.

The renovated fountain now rests atop a short staircase, with three water taps. The structure has been restored to its original beige colour, and the Arabic carvings are once again legible.

"We have restored it to its normal scenes," worker Mohammed Nabhan told Al Jazeera. "This is going to be a great project that anybody passing by can stop to drink cold water."

Contractor Emad al-Bayya said the rehabilitation process was difficult "because the place was abandoned and neglected for a very long time". He told Al Jazeera that a French archaeologist was supposed to be in Gaza to oversee the restoration process, but he could not come due to restrictions on access and movement. These restrictions also limited the flow of construction materials, "but we managed to complete the project with the minimum amount of cement and other materials".


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TIKA, which has been funding the construction of a hospital and the digging of wells in Gaza, is also in discussions with the ruling Hamas movement to open a museum for Islamic manuscripts from the Ottoman era, Mourtaga said. Khela said Turkey also offered to pay for the renovation of a number of Turkish baths, mosques and other sites dating back to the Ottoman era.

"This is mainly to protect the Palestinian heritage and to emphasise the depth of Palestine's connection to the Islamic culture that flourished during the Ottoman state," Khela said. "This also strengthens the Palestinian-Turkish relations."

Jawdat al-Khoudary, an antiques collector who owns a private museum in Gaza, criticised the Palestinian government for failing to prioritise archaeological sites in Gaza.

"This is a neglected sector for the governments," he told Al Jazeera, citing tens of sites that need to be rehabilitated or preserved, including the minaret of the al-Omari great mosque in Gaza City, built in the seventh century.

Khela said his ministry often tries to protect the remnants of churches, temples and graves by providing guards, but the ministry lacks funds for expensive rehabilitation projects. The restoration of the al-Rifa'yia fountain was a bright spot, al-Khoudary added.

"This is a symbolic rehabilitation of a simple site," he said, "but it is great to see people interested in renovating it."

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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