Deir Soubat – Al Bara Project

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June 2019
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Background

The Ancient Villages of Northern Syria, also known as the Dead Cities are group of archaeological sites and monuments located in northwestern Syria, in the Idlib region. This cultural landscape inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List in 2011 is renowned for the remarkable profusion of its Late Antique and Byzantine archaeological sites. Since the Syrian civil war outbreak in 2011, a great number of the archeological park sites have been damaged and suffered from collateral bombing, military use, deliberate destructions and looting.

Bara, or al Bara, is one of the most extended site of the Dead Cities. Located on several fields and private groves, it suffered from many violations like other sites in the region. Since the beginning of the civil war, the place has been severely damaged by the military operations as well as it was deteriorated by the plundering of the local communities in need. For instance, local farmers took down archaeological buildings by bulldozing them to expand the size of the available lands for agriculture. The collection and re-use of the collapsed stone for new buildings then the deliberate destruction of walls and monuments for the same reasons were also reported on this site.

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The project objectives and achievements

It’s in order to tackle those problems that the SIMAT launched its first project in Al Bara in October 2017. The project was targeting three main goals:

  • The documentation of the sites destructions and deteriorations.
  • Dealing with the most weakened monuments needs to preserve them.
  • Raising the local communities’ awareness on heritage to strengthen their relation with the site and involve them in its preservation.

On the field, the Syrians professionals involved in the SIMAT focused on the the restoration and the consolidation of the monastery walls (Deir Soubat). The great amount of stones looted from the main door walls was exposing the entire building to collapse.

First of all, the damaged facade was temporarily reinforced with wood beams to allow our teams to work. Then we established a complete archaeological documentation of the monastery through photography, description and draws to identified its needs. Once the monastery plan achieved, we were able to replace the missing limestones. For practical reasons, all the restauration works such as the carving of the new stones to replace the missing ones, the utilization mortar to adapt them in the walls were to be made manually, using the local traditional techniques for building. For those particular points, our teams have been able to value the expertise of the local workers specialized in those particular works by hiring and integrating them to the working team. The participation of workers from the villages adjoining the site and the communication with the local councils before and during the implementation of the project all contributed to spread our message and raised their awareness about the sites value.

The traditional mortar

Mortar: a mixture of one or more soft bedrock materials and water, hardening as a result of a chemical reaction, and thus capable of bonding between solid rock elements. In ancient times, the mortars could be enriched with other elements, of vegetable or organic origin: it is thus question of ash, and, in particular to obtain impermeable compositions, mixtures of lime and pork fat, of lime and hot tallow, lime and oil, etc.

In order to rebuild the missing stones in the monastery we used a mortar known as lime mortar, which is a mixture of calcareous and sand with a brick mill.