On May 1st, guests to The Nablus Festival were treated to a historical lecture and book discussion with Naseer Arafat, author of Nablus: City of Civilizations. In perceiving the architectural details of Nablus, Arafat has written what could be considered the most comprehensive Nablus history book in existence.
While the ordinary tourist might see the Old City souk of Nablus for what it offers to sell, Arafat draws our attention to the subtler and more exquisite features of Nablus' buildings. His talk included pictures and explanations of wood and stone balconies, beautifully painted and carved doorways, functionally-designed courtyards, Turkish baths with pre-electric heating systems, and other interesting architectural features.
The design details of Nablus' palaces tell stories about a grand higher class, while the designs of the souk and caravanserai take us on a tour through ancient commerce. Arafat points out that balconies were designed to allow occupants to look down on their guests discreetly, and courtyard walls included clever ventilation holes that could be filled with water to create a form of air conditioning. The souk was designed to mix public and private spaces, and the caravanserai was made to accommodate vendors who would bring their wares from far away and stay overnight.
It is one thing to live in a city, but another thing to truly see it. Arafat sees the city with an intimacy that belies his personal history. He became interested in the buildings of Nablus in part because of his own family history related to the occupation. He explained:
"[My family] had a house of 675 square meters that was located at the edge of the old city and was demolished by the British Mandate. All the history of the place was always in my ears because of my family describing all of the components of our house. Going through the old city, I was always looking for houses similar to the house that was described to me by my family."
Although Arafat explains the history of Nablus through its architecture, it is clear that the book serves a higher purpose. Arafat's explanations of Nablus' old-world innovations and utilitarian artworks inspire admiration for the builders of Nablus. They also help us to imagine a time when Nablus was a bustling soap exporter, a peaceful and even cosmopolitan city receiving gifts such as a German clock to honor the silver jubilee of the Ottoman king.
Through observing and writing about Nablus' history, Arafat honors the city's heritage and fights the Israeli myth that settlers "came to an empty land."
Arafat pointed out: "With these photos, with the buildings, with the ancient history, we are talking about evidence that this is a land that was more developed than many parts of the world...These little elements, when documented by maps, are very crucial to us."
Arafat discussed the possibility of Nablus being given UNESCO status, but this has yet to occur. To learn more about the history of Nablus, visit the Nablus Cultural Heritage Center in Arafat soap factory or follow the Facebook page for Nablus: City of Civilizations.