Akre: Ancient Houses Being Renovated
Through narrow paths which lead you from the foot to midway up the steep mountain of Akre city, dozens of old houses thought to have been build decades ago are being renovated. The sound of drills and hammers can be heard miles away. Building tools are everywhere in some of the old neighbourhoods—the whole ancient city seems to be under construction.
The renovation process started two years ago when regulations came into force whereby people could receive government funding to rebuild their old houses in a modern way, provided the outside of the house remained as it used to be.
The mayor of Akre, Kamiran Qasim, said in an interview with the Globe that the government has allocated an annual sum of IQD 250 million for the renovation process. The money is given to people interested in rebuilding their houses in the old neighbourhoods of Akre. The municipal regulations state that IQD 150 thousand is to be given for every 100 square meters, provided that traditional construction materials are used for the reconstruction, and that the building is in accordance with the design the municipality has specified for this purpose. “The exterior design of all houses must fit the design we have provided", he said.
“We took these steps just in time, because some people were trying to rebuild their houses using cements and bricks, and we couldn’t prevent them”, Qasim told the Globe. “Because most of the people living in those neighbourhoods are poor and could not afford to renovate in the manner we would like without funded”, he added.
According to the regulations, people should only use manually-excavated stones to decorate the outside of their homes, and doors and windows should be curved to reflect the design of the old houses. People are free, however, to use any construction materials they want inside their houses—a decision the Duhok Directorate of Antiques considers reasonable, given that the houses are included on the list of cultural, rather than historical, sites. "Site dating back 200 years or less are considered cultural, rather than historical", said Dr. Hassan, head of the Duhok Directorate of Antiques. He told the Globe that this standard is followed everywhere.
Dr. Hassan said that although the Directorate has no direct involvement in the project, it is nonetheless an important initiative. "The renovation process maintains the appearance of the ancient city, in the same way as the work currently underway around Erbil Citadel", said Dr. Hassan, who admitted that the project was not being supervised by any global archaeological organization, such as UNESCO. However, he justified the initiative, saying only archaeological/historical projects can be supervised by such an organization.
So far, 20 houses have been renovated. “The work will continue for as long as the government funds the project”, Qasim said, hoping that the neighbourhoods become a tourist attraction in the future. “We plan to turn some of the houses into restaurants, hotels and cafes and make them a tourist attraction”, the mayor remarked.
People who benefited from the project say they were given even more money than they needed. They also agreed that if the municipality had not taken this step, people would have detracted from the authenticity of their houses by using cements and bricks. “Because the money is non-refundable, people will be encouraged to reconstruct their houses according to the regulations that have been agreed on”, Osman Mohammed, a long-term resident of the neighbourhood, said.
The old city consists of three neighbourhoods— Chostayi, Gorava and Qapaky, build astonishingly at the foot of the steep mountain. The houses are thought to have been built decades ago, and some of them are even older.
According the Akre’s Office of Antiques, there are more than 700 archaeological sites in Akre and its surrounding areas, including ancient caves, Zoroastrian temples and old Christian churches. There was once a Jewish community in the city, in addition to the Muslims and Christians who live there now. The most astonishing thing about Akre is the local celebration of Newroz on the evening of March 20, which attracts hundreds of local and foreign tourists.
According to statistics issued by the Directorate of Tourism in Akre, tourist numbers have risen over the last three years to more than 156,000. The Directorate notes that Akre has religious, natural and historical sites which people visit throughout the year.
A view of the old neighbourhoods of Akre.