Rabat residents of the old medina are dissatisfied with the restoration of their homes: “Though it is good to restore and fix, sentimental value is priceless.”
Rabat – “Walk with me and I’ll show you where I grew up as a little boy,” a resident who wished to remain anonymous said to me as he led me through the streets of the old medina (walled city) in Rabat. He pointed to a construction worker carefully restoring the cement on an archway above us. The resident told me that this kind of architecture is delicate and needs frequent restoration. “That is the true Moroccan way.”
It seems like the definition of “restoration” is different between the residents of Rabat and the ones who have taken the liberty to restore their homes themselves.
UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, is cooperating with the Moroccan Department of Cultural Heritage in the restoration and preservation of the city of Rabat, named a UNESCO world heritage site in 2011.
A director from the Department of Cultural Heritage told Morocco World News the old medina needs to be restored because some homes are “precarious,” and the medina secures “money flow through private businesses.”
UNESCO and the department aim to preserve Rabat’s authenticity. However, the director said that there are laws that classify historical buildings as historical.
One law gives the government the right to preserve any building classified as “historical” and tell workers how to restore it to avoid any construction that might damage that building.
The director noted that the Department of Cultural Heritage has a “heritage inspector” who follows a set of rules to inspect the restoration of any historical site, ensuring that it is done in the traditional Moroccan way. In restoring such a site, digging tools are other modern materials are not allowed.
Homes with historical meaning are preserved, the director added, but when the ministry considers them not to be of historical or archaeological importance, the homes are rebuilt using the “traditional style.”
“Traditional style,” the director said, stays true to the Moroccan plan and cultural meaning of that house. Builders must carry out the restoration in the same way it was built, down to the decoration and ornamentation.
The medina resident, who spoke to MWN on condition of anonymity, told a very different story. He stated that he had no prior knowledge his house would undergo “restoration.” The ministry gave him and his family a sum of money and told them to live elsewhere throughout the rebuilding.
Expecting his house to be completely preserved as promised, the resident instead felt an overwhelming sense of disappointment and disbelief when he returned to his “improved” childhood home.
In addition to the process being “very slow and disorganized,” the materials used to restore his house were “cheap.” Instead of quality materials such as cedar or oak that would ensure long-lasting stability, the construction workers used brittle redwood and painted it the “traditional” red color of his previous home.
The resident pointed out that years ago, Morrocans realized that redwood and paint would decay because of Rabat’s location on the ocean.
In addition, the resident noticed a large metal bar stretching across the roof which he believed would not hold over time. Even worse, the builders did not install a sewage plan, and the new roof had severe leaks and cracks.
The floors shook under human weight due to a lack of wooden framing. Moreover, the surfacing of the walls was thin and needed to be redone to “minimize risk of falling in.”
The resident showed MWN the repairs he and his family did by hand after the “restoration.” They built the walls thicker to withstand weather, installed a hatch in the roof for rain and leaking, and laid tiles along the wall to stabilize their home.
Even though residents do not have to pay for the “restoration” of their homes, they may find the free price tag comes with the repairs needed to fix issues not addressed or caused by the “restoration.”
The resident of the medina noted that the cheaper the materials are, the more homes builders can “fix,” but their work will not be long-lasting.
UNESCO and the government put more money and quality work into the preservation of historical sites that they deem are more “worthwhile,” such as the medina walls and streets, but the houses that are falling apart in the medina that need immediate repairs are still untouched.
Restoration of “worthwhile” sites could increase tourism and bring more money to Rabat. The resident laments, however, that Morocco has education and socioeconomic issues as well as poor human development. It is “good to restore and fix, but the real investment should be in the minds of the people.”
The resident wishes that locals would speak up against the poor restoration of their homes and that authorities put homeowners in charge of repairs themselves to do the work “the true Moroccan way.”
The anonymous resident also says that “sentimental value is priceless.” He recalls sleeping soundly under a roof that leaked assured that his mother would fix it herself as she always did “the Moroccan way.”
The resident also recalls living in extreme poverty, yet he and his family remained in their house even if it was in poor condition. “We will always stay in that house, because it is personally historical and something that my family loves.”