Representing Najaf: an investigation into the current pressure on the physical and social fabric of Najaf’s old town


  • Sadiq Abid PhD researcher, School of Architecture, The University of Sheffield



Day by day social life in the core of historical cities in Iraq has changed, and there are different outcomes which have an impact on the ground. This paper seeks to examine the extent to which the physical and social fabric of the al-Houaish neighbourhood has become redundant, and why the original families of long standing descent have chosen not to live there. Briefly, the al-Houaish neighbourhood is a significant part of the holy city of Najaf, a pilgrimage city in Iraq. The al-Houaish has a special character, and it is of particular interest because it has historical and cultural values, but it has been neglected. The aims of this paper are to highlight the current pressures on the social and urban fabric, explain why that fabric is worth protecting, and what the difficulties are. The paper uses documentary evidence and evidence gathered through interviews with stakeholders, local residents, heritage elites and decision makers, and I will examine the approach taken in detail to reveal the problems that exist in applying international standards of heritage protection on the ground in Iraq. 
The findings in this paper are summarized into two parts physical and social fabric. The rapid development inside the old town, increase in land value, the huge number of visitors, and the governments’ neglect of services, are putting great pressure on the physical fabric. Besides, the lacks of clear regulation encourage building's authorities to change the land use from residential to commercial use. Moreover, the political issues led to a change in the social demography to weaken the power of the religious scholars, and that led to weak the social relationships and activities in the historic neighbourhood. In addition, the Najaf old town cannot offer big houses, wide roads, parks, and other services compared with the new neighbourhood, and therefore it did not and could not satisfy these needs. In conclusion, there is no overall management in place, and therefore the al-Houaish is losing both its historic physical and social fabric, and is undergoing much demolition. Thus, the process of heritage protection on the ground needs both the government and local citizens’ attentions to be able to stand and survive. Ultimately, there is need of a team on the site, and possibly a steering committee.


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How to Cite

Abid, S. (2016). Representing Najaf: an investigation into the current pressure on the physical and social fabric of Najaf’s old town. International Planning History Society Proceedings, 17(1), 171–172.