One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and a major cultural and religious center, Damascus is a repository of numerous civilizations, ancient and modern, that embody the collective national as well as Arab/Islamic memory. Although a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, the Old City only attracted the interest of investors toward the end of the last century. The historic neighborhoods of greater Damascus became the focus of private investment when the government encouraged a more market-based national economy. Distinguished from other neighborhoods by the large number of religious buildings, historic monuments, and a wall with foundations in the Roman period, the Old City is important for government efforts to promote heritage tourism as part of their entry into the global economy.
In Preserving the Old City of Damascus, Totah examines the recent gentrification of the historic urban core of the Syrian capital and the ways in which urban space becomes the site for negotiating new economic and social realities. The book illustrates how long-term inhabitants of the historic quarter, developers, and government officials offer at times competing interpretations of urban space and its use as they vie for control over the representation of the historic neighborhoods. Based on over two years of ethnographic and archival research, this book expands our understanding of neoliberal urbanism in non-Western cities.