Adli Qudsi, who was renowned for his conservation work in Aleppo, Syria, before the war, died in a traffic accident in Mersin, Turkey, on 21 January.
Qudsi, whose restoration of the Old City of Aleppo was rewarded with his selection as an Associate Laureate in 1998, began his reconstruction work in 1978. He described the Old City as “the largest historical site of its kind in the world. There is nowhere else with 10,000 courtyard houses, many with amazing features on the inside, which for centuries have hosted a style of life that hardly exists anywhere else.”
He achieved considerable success, winning support from outside organizations, particularly after his Rolex Award in 1998, restoring many historic buildings and persuading government authorities to prevent development that would have destroyed the character of the Old City. He played a key role in persuading UNESCO to designate the Old City a World Heritage Site in 1986.
But the war in Syria destroyed much of Aleppo, and Qudsi and his family were forced to leave in 2011, settling temporarily in the US – just as most of the Old City reconstruction and preservation projects were being completed. He and his wife Arij Shalab Al Sham spent five years in Seattle before moving to Mersin, which is just a few hours by car from Aleppo. In 2017, Qudsi visited Aleppo itself, and spent the year going back and forth to the Old City with grand dreams for its post-war reconstruction.
His daughter, Jwanah Qudsi, says that despite the destruction, her father had no doubt that everything could be rebuilt. “To him what mattered more than the destruction was what remained: the large parts of the Souk still intact, the iconic courtyard houses that were still standing – like the Mansouriya Palace and the Beit Salahieh, which he had worked on − and the unchanged Citadel, still looming majestically over the city with only some damage to its interior.”
While Syria’s complex political and economic situation would make reconstruction difficult to undertake, she says there is “no shortage of people who are passionate about the cause of the restoration… My father and I were in contact with international organizations in the past year who worked on Aleppo before the war, encouraging them to invest in the reconstruction.
“My father’s former partner, the architect Thierry Grandin is ready and willing to contribute to the reconstruction, and my mother has expressed a desire to return to Aleppo and reopen the old Construction Office that executed much of the work on the Old City,” she adds.
Don Belt, a National Geographic journalist who first met Adli Qudsi in 1994, said of him after his death: “Whenever I’m asked today why I love the Arab world so much, I try to describe the magic of my first trip with Adli [through Aleppo]. He was a generous guide through the tangled history of the city he loved. With a mere gesture of his arm, he’d paint the medieval city in all its glory, laid low by the Mongols; he’d rest his boot on a half-buried stone and off we’d go to the time of Saladin, or the Romans; Alexander, Amorites and Hittites. History with him was an amazing ride.”
Rebecca Irvin, Head of Philanthropy at Rolex, also paid tribute to Adli Qudsi. “This is a tragic loss for the Qudsi family, for Aleppo, and for all of us. I was fortunate to be able to visit him in Aleppo and to see some of the marvels that Adli had achieved. We at Rolex are pleased to learn that much of his work remains intact and we hope that others can build on his precious legacy as peace returns. That will be the finest tribute possible to this courageous and inspiring man.”See more Programme Updates