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City Identity: A Collective Memory and Cultural Legacy


City Identity: A Collective Memory and Cultural Legacy


In a recent panel discussion at the Thessaloniki International Book Fair 2024, Dr. Sultan Sooud Al Qasimi, a member of the Heritage Preservation Committee in the UAE and member of the American University of Sharjah Board of Trustees, emphasized that a city’s identity extends beyond its physical heritage, cultural expressions, architectural prominence, and historical monuments. Instead, it is intricately intertwined with the collective memory of its inhabitants, reflecting a shared human identity and cultural legacy.


Sharjah: A Microcosm of the Gulf Region


Discussing his book “City Identity”, Al Qasimi stated, “I wanted to explore the history of Sharjah because it encapsulates the broader history of the Gulf region. Many pioneering efforts began in Sharjah, encompassing journalism, municipal infrastructure, establishing the airport, and introducing postal services.”


The completion of this book spanned five years, a process prolonged by the dispersal of early immigrants who carried away their documents, photographs, and records upon their departure. Despite this obstacle, Al Qasimi diligently gathered a wealth of previously unseen photos and documents, now unveiled for the first time within the pages of this book.


A Collaborative Chronicle of Sharjah’s Architectural History


This collaborative book, authored by 17 writers, chronicles 16 iconic building projects in Sharjah, including a cinema with an integrated Chinese restaurant, showcasing the city’s cultural diversity since the 1960s. The book features a collection of globally sourced photographs, such as an image of the Flying Saucer building obtained from an Australian maintenance worker.


“Although not the initial focus, we were determined to capture the building’s narrative. To this end, we commissioned a sci-fi writer to craft a fantasy-based story about the Flying Saucer, making us the first to employ this innovative approach in documenting architectural structures,” Al Qasimi added.


Sharjah’s Architectural Connections with Lebanon and Greece


During the discussion, Al Qasimi showcased a photograph of the Sharjah Post Office, created by the Lebanese company Dar Al-Handasah. The design features beautiful architectural depictions in the form of a bird while also embodying an Islamic identity within the building. He also shared an image of a commercial structure designed by Greek architect Alexandros Tombazis, and acknowledged contributions from the Greek company “Archadion” in developing the port of Sharjah, highlighting the strong connections between Sharjah and Greece.

Walking in Athens: A Literary and Urban Narrative


Nikos Vatopoulos, author of Walking in Athens, discusses how his book portrays contemporary literary and urban narratives of Athens, showcasing the city’s rich cultural layers. He calls for closer ties between Sharjah and Thessaloniki, emphasising the importance of collaboration.


Vatopoulos recognised Sharjah as a leader in nurturing Emirati and Arab relations with Greece across various domains such as architecture, art, literature, and culture. He also shed light on Thessaloniki’s ongoing exploration of its cultural identity post-liberation from Ottoman rule, illustrating a diverse and intricate identity akin to a mosaic.


In concluding his viewpoints, Vatopoulos acknowledged Thessaloniki’s status as Greece’s cinematic hub and discussed the complexities involved in developing the metro network amidst the city’s multifaceted urban heritage, encompassing remnants from the Ottoman, Byzantine, and Roman eras.

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