2/26/2005

Hotel Controversy


It was announced today that construction works of the Four Seasons Hotel have been completed and that the Hotel will officially open next summer. There has been a lot of controversy in Damascus about the Hotel, which is 65% owned by the Saudi Billionaire Al-Walid Bin Talal, 17% by the Governorate of Damascus and 17% by the Ministry of Tourism:

( - ) Many feel that the building's design does not fit the area. Towering in Shukri Al-Quwatli Street and overlooking Barada River and the historic Tekiyyeh Mosque, the huge block of glass and marble now dominates the skyline of central Damascus. Some have complained about the fact that the hotel consumed a large part of Al-Menshieh Park and surrounded the eight-century-old dome covering the tomb of Faroukh Shah, the nephew of Saladin.

( + ) This is going to be the largest hotel in Syria and the first five-star hotel to be opened in Damascus in nearly 2 decades. In addition, the new Hotel occupies an advantageous "strategic" site in the heart of Damascus. It will boost the tourist industry in the country and create an atmosphere of competition that will result in better tourist services. The building looks great, especially when lit at night; it gives a touch of modernity to the center of the nation's capital, the home to an estimated 5 million people.

15 comments:

Roonie said...

Well, it doesn't SOUND like such a bad thing...but maybe in practice, it will be.

Ahmad Alcheikh said...

The hotel completion is an important step towards encouraging new investors. The syrian tourism sector is very promising and profitable. I'm very optimistic. Regarding the hotel, I haven't seen it in reality but looking at the pictures I can say that it's nothing special, it doesn't really look like a 100 million dollar investment. and ayman, thanx for the great blog I really enjoy my visit.

Omar said...

I think Syria should open it's doors to foreign investements, especially in the tourism industry. Syria has a rich history, and we should share it with the rest of the world. Ayman, could you take a pic of the hotel at night, I'm really curious about the architectural design of the hotel. Who knows, maybe Damascus' skyline could be like Dubai someday.

praktike said...

sounds good to me! What kind of land use / zoning regulations does Damascus have? Who decides?

Fadi said...

Thanks for the post Ayman.
I have no idea what the fuss (-) is all about. We Syrians are insanely nostalgic people.
People say the skyline of the city will change? Yes, let it change, please. Let it be more buildings bridges and what have you. I hope they all relax a bit. It is going to be all just good.

Ayman said...

Thanks everybody for your comments :)

In my opinion, the problem is that people do not trust those in charge (i.e the Governorate of Damascus and other bodies involved in making decisions on such things). There are many incidents when old buildings and precious examples of Syrian heritage were demolished and replaced by ugly concrete buildings. When you don't trust the people in charge, you begin to look for the negative side or in every decision they make. This is one of the largest projects in the history of downtown Damascus; nobody bothered to give professional opinion about it, talk to people about its advantages and the benefits it will bring. One's opposition grows when he/she feels that no one cares about his/her opinion...

Oz said...

You see it as a bad thing, but i'm living abroad, in France and I don't see it as a bad thing, think to the number of jobs which will be created? It will bring foreign money that is good! If a saoudi owns at 65% the building, it means that it will bring some saoudis in this hotel ("devises"). If it works, some other hotels would follow, it means employment, growth of foreign people arrival, it can boost economy, and with this hotel, some other complexes will be created around this hotel.

Serbest said...

Having more 5 stars hotels will serve Arab Gulf tourists only. Not all of them..families go to furnished apartments. Sceptcical? will take a look at Sheraton, Semiramis and other hotels. Who comes to them?
European tourists in general prefer one/two star hotels. The positive impact is that hundreds will be recruited. The negative one, in my opinion, is the demolition of green surroundings which are getting less and less in Damascus.
For those interested, the hotel web site is:
http://www.fourseasons-syria.com

Anonymous said...

I am really tired of people lamenting the loss of "our green surroundings" as a result of building the Four Seasons hotel...I mean even though i live in Damascus I have never known that these few measly palm trees there were actually a park until I read Ayman's post! One way to "preserve" our "green surroundings" would be to preserve Ghouta or what is left of it and stop it from turning into a concrete jungle...I can say for myself that i am really looking forward to see what new life will the hotel bring to the
area surrounding it, and I hope it will also bring a decent movie theatre so that we can actually have a choice between Sham Hotel cinema/4 Seasons movie theatre instead of the current choice of Sham cinema showroom num.1/Sham cinema showroom num.2....

Anonymous said...

To all of you who haven't seen the hotel upfront believe me its ugly. It's bulky and dwarfs the buildings surrounding it. Maybe because of the angle Ayman has taken the photo you can't see what I mean. As Ayman said it doesn't fit in the area which is full of historical buildings. Besides that there are three other five star hotels within 2-minute drive of it.

I sincerely wish that the tourism industry thrives in Syria. But I have deep reservations about such projects. Maybe I am too pessimestic, maybe its because of what Ayman said about the lack of trust.

Unlike Omar, I don't wish that Damascus will someday have a skyline similar to that of Dubai. Omar, you a missing a major point. Dubai was literally non-existant two hundred years ago when Damascus was at the prime of its beauty. The modern city of Dubai was built from "scratch" a few decades ago, which allowed proper planning. Plus they had huge areas of "empty" land to work with. The result is the modern and stylish city we see today. Damascus is a different story. To build major projects we have to work around the ancient city, protect the heritage and preserve the history of the city. Unfortunately this hasn't happened in the last century the result been the almost total destruction of the Ghota and the demolision of many historical buildings.

We must think of our old cities the way Europeans see their medivial towns and city centers as an "open air museum".

Why don't we follow the European way of developing our tourism industry. They invest in toursim by protecting their heritage alongside with the construction of major projects. In France there is a law that prevents construction of any high rising buildings in Paris, just to preserve the style of the city.

Remember Western tourists are looking for what they lack in their country: ancient history, a different lifestyle and culture and they don't want to travel to Syria to indulge in luxury and modern activities. They have plenty of that back home.

This hotel could have been constructed outside downtown Damascus. This would still create jobs.

Dr. Nadia Khost has written alot of articles about this topic.
http://www.tishreen.info/__archives.asp?FileName=89006531520050128220512

http://www.tishreen.info/__archives.asp?FileName=16602510120041105222845

sorry for ranting for so long and getting you bored

Firas said...

I sincerely echo the last person's comment. very well articulated. Our Damascus should be beautified and preserved not re-designed. Architecture is an art in itself and we don't lack genius syrians in this field. In fact, there are many syrian architects who excelled in Europe and America. The problem lies in planning, or rather the lack of planning in this case!
The bright side, though in Four Seasons, is that at least we didn't get a repeat of what can be described as the desasterous "Semiramis" hotel design! I have little doubt that many of who suffered looking at that building as I did, would disagree! Ayman if you could give us a picture of it and let people judge! Great blog!

Anonymous said...

To compare Damascus (a famous and historical city which is one of the centres of Arab/Islamic civilization and culture as well as being capital of the Ummayad Khilafat) and is in the same rank as Cairo, Baghdad, Istanbul, Qurtuba, Fez, Isfahan, Bukhara etc. with Dubai is nonsensical. Dubai was built by jaahil/ummi bedouin who happened by Allah's will and permission to have been endowed with valuable natural resources like petroleum. This enabled them to transform a backward and rustic part of the Arab world into a 'sophisticated and modern' city. After all before the oil and petrodollar boom weren't the predecessors of the Emiratis pirates harrassing shipping in the Khaleej and had to be subdued by the British. Not only that but one of the signs of yaum al-qiyamah is that 'bare-footed bedouin will compete with each other in building tall buildings'. We can see that this has already happened in most of the Khaleej apart from Yemen which is the only country in the area that is relatively free from western influences and is still intact in its 'original' form.

Omar said...

I don't think anyone here compared Damascus to Dubai. I agree with some of the previous comments realting to the rich history of Damascus. On the other hand, I think Dubai is a city to be proud of, especially in representing the Arab world in the west. Here in North America, sadly, the far majority know of Dubai and not of Damascus. Therefore, Damascus could benefit from having some of the features of Dubai, side by side with some of the historical buildings that we should all be proud of, and maintain.

On another note, I diagree with the your of "bare-footed bedouins" as being some sort of neanderthals. You have to remeber that Arabs were bedouin at one point; bedouins that realized their potential and went on to build one of the greatest emprires of all time.

Sorry Ayman, I don't mean to turn your blog into a "political" discussion, but I felt the need to post some thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Any investment is a good investment in Syria. How can it be BAD for Damascus? In reality, it won't hurt.

Anonymous said...

Any investment is a good investment in Syria. How can it be BAD for Damascus? In reality, it won't hurt.