Once a fixture of the the city's landscape

Basra cultural center aims to revive Shanasheel architectural style

BASRA — Dozens of Basra residents, men and women, young and elderly, gathered in a jubilant atmosphere at the Razona Cultural Forum center to glimpse the revival of the traditional Iraqi architecture known as Shanasheel. Their faces brimming with admiration, the visitors went from room to room, exploring the cultural and heritage items on display.

The Razona Cultural Forum, is a cultural center housed in one of the historic Shanasheel buildings in the 8th-century Bashawat district of Basra. This area is witnessing increased cultural activities aimed at reviving local heritage and traditions, following the United Nations’ efforts to restore dozens of old Shanasheel houses and clean the water canal that once earned Basra the title “Venice of the East.”

Shanasheel are geometrically decorated wooden balconies with glass paintings, covering the facade of the entire second floor of a house or a room within it as a prominent hanging balcony. This cherished architectural form is fast disappearing from a city where it was once a dominant feature.

Yasmin Namir, one of the attendees at the forum, told 964media, “I am proud of our youth. Through their contemporary lifestyle, they are investing in and reviving this place that has not been properly utilized for many years.”

“The heritage area here has a spirit, and when we invest in it, we feel the energy and spirit of the place. This revival allows generations to deepen their understanding of their history and heritage in a contemporary way,” she added.

Tamara Al-Attiyah, a heritage activist, applauded the nascent movement to revive the city’s heritage and culture, especially through investment in old Basra houses.

“These houses are in a lively area still inhabited by families. Some houses have also been converted into cultural, literary, and art centers. With the presence of schools, markets, and social life, this blend is the best example of how such places can be utilized.”

Hashim Al-Laibi, the director of the Razona Cultural Forum, expressed his desire to revive and preserve Basra’s heritage for a new generation that has forgotten features of traditional Basra life.

He said he opened the Razona Cultural Forum, aiming for old Basra Street to resemble Baghdad’s famed Al-Mutanabbi Street that preserves the city’s cultural soul.

He emphasized that although they serve food at the Forum, it should not be thought of as a restaurant.

“We invite all Razona visitors not to view the place merely as a restaurant, but as a cultural, literary, and artistic forum. We added meals and other services to ensure the place’s financial sustainability.”

The vibrant and culturally rich setting allows the residents of Basra to rediscover and celebrate their heritage, ensuring it remains a living part of the city’s landscape.