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Aladdin flies to the rescue of ancient theatres

An EU-supported project to protect and preserve ancient theatres in five Euro Med countries has turned to the magical world of Aladdin and his genie to inspire and educate children about coliseums and the value of cultural heritage. The EU Neighbourhood Info Centre sent along one of its journalists to take a look.

AMMAN - Do you remember Aladdin, the young hero of the Arab folktale entitled ‘One Thousand and One Nights’? Riding on his flying carpet, he goes to a cave where he retrieves a magical oil lamp containing a genie… and off he goes, jumping from one adventure to the next, always on top of his dreams (and his carpet). A school book - Aladdin’s Magical Travels to Ancient Theaters in the EuroMed Region - is now resurrecting the tale to ensure that Roman theatres can continue to play a vital cultural role in the future. The new book is about a young adventurer travelling through time and space on his flying carpet, but this time he will explore theatres dotted along the shores of the Mediterranean in a bid to persuade children that keeping coliseums alive and well is also their business. “This book is a lot more than just a book with a story to tell,” says the author, award-winning poet and writer Mohammad Thaher. “It’s a cultural tool to raise children’s awareness of the importance of preserving their past. As they are the youngest members of society, it is children who can carry forward the message of respect for and protection of archaeological sites. Kids will turn into young men and women and they will pass what they have learned on to future generations,” he adds.

From battlegrounds for gladiators to prisons for convicts
Produced by the ATHENA project (Theaters Enhancement for New Actualities) under the Euromed Heritage 4 programme, the book is one of the main tools adopted to raise awareness about the importance of ancient theatres in Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Italy and Spain. ATHENA is designed to reach out to future generations to create a bond between them and their cultural heritage, with the hope of preserving the coliseums “as they face an uncertain future” says project manager Nizar Al Adarbeh “under siege from the modern world”. Mr Al Adarbeh believes that effective storytelling is a more powerful tool than dry history textbooks to inspire knowledge and affection for cultural topics. “The use of the well-known animation and fantasy characters loved worldwide by many children,” continues Al Adarbeh “will grab attention and contribute to spreading the educational value of the story”. Through colourful images and stunning landscapes, the book does indeed capture the imagination of readers. Always accompanied by his faithful genie, Aladdin turns up in the Roman theatre of Jerash, where workers are building the actors’ rooms and the stage. Then he finds himself in Petra, where, building on the remains of Nabatean constructions, Romans are now expanding the venue so that it can accommodate more than 8,000 people … The magic carpet then crosses the Mediterranean, where its next port of call is Cherchell, Algeria. Here, Aladdin tours the ruins of the old site, which has been burnt down and destroyed during a conflict. After that, it is time to go and the carpet winds up in Carthage, Tunisia, where the genie tells the story of the times when actors from all over the world would flock to perform on the theatre stage there. Next up is Syracuse, Italy, where the theatre has now been turned into a prison… Finally, Aladdin flies back to his hometown, Baghdad, where he began his odyssey. Throughout the story, the legendary character moves back and forth in a tunnel of history to take a firsthand look at the construction of the coliseums, their destruction and rejuvenation. The story charges through pages and pages of history, unearthing past tragedies and moments of glory. These majestic architectural wonders have gone through years of ups and downs, switching between being battlegrounds for gladiators, backdrops for musical performances and dungeons for convicts. “Through Aladdin’s story,” adds Thaher, “we want to make school kids proud of the marvels and treasures they have, both in their own countries and all over the world”. “Aladdin’s story shows how important it is to preserve such cultural treasures and why younger generations should care about them,” says Al Adarbeh.

10,000 copies to be distributed in Jordan
10,000 copies of the book will be printed and distributed to different schools in Jordan. Several organisations have also been identified, including the Madrasati educational initiative, to reach out children across the kingdom, in schools and beyond. The book will also be translated into English, Spanish, Italian and French. Aimed at schoolchildren aged between 10 and 12 years old, the text will capture everyone’s imagination “because of its style”, explains Thaher “which is entertaining and compelling”. Work is also ongoing to develop online educational games related to the story, such as memory games, puzzles and interactive exercises. “It is a great initiative,” says school teacher Abel Razaq, from al Jubeiha school in Amman. “The book carries enough information for a young mind to absorb and it offers the possibility of a visual journey that will engrave itself on the minds of young and adults alike.”

A balance between conservation and development
The ATHENA project,– which came into being in 2009, has brought officials from Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Italy and Spain into one task force to protect and promote heritage sites. ATHENA aims to produce new methodologies, tools and techniques for site managers and for the people working in the field. The project aims at finding a balance between theaters’ protection and development. The six archaeological sites have been laser-scanned to collect historical and technical data and to identify possible problems. A database has been built and technical studies are being produced to analyse environmental and seismic risks facing the sites but also to produce management plans focussing on sustainable tourism. “We need to inform the public about the importance of taking care of archaeological sites, which carry a cultural, aesthetic and artistic value, as well as a value for civilisation, and not only an economic or income generating one,” says ATHENA’s chief editor Marwan Asmar. “Each citizen has a stake in an old theatre: these ancient structures are part of the community and should be seen within the wider context of society” he continues, noting that the modern use of heritage sites should also entail the preservation of these ancient jewels for future generations. “Ancient heritage sites should be used in a proper way to ensure that they continue to play a vital cultural role in the future. Theatre management is a complex activity that should create a balance between conservation and enhancement” he concludes.

Text by Mohammad Ben Hussein
Photos by ATHENA

Courtesy of EU Neighbourhood Info Centre

Project: Athena

  • To minimize the progressive decay of ancient theatres in terms of physical, cultural and socio-economic aspects
  • To support the revival of theatres as a part of a wider archaeological site or urban context
  • To establish an overall strategy for dealing with tangible and intangible heritage aspects

From: 01.02.09 To: 01.05.13
Budget: € 1.452.302,00
Countries involved: Algeria,Italy,Jordan,Spain,Tunisia

Project sheet

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