Saving Aleppo’s History, Book by Book

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02:22

The Bab al-Nasr neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria is famous for its libraries and bookstores. Dr Mohamed Khawatmi, who has been restoring ancient books and caring for manuscripts for 50 years, was raised there.

“I was surrounded by libraries, so I used to visit them and help them (librarians) restore and make printed papers, notebooks and books,” Khawatmi said. He also reads the books and manuscripts he works on.

Despite his profession as a veterinarian, he is an avid collector of rare manuscripts. The old city of Aleppo is rich in such documents because of its history. The city has witnessed several civilizations, such as Hittite, Aramaic, Assyrian, Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic.

Khawatmi transformed his house in Aleppo into a small museum, which further explains his passion.

Collection of Mohamed Khawatmi in his home in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, October 30, 2021. / CGTN

Collection of Mohamed Khawatmi in his home in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, October 30, 2021. / CGTN

Khawatmi said that there are many historical documents in the ancient city of Aleppo, “but the people are not aware of their value, so they have been ignored and lost.”

Some of the documents he has preserved date back to the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Syria from 1516 after Marj Dabiq’s battle against the Mamluks until 1916. This was the last period in which historical documents were collected.

Mohamed Khawatmi safeguards the heritage of manuscripts and mosaics in Aleppo, Syria, October 30, 2021. / CGTN

Mohamed Khawatmi safeguards the heritage of manuscripts and mosaics in Aleppo, Syria, October 30, 2021. / CGTN

The art of mosaic, for which Syria is famous, is also part of the interests of Khawatmi, who describes the country as “the country of mosaics”. He collects mosaic pieces that tell stories and document several historical periods of Syrian civilization.

“No one knew how mosaic art is made, even if the floors of churches in forgotten cities were made of it,” Khawatmi said. “A large part of these pieces are pieces lost or moved in the museums of Maarat al-Numan, Shahba and Qanawat. Some of them date back to the fourth and fifth centuries. These are historical documents, and I believe in bringing our history and heritage to life in a modern way.

Mohamed Khawatmi forms a mosaic panel using cement and gypsum stone pens in Aleppo, Syria on October 30, 2021. / CGTN

Mohamed Khawatmi forms a mosaic panel using cement and gypsum stone pens in Aleppo, Syria on October 30, 2021. / CGTN

Khawatmi invented and formed the mosaic panels based on his self-invented cement and gypsum stone pens, which are strong, durable and easy to color.

He participated in many courses and workshops on document restoration with UNESCO and the Matenadaran Institute in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, to maintain his profession, and was considered an expert.

Mohamed Khawatmi shows how he restores manuscripts and saves them in Aleppo, Syria, October 30, 2021. / CGTN

Mohamed Khawatmi shows how he restores manuscripts and saves them in Aleppo, Syria, October 30, 2021. / CGTN

He has also formed a small book restoration workshop and has been teaching new generations since 2018. These workshops are attended by fine arts students. They work to form panels that reflect the history of Aleppo, its markets and the life of the community.


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