In part one of her guest post, Palestinian architect and writer, Yara Saqfalhait, shared her experience of Al-Bireh’s vegetable market as a sacred space. Please enjoy the second excerpt of her longer essay, a finalist in the Berkeley architectural essay competition. Yara and I ask that you click on “leave a comment” to the left of this post to share your reactions, suggestions and your own experiences about Palestine’s sacred spaces.
Part Two: Open space in a city terrified of the voice: The case of “Al-Hisbeh” (guest post)
Ramallah has entered a new era. Still confused by the sudden dramatic changes on the ground, the municipal council tried to prepare a new master plan to keep up; city borders were expanded and land use zones were adjusted to incorporate larger areas. Here’s where my previous description of Ramallah as a ‘city of emergency solutions’ is most evident. When a state of emergency is declared, decisions are almost freed from the obligation of rationality; what matters is that things get done. The resulting master plan consisted of fully colored zones, each one indicating a different land use where the only empty spaces seemed to be the streets themselves.
Ramallah appears terrified of the void. Open spaces are seen as empty spaces waiting for construction. Their value is measured in terms of land price, and just like someone tormented by internal hollowness, every attempt is made to fill the gaps, to make a decision once and for all, because the city doesn’t appear to be fond of surprises either; it needs the security of certainty. With such a hearty appetite for more architecture rather than better architecture, open spaces resemble postponed decisions or put-off dilemmas waiting to be resolved.
The Hisbeh has managed to persist—so far—as an open space in a very crucial place within the city center. Upon entering, you feel like you’re on the threshold of transition between two paradoxical worlds: the world of claimed modernization overloaded with vehicles, worn-out concrete and overwhelming media, and a world of an equally chaotic nature, but with striking consistency that goes beyond the spatial dimension, still untouched, as if protected by an invisible aura. Sacred.
In his book “The sacred and the profane: The nature of religion,” Mircea Eliade describes the sacred as something that interrupts the homogeneity of space by creating a hierarchy of its own. To me, the vegetable market’s sacred quality comes from the reality that this hierarchy doesn’t exist just in terms of its spatial qualities, but beyond. It presents a totally different model or living mechanism; an escape from the vicious retail domination of its surroundings. It operates according to a system of its own, in terms of the nature of the products, their display media, communication patterns, even space distribution, and most importantly, human involvement.