"For fourteen centuries, the art and architecture of the Islamic world has represented a pinnacle of achievement for some of the world's greatest civilisations. Today, the art of the Muslim world extends a bridge of understanding to all cultures, [but] this cultural heritage remains largely unappreciated and understudied. The Barakat Trust is responding to this urgent need by supporting and facilitating opportunities to study, conserve and preserve an extraordinary artistic heritage."
The Barakat Trust (note: "barakat" means "blessings" in Arabic)
Few cultural tourism groups can say that they have an investment in the sites visited as much as the – mostly women, largely Saudi, extended family-related – group from the UK-based charity The Barakat Trust which is currently touring Morocco.
We were delighted that they chose to start their Tangier/Tetouan program with a vist to TALIM. And the link between Barakat, TALIM, Tangier, and Tetouan was in the person of Dr. Nadia Erzini, eminent historian and restorer of Morocco's religious architectural heritage. We are proud that Nadia performed her research at the Legation's library, and even prouder that the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art chose her as historical adviser for the creation of its Moroccan Courtyard.
Perhaps it comes from growing up in a palace – sadly now in need of a major restoration – and imbibing centuries' worth of anecdotes about diplomatic ancestors and advisers to sultans, but Nadia Erzini's knowledge of her subject is encyclopedic. She shared some of this during the Barakat Trust tour of Tetouan's historic medina, which since 1997 has been classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Barakat Trust visitors were treated to a number of Tetouan must-sees, including the EAO or Escuela de artes y oficios, the artisanat school founded during the Spanish Protectorate in the 1920s (photo above). Barakat's approach is scholar-based, but in the case of Dr. Erzini's work to restore the Luqash madrassah, resulted in her being able to fill the museum with authentic artifacts from centuries of Moroccan mosques, madrassahs, and marabouts or zaouiyas (centers for religious orders).
The visit of the Barakat Trustees and their members provided a rare insight into a small but dedicated group of people who put their resources – and give of their time – to safeguard threatened treasures of Islamic art throughout the world. Aided by an Academic Advisory Committee (Oxford Professor James W. Allan was along for the trip), the Barakat Trust provides assistance to scholars to help counter "the neglect of a great artistic tradition."
We see this visit as an introduction to the Barakat Trust and its important work, and look forward to return visits by this fascinating group of people.
Photos, text by Gerald Loftus.