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Zbar, UNESCO to restore House of Wonders

THE iconic House of Wonders (Bait Al Ajaib) in the Stone Town, which partly collapsed last month, may soon stand.

This follows talks between Zanzibar President Hussein Mwinyi and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) representative in the country Mr Tirso Dos Santos held here on Wednesday.

It was revealed that the Zanzibar revolutionary government and the UNESCO World Heritage Centre may work together and join other partners to restore the collapsed parts of the iconic building.

According to the press release issued by the State House, Dr Mwinyi hailed UNESCO for expressing regret and sadness over the collapse of parts of the Bait Al Ajaib and intention to support.

The House of Wonders is one of the outstanding monuments, a property inscribed on the World Heritage List since 2000. A section of the House of Wonders that collapsed was undergoing renovation and the restoration was funded by Oman's Ministry of Heritage and Tourism.

"We value the historical relation with UNESCO and welcome the intention to collaborate in restoring the building,” said Dr Mwinyi.

“We started to take measures after the collapse, which include meeting with stakeholders in heritage followed by formation of a committee to look into the possible cause of collapse and give suggestions,” added President Mwinyi.

During the meeting, President Mwinyi welcomed UNESCO's plan to send its experts to assess the damage and advise on how it can help restore Beit-al-Ajab building termed by Dr Mwinyi as the Stone Town's Icon.

Dr Mwinyi promised the government will provide maximum cooperation to the UNESCO's experts when they come as the president also thanked the UN organisation for funding the renovation of Majestic Cinema building, the only historical cinema structure remaining in the Stone Town.

UNESCO's Tirso Dos Santos informed the president that they have the intention to help restore the Beit-al-Ajaib building and that to begin with, experts from the organisation will arrive in Zanzibar on Monday for damage assessment.

“We will continue to base on heritage guidelines and soon after the assessment, restoration plan will follow immediately,” Santos said with a positive response also to assess other historical buildings in the Stone Town and support maintenance. He also wished Zanzibaris a happy 57th anniversary of the 1994 Revolution.

The UNESCO's representative issued condolence messages from the organisation's Director General Ms Audrey Azoulay and the Director of World Heritage Ms Mechtild Rossier following the collapse of the building in which two labour workers were killed and four others injured.

When the building collapsed on Christmas day last year, it was undergoing repair and major renovation by Oman's Ministry of Heritage and Tourism. 

After prolonged closure following roof collapse in November 2011, the renovation efforts were supposed to start in 2019, but due to coronavirus pandemic, the plans were postponed again.

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