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Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir Palace

Date of Submission: 24/02/2015
Criteria: (ii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters of the State of Kuwait
Coordinates: 29.38767, 47.995546
Ref.: 6005

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The Palace of Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir Al-Sabah is a heritage site in the State of Kuwait. It is situated in the eastern part of Kuwait city, Dasman area, besides Dasman Palace, near the Arabian Gulf coast.

This site was built in the early Twentieth Century by Sheikh Khazaal Bin Mirdaw, Ruler of Muhammarah (1897 - 1925 ) on a piece of land which he received as a gift from Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah, Kuwait's Ruler (1896-1915). After Sheikh Khazaal's death, it was bought by Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir Al- Sabah who took it as a family residence, thereafter converted it to the first national museum in Kuwait and the Arabian Gulf region, after which it remained as the property of his heirs until it was taken over by the State and rated as a high preservation building.

When it was built and for many decades thereafter, the Palace was reported to be the most magnificent structure in Kuwait. Patterned on regional antecedents, it was large, elaborate two storey structure in coral stone and mud brick in a stark contrast to Kuwait's primarily single storey, austere architecture.

The remains of exotic chateau-like palace built in early twentieth century, emulating a variety of European and Middle Eastern architectural styles on the desert coast setting of Kuwait within Kuwait City's third wall survives until today as a testimony to a rich heritage representing cultural infusion on a regional and universal scale.

It embodies the collaboration of architectural styles resulting in the development of traditional craftsmanship and a transition into a combination of architectural and building traditions including Persian, French, Arabian and Indian, representing an active cultural exchange between settlements on both sides of the Gulf Region.

This structure went through Four Phases:

Phase I - Diwan (Early 1900's — Late 1930's)

Sheikh Khazaal Bin Mirdaw, built this structure which he called The Diwan in Dasman next to the palace of Sheikh Jabir, son of Sheikh Mubarak. Its large scale construction at the time, consisted of two storeys and a basement built with sea rocks and mud bricks. In contrast to the traditional building style prevailing in Kuwait in the early Twentieth Century, when houses had internal courtyards, this is the first building in the country and perhaps in the area which had an external landscaping but no internal courtyard.

Each floor contained six guest rooms separated by a central corridor. Four cylindrical towers dominated the building's external corners. Moreover, outer verandas extended on its four facades on both floors. Each floor had its external entrances and quaint fronts and back porches embraced by Mughal style arches. The ceiling supporting mangrove beams were concealed by wooden boards which had embossed drawings on sunken engravings. The Diwan's outer contour strongly echoes a turtle with protruding head, feet and tail. The landscape of Phase 1, as surmised from an aerial photograph taken in 1927 shows the Diwan not far from from the cost,without an external fence, situated in open land and surrounded by Sheikh Khazaal's residential palace to the North, Dasman Palace to the South, and the "future site" of the British Embassy to the East.

Phase Two: Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir Family Residence (Late 1930's 1954)

The "Diwan" was acquired by Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir in the mid 1940's, a few years after the death of its original owner, Sheikh Khazaal. Sheikh Abdullah, used the building as his family residence. Given that he was the President of Education Department, with great interest in history and culture, he maintained the building in its original form, as shown by the photos dating back to the 1940's and 1950's. He introduced minor, internal alterations such as adding a few bathrooms. However, the landscape surrounding the building witnessed some major additions. First of all, a fence was added around the four sides of the building. In early 1950's, new buildings were added in the vicinity of the original ones. They consisted of one house built for Sheikha Muneerah, wife of sheikh Abdullah and three residential villas for his three eldest sons as well as auxiliary service buildings. When they were constructed, these buildings in their turn represented a new development in home building styles and materials in Kuwait. These "structural constructions" used cement bricks, concrete columns, and contained balconies, ceramic and mosaic floorings. It is reported that their architectural style, which was mainly Western, was imported from Egypt.

A number of trees were also added on land immediately adjacent to the original old building. In 1954, the heavy rainfalls witnessed by Kuwait afflicted the old Palace building and rendered it inhabitable. Consequently, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir and his family deserted the Palace and moved to another residence nearby. The property remained unoccupied until it was converted by Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir into a national museum.

Phase Three: Kuwait First National Museum in the Arabian Gulf Region (1957- 1976)

In 1957, Kuwait's Department of Education initiated its ambitious plans to start archaeological explorations and establishing the first national museum in the Arabian Region. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir resorted to international expertise in order to realize these plans. Moesgard Museum - Denmark sent archaeological expeditions, while UNESCO dispatched experts in museum planning and antiquities law. The family residence of Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir was chosen as the venue for Kuwait's first national museum in the Arabian Gulf Region which was inaugurated on December 31st, 1957. Thus, the building entered into a new historically and culturally significant phase.

The museum occupied the first floor and the basement of the building. The second floor remained out of use and was closed due to the fragility of its flooring. Behind the museum, a pleasant round garden and a fountain was added„ as reported by Zahra Freeth (author of A New Look at Kuwait, 1972).

The verandas on both the ground floor and first floors were sealed and incorporated into the museum. This venue housed Kuwait's first National Museum in the Arabian Gulf region from the last day of 1957 until 1976 when it was vacated due to its fragile condition.

Phase Four: High Preservation Rating Building (1976 - present)

Following the vacation of the building, it remained as property of the heirs of Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir Al-Sabah. The lack of maintenance added to the frailty of the building.

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was fateful to the structure of the original old building which witnessed much consequent damage. The Palace was shelled and burnt during the invasion.

This site is currently in a very bad state of conservation. The only remnants of the original building amount to the corner towers, the front entrance, and some walls. The floorings have been obscured by debris of the collapsing walls and roofs. All interior and exterior doors and windows have been lost, with the exception of a few window frames still surviving on the outer towers, albeit in poor condition.

The infrastructure is in a very poor state and the surrounding outer original grounds are in bad condition.

Kuwait Historical Preservation Study Vol. I (1988) describes this building as having "High ++ Preliminary Preservation Rating".

The National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters Kuwait Heritage Buildings Register has entered this property as Grade-I rating.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Palace of Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir is enshrined in historical and cultural significance linking Kuwait with its surrounding region and beyond. The architectural aspects of this palace bewildered many researchers. The palace has been reported to combine a mix of architectural styles comprising of French, Persian and Mesopotamian influences with some Indian and Kuwaiti finishing touches. In addition to Kuwaiti builders and materials, craftsmen and construction components were imported from Iran and neighbouring Basra, among other places. This collaboration of multitudes of minds, matter and muscles culminated in an interesting piece of architecture which expresses a rare instance of harmonious diversity between regions, far and near, at a time when the planet was inflamed with the unprecedented conflicts of World War I.

The palace itself was the epitome of friendship between the two important regional leaders who used it as a meeting place where they coordinated policies: Sheikh Mubarak (1896­1915) and Sheikh Khazaal. Both rulers played a major role in the events that took place in the northern Arabian Gulf region at the end of the nineteenth and the first two decades of the Twentieth centuries.

The historical significance of the palace continued unabated when it devolved to Sheikh Abdullah Al- Jabir Al-Sabah during the 1940's, wherein he entertained many renowned political and intellectual leaders who visited Kuwait. It was during his era as President of Kuwait's Department of Education that the place was converted in 1957 into the first national museum to open in the Arabian Gulf region. It housed the first ever presentation of the Kuwaiti-Arabian Gulf region heritage, in addition to Kuwait's archaeological discoveries at the time which revealed its rich ancient history as a vital trade and strategic hub in the region.

Recently, UNESCO has declared Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir as a universal educational reformer to be celebrated as such in 2014-2015. As a tribute to his achievements in the domains of education and culture, a national celebration was held in his honour in November 2014 under the aegis of H.H. the Amir of Kuwait on the site of this historical palace.

Thus, this site demonstrates Kuwait's historical interaction with regional cultures, together with its receptivity of diverse universal influences which enriched the local heritage and emphasized the country's pivotal role in the exchange of peaceful engagements on a universal scale.

Criterion (ii): This site stands as a prime example of the vivid cultural and social exchanges between Kuwait and its neighbours, which represent a tradition that characterized this part of the world and continues to survive since ancient times. Closely related to the interests, tastes and achievements of the historical personalities of the region, this palace captured the popular imagination and raised the curiosity of foreign writers and researchers.

This heritage Site "Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir Palace" is an outstanding example of the impact of interchange of values on developments in architecture, and the migration of building arts in the Arabian Gulf region.

For Kuwait, this building was extraordinary in that it was outward looking, with its large external windows contrasting heavily with those of traditional Kuwaiti houses having small windows at the top end of high blank walls, which denoted conservatism and exclusion.

On the other hand, the socio-cultural significance of the Palace, and its proximity to the historic Dasman palace of the ruler of Kuwait, the old buildings of the British Embassy as well as to the Arabian Gulf coast, represent significant indicators as to its role in the sociological and cultural settings of Kuwait during the first six decades of the Twentieth century.

Although today this site lays in a state of ruins, its very sight conjures up memories to people from different generations who belong to various backgrounds. It bears testimony to the ability of the people of the region to harmonize diversity and exercise a peaceful embrace of change, in addition to highlighting Kuwaiti cultural versatility and dynamism in conversing with the world.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity: The recorded history of this site abounds in numerous descriptions by Kuwaiti, Arab, Persian and European authors including historians, journalists, travellers and researchers as well as professional architects and engineers. Combining photographs, drawings, analyses, descriptions and reports over the last one hundred years, they all testified to the outstanding value of this site in relation to its local and regional environments.

Moreover, some writers emphasized the collaboration of architectural styles and traditional craftsmanship epitomizing an earlier Persian tradition mixed with Indian and Arabic structures which represented a fresh, new cornerstone in Kuwaiti architectural development. The overall relationship of the palace to the people can be seen in its diversity of functionality and development of use as a social / administrative building, a residence, a cultural exhibit and a first museum.

Integrity: As it stands today, the property consists of three components: Abdullah Al-Jabir Palace, Ancillary Buildings, and the Grounds. The boundaries of the property are adequate and its structural integrity has been maintained. The general structure of the lines is today very close to the characteristics of the lines as they originally were. The functional integrity has been preserved.

The Palace is in a generally bad condition with regard to infrastructure, technical operation and social use that enables it to adequately express its values. The integrity of the landscape appears to be fragile.

The Kuwait National Council of Arts & Letters conducted numerous professional studies on the condition of the site and developed its vision on how its future may be expressed.

order to save the property from further deterioration, urgent steps are required to be taken, especially with regard to the original crumbling site of the Palace. This measure should be undertaken in coordination with the operational guidelines of the implementation of the World Heritage Convention. This may be followed by considering the addition of a modest Education and Culture Museum building in the surrounding area which may be devoted to fully express the site's value to present and future generations. Further, the grounds need to be rehabilitated and the ancillary buildings are required to be activated.

Comparison with other similar properties

In a published scholarly article, researcher, Laila Yazdi, suggested that the Heritage site "Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir Palace" is completely comparable to Malek Palace in Bushehr, the coastal city of Iran. This palace was contemporary with the Phase I of this site (Diwan).

Malek Palace was built by French architects, but its style is derived from a local style called "Banglah". Yazdi observed that in Malek Palace, Qajar architecture is largely a mixture of local and Western styles with a return to Sassanian style. According to Yazdi, it can be assumed that Khaza'al Khan has completely copied the architectural style of that building; it is distinctive that the general plan, decorative style, and construction technique and materials are the same in the both buildings. The similarity is so strong that it can be suggested that both buildings were planned and built by the same architect.