The Al-Shibani Building: from School and International Art Centre to Centre of the Jihadi Jabhat al-Nusra

The Al-Shibani Building, аlsо called Al-Shibani School and Church is а 12th century religious and cultural centre in the “Al-Jalloum” district, at the heart of the Ancient City оf Aleppo.

Here a short historical information:

During the 19th century, the Khan was possessed by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, and there they founded the first college of Aleppo, the “Terre-Sainte College”. in 1879, the construction of the whole complex was completed.

for almost 60 years thereafter, the “Terre Saint College” played а significant role in the educational and cultural life of Aleppo and Syria: the majority of the first generation of intellectuals and leaders of Syria (both Muslim and Christian) has studied in the Shibani School.

in 1937 after the Christians moved into other area of the city, the building of Al-Shibani became а state property (to the French Government at that time) and a tobacco company moved in. After independency (1946), the building became a state property of the Syrian Government and turned into а tobacco warehouse. No maintenance works were done for more than 50 years.

The involvement of Le Pont Organization:

1- in 1998 Le Pont Organization came up with the unique idea to turn Al-Shibani into an International Exhibition and Cultural Centre – this idea was immediately supported by GTZ (the German Organisation for Technical Cooperation, now the GIZ – Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit).

2- between the years of 1998 and 2001, the Aleppo International Photo Festival and the Aleppo international Women Art Festival played a significant role to convince people and the Government to move the strongly protected tobacco company out of the building.

During those years, Le Pont Organization was the only one to use this building for many cultural activities. More than 200 volunteers – students from Aleppo, city notables and intellectuals, western friends and artists who came to work in Aleppo, helped to shed light on the potential of Al-Shibani and convinced the authorities to turn it into a international Cultural Centre. We need to mention the personal support of the formal Prime Minister: Dr. Mohamed Moustafa Miro – he played a significant role in supporting the GTZ Plan. And also the support of the Mayor’s Office of Aleppo, for they shared the dream of Le Pont Organization: to have International Cultural Events and Activities open to EVERYONE in Syria, not only for the elites. That art would reach EVERY LEVEL of society, that people would stand next to each other, the taxi driver next to the ambassador, the minister next to the housewife.

3- In 2001 rehabilitation of the building started, and Le Pont Organization moved his activities into another amazing space in Aleppo: the Electricity Building (that’s another story…)

The rehabilitation of Al-Shibani was scheduled for the revival of the building, in the frameworks of the Syrian-German cooperation, funded by the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany and the Syrian Government.

4- Between the years of 2003 and 2007, Le Pont Organization constantly fought the system and some local intellectuals to prove its interest in having the Shibani Building for the benefit of the city of Aleppo.( Le Pont Gallery has been Closed by the System Year 2005 ) In 2009, Le Pont Organization came back to the Shibani Building with the 10th International Photo Festival and in 2010 with the 8th International Women’s Art Festival with great opening, with the support and help of Madinatouna Project (Our City Project). Madinatouna did a lot of work in his short life, the Shibani Building was at the heart of the activity of the new development projects. Madinatouna was open to all, it was a serious step who got the trust of the majority, it gave a new hope to the city, a hope for real Secular Life. Madinatouna worked hard to open up the communication between all levels of society and removing the borders between ethnic and religious groups. The number of volunteers grew in a never seen, never expected way: young and old, rich and poor, all of them wanting to help and to be part of real changes in the city.

In the middle of the year 2010, the secular life of Aleppo lost Madinatouna under the pressure of the most traditional, conservative side of the city, people with power who control the media. These people at the time did not understand the following: they were not stopping us, they were in fact killing themselves by stopping Madinatouna. We lost then the last hope that the changing for the best would start in the city, and shortly after, the problems started in Syria. And with weapons, there is no possibility of development…

The latest developments:

From 1998 to 2010 many hundreds of local and international artists and organizations presented their work and organized activities at the Shibani Building. This provoked great developments in the cultural life of Aleppo, giving light and hope to the secular life in the country. We managed to move cultural life to the streets, we made it accessible to everyone – this was the dream and has been the policy of our organization for the last 15 years.

In the last months of 2012 I worked hard to find out who is occupying Shibani Building at the moment. Later I heard from locals that it has become the head quarters of the Jihadi Jabhet Al-Nasra also known as ”Jabhat Al-Nusra” – a group claimed to be representing Al-Qaida in Syria.

I find this ending a very logical development. It mirrors everything that has been happening around us: the destruction of any kind of cultural, mental or social development, the shutting up of any structure that thrives for freedom, the darkness closing in not only in the lives but also in the souls of Syrians. It seems to me that this is exactly what politicians (all sorts of them: democrats, dictators, locals, foreigners) and some western cultural foundations want since the beginning of the conflicts.

We have been here watching them: they are like children teasing each other, trying to prove who can provoke more problems to the other side, by supporting and arming more and more Jihad groups and Salafi Governments. Unfortunately, this is not a children’s game! The consequences are far too serious and for anyone to see.

In the end all of them have helped Syrians in one thing: to kill and dislocate not only the people on the streets, but to kill also the sole idea of freedom and any hopes to ever have a Syrian secular life.

So, welcome to Aleppo, Jabhet Al-Nasra! Feel yourself at home; you obviously deserve to have what you got. World governments and EVERY ONE around us gives you the right to exist and exert your power because nobody here is educated to protect one’s rights. Therefore, you must be right, I must be wrong.

In Some way history of Al-Shibani Building look like Syrian Story


PS : you can look to this link also

Name of the Some internationals Artists and organization Has been Exhibit in Shibani Building During Le Pont Organization Festivals from year 1998 to 2001 and later 2009 :

CMCP MCPC – Canadian Museum of contemporary Photography
KIT Museum – The Netherlands
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reine Sofia – Spain
Victoria and Albert Museum – London

DCCD – Denmark
DCA – Denmark
Hivos – The Netherlands
Mondriaan Foundation – The Netherlands
Open Society Foundations – USA
Prince Claus Fund – The Netherlands

Photo Festival

James Whitlow Delano 2009 , Larry Towell 1999 & 2000 , Isabel Munoz 1998 , Willi Filz 2001 , Mimmo Jodice 2001 , Alain Ceccaroli 2001 , Harbert List 2001 , Ciuco Gutierrez 2000 , Pelle Kronestedt 2000 , Benoit Aquin 1999 , Richard Baillargeon 1999, Robert Bourdeau 1999, Serge Clement 1999, Rafael Goldchain , Geoffey James , Sima Khorami , Ian Paterson 1999, Sadegh Tirafkan 2001 , , Andreas Zipperle 2001 , Bruno Maillard 2001 , markus Lang 2001 , Christina Tsilidis 2001 , Jean Jacques Simon 2001, Torben Andahl 2001 , Payram 2001 , Michel Eisenlohr 2001 , Walter Zednicek 1998 , Bernd Eickemeyer 1998 , Uwe Frauendorf 1998 ,Maurizio Montanari 1998 , Michiel De Ruiter , Harald Hirsch , Eberthard Kloppie , Henning Langenheirn , Hand W Mende , Helga Paris , Manfred Paul , Lother Michael Peter , Nelly Rau- Haring , Manfred M Sackmann , Bernd – Horst Setzik , Maria Sewcz , 1998 , H H Capor 2000, Peder Mortensen 2000, Bernard Plossu , Fransoise Nuiez 2000 , Christopher Bourgeois , Louise Cherry 2000 .Rosetta messori 2000 , Maria Luiza Pyrlik 2000 , Ciuco Gutierrez 2000 , Abir Abdallah 2009 , Amanda Rivkin 2009 , Anastasia Taylor Lind 2009 , Andrej Glusgold 2009 , bent Hedeby Sorensen 2009 , Claudia Zanfi & Gianmaria Conti , Dalia Khamissy 2009 , Damaso Reyes , Ernest Hesse 2009 , Carole Farah , Eva Brunner Szabo 2009 , Fassih Keiso 2009 , Ferit Kuyas 2009 , Gabriela Bulisova , George Haddad , Harold Naaijer 2009 , Ivor Prickett 2009 , Jawhara AlSaud 2009 , Khaled Hasan 2009 , Kim Wendt , Laura Bushnaq 2009 , Liga Sakse , Li Wei 2009 , Lucyna Galik 2009 , Reem Al Faisal , Mark Nozemen 2009 , Mi Ree Abrahamsen , Nick Biegman 2009 , Peter Riedlinger 2009 , Roumen Koynov 2009 , Samuel Nja Kwa , Suzanne Banning 2009 , Timothy Fadek 2009 , Virgilo Ferreira , Yumi Goto , Munem Wasif , Kosuke Okaharo , Keth Judd , Katharina Hesse , Ektor Dimisianos , Jack Picont , Lourdes Segade , Greg Constantine , Jean Chung , Moises Saman , Masaru Goto , Mikharl Subatzky , Cyeil Bitton , Guillaume Herbaut , Shiho Fukada , Ehrin Macksey , Alixandra Fazzino , Carlos Cazalis , Sohrab Hura and Max Sher 2009

We will add international Women Art Artists name soon