In August, Decree No. 13 of 2022 was issued, granting extensive tax concessions and exemptions within old city centres in the Aleppo, Homs, and Deir-ez-Zor governorates, including the historic souks. While waiting for the decree’s executive instructions to be published, however, government officials have given contradictory statements about the souks and districts in the city of Homs that the decree will cover.
Homs is home to a historic market known as Souk Al-Masqouf, or the Covered Souk in English. Several other souks branch out from this one, some dating back to the Mamlouk era. The most important of these souks are the Al-Nouri Souk, the Textile Souk, the Perfumers’ Souk, the Silk Souk, the Goldsmiths’ Souk, the Distillers’ Souk, the Cloakmakers’ Souk, the Tailors’ Souk, Al-Hisbeh Souk, Al-Bazerbashi Souk, and the Womens’ Souk. Many of these souks specialise in certain goods, as their names indicate. There are around 1,000 total shops in Homs’ historic souks and some palaces and homes surrounding them.
The historic Souk Al-Masqouf, as well as its connected souks, are all part of the city’s Central Souk, the commercial centre of the Old City of Homs. There are some old popular markets within the Central Souk, such as Souk Al-Naoureh and Souk Al-Hamidiyeh. It is unclear whether Decree No. 13 will cover the entire Central Souk, or just Souk Al-Masqouf and the historic souks that branch off it. Recent official statements contradict one another over how the Old City, the Central Souk, the historic souks, and other commercial souks are distinguished.
In late August, the governor of Homs announced that preparations were underway to start tallying the shops in need of restoration within the city’s historic souk area. He added that lists of taxes and fees for specific crafts and professions, as well as for income taxes, debts, and consumer spending, are also being prepared. Decree No. 13 is to grant exemptions for those payments.
The head of the Homs City Council has stated that the decree includes tax exemptions for destroyed shops and homes within the Old City that need restoration. The historic souk area, he added, contains 15 such souks, 390 of which have reopened. Some 600 shops have been restored, while 200 are ready to reopen and have yet to do so.
Between 2000 and 2005, Japan funded restoration works for Souk Al-Masqouf in cooperation with the Homs governorate and Directorate of Antiquities. The work included repairing cracks in the walls and depressions in floors, reinforcing some building foundations, cleaning, and installing lights.
But later, between 2012 and 2014, Souk Al-Masqouf became a frontline between regime and rebel forces in Homs’ Old City. Much of the area was damaged due to the fighting, in addition to regime missiles and artillery fire. Regime forces later forcibly displaced residents from all parts of Old Homs in 2014. The displacement soon led to widespread violations of the housing, land, and property rights in the old Homs and the Souk Al-Masqouf.
Afterwards, seemingly intentional fires broke out, damaging most of the shops in Souk Al-Masqouf, while looters seized anything they could dismantle and recycle, including metals and other debris, water piping, electrical wires, and phone lines.
In 2015, a committee formed to undertake restoration and rehabilitation works in Souk Al-Masqouf. Representatives of the Homs governorate, the city council, the directorates of antiquities and museums, the Chamber of Commerce, and other government entities and offices served on the committee. There were also representatives from the city’s local community.
Restoration work began in 2016 in Souk Al-Masqouf and some other smaller souks, with support from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and Japan.
The work was split into four stages, with the first three so far complete.
The first stage lasted from 2016 to 2017 and included reopening the main roads in Souk Al-Masqouf and the other historic markets branching off of it. Rubble was also removed from these areas.
Second, in 2017, rubble found in Souk Al-Masqouf was recycled according to charts and plans available at the Homs municipality and the directorates of antiquities and museums. Some 680 partially damaged shops were also restored, which included installing new floors and ceilings.
The third phase, in 2019, aimed to rehabilitate infrastructure in the souk, including rehabilitating electrical, water, sewage, and landline networks; rebuilding the frameworks of destroyed shops; installing metal doors; and cleaning passageways. This phase also saw the installation of streetlights and power transformers throughout the souk.
Finally, in February 2022, Syria requested that the UNDP fund the fourth stage of the rehabilitation project. This stage is meant to restore 179 shops in some of Souk Al-Masqouf’s side streets and the Goldsmiths’ Souk and the Tailors’ Souk.