The conservation of Old Jeddah is part of a broader master plan embracing the entire city. The Old Town preservation programme pursues a twofold task: to save buildings of architectural interest and to upgrade the urban environment. The Old City covers an area of 1.5 square km and it is delimited to the west by the corniche and to the north, east and south by the King Abdul Aziz ring road. Most of the structures which make up the dense city fabric are less than 200 years old. They essentially consist of two, three and four-storey houses, some 19th century merchants' mansions, caravanserais and mosques.
Until the early 50's these inner town houses were inhabited by extended families. Following Jeddah's spectacular growth prompted by increasing numbers of pilgrims and oil revenues, the local residents left their traditional abodes to move to newly built suburbs. The Old Town houses are now mainly (over)-occupied by a high proportion of single, male foreign workers who rent a room (or part of a room) from Saudi landlords. After the introduction of modern building materials in the 50's, construction of traditional coral Iimestone (kashoor) houses was abandoned, and the Old City was in effect left to deteriorate. In the mid-70's Jeddah Municipality, contracted the architects to undertake a general upgrading the area. This implied preserving original heights and volumes buildings, repairing façades and landscaping.
To date the Municipality has renovated some 30 buildings and another 200 were repaired by their owners. Renovations can range from barely whitewashing façades and painting to traditional woodwork (mashrabiyyas, shish, and rawashin) to re-inforcing deteriorated substructures. It seems no major infra-structural work was undertaken as a survey conducted in 1979 showed that most households offered modern facilities (electricity, piped-in water, sewage). One of the main problems in Jeddah is decay caused by constant humidity and a high concentration of soluble salts, both in the air and ground. Another potential risk is the high water table. Streets and pavements were covered with marble, granite and basalt slabs laid to form geometric patterns. However, this could in the long term endanger adjoining structures because these slabs are laid on a concrete bed and the underground moisture therefore infiltrates contiguous walls. Outdoor public spaces have been adorned with vegetal elements, fountains and street furniture. The Municipality keeps a store of materials salvaged from ruined houses to be re-used in renovation works. Some government loans for renovation works are also made available.
Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture