World Heritage Cities Programme May 2020

World Heritage Cities Programme

Urban Notebooks

Newsletter May 2020

Special message from the Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre

Dear Site Managers,

The UNESCO World Heritage Centre is pleased to share with you the first Issue of Urban Notebooks dedicated to the World Heritage Cities community!

We are in the midst of the global pandemic. Lives have been lost and livelihoods severely impacted everywhere. Most countries and cities continue to be in lockdown restrictions. Cities and towns have been at the epicentre of this unprecedented health crisis. Tourism has temporarily come to a stand still. The best way to rebuild and recover is to come together and support each other. We hope that Urban Notebooks will become a way to strengthen our network, to exchange, engage, and cooperate as a community.

Stay safe !

Mechtild Rössler

From UNESCO World Heritage Centre

“In moments of crisis, people need culture”

Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture.

See the full message on culture and COVID-19.
UNESCO supports culture and heritage during COVID-19 shutdown

Monitoring World Heritage site closures

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, many governments have taken measures to restrict movements of people and access to certain areas. This includes the closure of natural and cultural World Heritage sites in the 167 countries they are located in.

To monitor the situation, UNESCO has created a global map on the closure of World Heritage sites due to Covid-19 and analysis has been launched.

44th session of the World Heritage Committee postponed

In light of recent developments in the world related to COVID-19, it was decided that the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee, initially scheduled for 29 June - 9 July 2020 will be postponed to a later date. Consultations are currently under way to determine the exact dates of the session.

Online meeting of Ministers of Culture

On 22 April, UNESCO brought together over 130 Ministers and Vice-Ministers of Culture online to discuss actions to bolster the cultural sector, which is facing unprecedented upheaval due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ministers spoke of the direct effects of the current crisis on tourism, museums, cultural production and artists, as well as the measures that they have taken to mitigate the impact of the crisis. They reaffirmed their commitment to intergovernmental dialogue and international solidarity in order to strengthen and unite their efforts.

Learn more and watch full meeting video

Regional Intergovernmental Organizations pledge to support the Cultural Sector

The economic importance of culture, as well as the fundamental role culture plays as a resource for resilience, hope and social inclusion, means that culture must be a key component of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was the major conclusion of the online consultation with representatives from twelve regional Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs) and development banks, convened by UNESCO on 17 April to discuss approaches to address the impact of this unprecedented health crisis on the cultural sector.

Learn more

We celebrated the International Day of Monuments and Sites (18 April) from home

The International Day of Monuments and Sites has always been an occasion to reflect upon - and often visit - heritage sites that are important to us. This year, during the Covid-19 crisis, most of us could only enjoy our heritage online, through virtual visits and tours, as well as social media posts.

As part of UNESCO’s #ShareOurHeritage campaign, with the support of Google Arts & Culture, UNESCO has launched an interactive online exhibition featuring dozens of World Heritage properties from across the globe. Discover several World Heritage cities from home through


Notre Dame: One year after the fire

A year has passed since the fire that ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. The Cathedral is part of the World Heritage site “Paris, Banks of the Seine” and a fine symbol of Gothic architecture.

Emergency measures and works carried out since the fire occurred are still underway to ensure that the entire structure of the building is stable and safe. This first phase of securing the building is due to be completed in the summer of 2020, although all work is currently halted due to the Covid-19 lockdown in Paris.

Learn more

UNESCO Cities Platform and COVID-19

UNESCO believes that for cities to become truly liveable places, we need innovation in all spheres of human activity. UNESCO, as a laboratory of ideas and a catalyst for international dialogue, brings city stakeholders together to share good practices and strengthen action towards the sustainable development of cities.

Learn more, watch the video


The World Heritage Cities Programme is one of six thematic programmes approved and monitored by the World Heritage Committee. The Cities Programme came about in 2001 in response to the significant number of historic centers and entire cities on the World Heritage List and the growing challenges of their conservation and management.

Cities have been at the epicenter of the current health crisis and doubly impacted: by the loss of lives and the urgency of the health care needs, and by the loss of livelihoods and tourism. Even as many countries have closed national borders and movement is restricted due to the unprecedented health crisis of COVID-19, we reach out to World Heritage Cities with the conviction that global cooperation is essential for local success everywhere. The remarkable historic cities that have been handed down to us through the centuries, are the shared heritage of humanity and have valuable lessons to offer in resilience.

At a time when a growing number of World Heritage properties have been threatened by excessive tourism and commercialization, and in the light of the current crisis, could we imagine historic cities to be more sustainable? In what ways could cultural heritage support recovery and rebuilding as well as good health for all? What would it be like if local families and small businesses could reclaim the historic cities and if more food and music were produced and consumed locally? What lessons could we learn from the history of these cities that have doubtless lived through other crises over the centuries? Urban Notebooks is an invitation to share, learn, and think together to better care for our World Heritage Cities that are as important to the global community as they are to their local ones.

Jyoti Hosagrahar
Deputy Director, World Heritage Centre

Events and Opportunities

World Heritage City Dialogues

Over the last few months, the World Heritage Centre has held several Dialogues across the different regions with a view to engage directly with Site Managers of the properties in the World Heritage Cities programme and strengthen our community. The initiative has received a very positive response with rich exchanges between the participants. We would like to thank all of those who have participated and encourage all the World Heritage Cities to participate. We invite Site Managers and Focal Points to keep us updated with current contact details, and to share with us specific topics and ideas you would like to discuss during the Dialogues.

If you are a Site Manager or a Focal Point, stay tuned and join us!

Little Artists Exhibition

UNESCO is inviting children between ages 6 and 12 to draw a UNESCO World Heritage site that matters to them, from now until 17 May 2020. This could be a World Heritage site in their own community, a memory from a recent family vacation, or a place they saw in a book, movie or TV show. To learn more about the stories behind each World Heritage site, you may wish to explore the World Heritage List on the UNESCO website.

The entries will be accepted in the 6 UNESCO languages, and hashtags for #ShareOurHeritage are being used in the 6 languages. Find out how to participate here.

Selected artworks will be exhibited online. We invite you to disseminate this initiative and to encourage children in your cities to participate!

Learn more, See the artworks

UNESCO has launched a global movement – ResiliArt

While billions of people around the world turn to culture as a source of comfort and connection, the impact of COVID-19 has not spared the culture sector. More than 80% of UNESCO World Heritage properties have closed down, threatening the livelihoods of the local communities and cultural professionals.

On World Art Day, 15 April 2020, UNESCO launched a movement to highlight the resilience of culture and art and called on Cultural industry professionals everywhere to join the movement in their respective regions and thematic focus by following publicly available guidelines. ResiliArt aims to ensure the continuity of conversations, data sharing, and advocacy efforts in favour of the Culture Sector long after the pandemic subsides. Join the movement.

Learn more, Watch the video

City Focus

A corner for colleagues to share their challenges and initiatives.
Share yours!


The, city of Yazd has shared its strategy trying to be socially and economically alive in times of Covid-19 by funding traditional craft industries and by providing local health protocols to re-open conservation projects. Dr. Mohsen Abbasi, site manager of Historic City of Yazd, explains their actions to us.


Images of the empty Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments clearly reflect the current situation worldwide. Its site manager, Mr. Sergey Malakov, has shared a message of hope with all of us.

Find more Site Managers videos

We are calling all Site Managers of World Heritage Cities to contribute with videos. Many thanks to those who already have.

Learn more

Sharing Practice

The team of the Historic Centre of Florence has shared with us:

The World Heritage Site experiences in managing Governance, Population and Tourism issues: Thematic Study on Common Challenges, which analyses and collects international good practices for the mitigation of critical issues that are common to heritage sites: governance, tourism and population issues. This compilation of 24 good practices was a study by the HeRe Lab, the joint laboratory of the World Heritage Office of the City of Florence and the University of Florence. The study was developed as a deliverable of the Interreg Atlantic Area project "ATLAS World Heritage: Heritage in the Atlantic Area, Sustainability of the urban World Heritage sites", which involves the City of Florence, Porto, Edinburgh World Heritage, Bordeaux Metropole and Consorcio de Santiago.

The special issue of The Florentine, the English News Magazine of Florence, includes an article "Full city, empty city", a contribution to this issue by Carlo Francini, Site Manager of the Historic Centre of Florence.

Reflections of an Expert

Special message from Prof. Michael Turner

Watch the video
Urban Heritage and the Corona Virus

As upcoming octogenarians, we were touched to receive three telephone calls during the week inquiring whether we needed any help being hunkered down for over one month, like many of you around the world. The first from the Municipal Welfare Department, the second from our local neighbourhood centre and the third from my pension fund. While I replied that we were well supported by our family and neighbours, I subsequently did reflect on the options. Naturally, each of the callers represented different capacities for assistance, though after weighing up the options, I decided that my first preference would be for the neighbourhood centre with its geo-cultural identity. Indeed, the World Heritage Convention and Operational Guidelines identifies geo-cultural groupings.

The challenges that we are now facing with the blanket shut-down as opposed to an urban acupuncture based on scientific data analysis have reduced the debate to the allocation priorities of economic resources to manage a long-term problem and where culture, as always, is at the bottom of the food chain. It is more than money, however, culture in its tangible and intangible forms is an essential component for sustainable development, especially in providing identity and mutual support. The historic components of the city and its physical environment provide a framework for liveability and wellbeing, and this current crisis highlights the need for developing innovative management and the better amalgamation of data to provide urban resilience and risk preparedness.

Governments are expected to administer national disasters, yet it is at the city level where management can make a difference. Better integration of cultural heritage assets are needed to confront these challenges. These may include the temporary adaptive re-use of tourist facilities, using hotels to accomodate convalecing people, redefining the role of the public realm for urban heritage and determining carrying capacities beyond those of tourism and including also health and liveability. There are many other spheres for interface, and the call from our neighbourhood centre made me reconsider the processes of growing old and change, both human and inanimate heritage, may be better addressed by identifying the attributes of urban transformations and gentrification. As octogenarians we are one of those attributes and together with the knowledge of data of our three telephone calls we may provide the way forward to better integrating “heritage protection into comprehensive planning programmes and coordination mechanisms”. This is the role of World Heritage in moving it into the lives of those in the community.

Prof Michael Turner,
UNESCO Chair in Urban Design and Conservation Studies,
Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design,
April 2020

Publications of interest

UNESCO’s Thematic Indicators for Culture in the 2030 Agenda

The connections between culture, heritage, and sustainable development are key points in wellbeing, especially in heritage cities. UNESCO launched the Culture 2030 Indicators, a framework of thematic indicators to measure and monitor the progress of culture’s enabling contribution to the national and local implementation of the Goals and Targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The indicators are designed to be implemented at the national and urban levels.

Learn more about the UNESCO Thematic Indicators for Culture in the 2030 Agenda and watch video.

Our partners


You can find a collection of online events celebrated on the occasion of the International Day for Monuments and Sites on 18 April at the ICOMOS's interactive map.


ICCROM has created the “Heritage in Times of COVID” space for its extended community to come together and share knowledge experience and tools to overcome this crisis. The tips and tools gathered have been put together through ICCROM’s alumni network.

Organization of World Heritage Cities

More information on World Heritage cities’ responses to the Covid-19 pandemic is available on the website of the Organization of World Heritage Cities.

Room for thought

Site Managers and Focal Points are invited to share thoughts and concerns with us by email for discussion during World Heritage City Dialogues

How will Covid-19 change urban heritage conservation and management approaches?

What changes are you expecting in your site?

How could we support colleagues though our international community?

Guidelines for Contributions

Urban Notebooks is a way for World Heritage Cities to share up-to-date information and innovative practices and opportunities around the world.

Please share with us your achievements and innovations, your challenges and projects. Share with us the initiatives and activities related to culture in your city in response to the COVID-19. Please share opportunities as well. Your contributions will make the Urban Notebooks better.

Keep us updated

Send us your news
photos, videos, projects, activities, publications

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#WorldHeritageCities #ShareOurHeritage #ShareCulture ; tag @UNESCO

Send us your current contact details and stay updated on our latest initiatives

Find the form for submissions here (English/French) and Grant of Rights document (English/French)

The Team of the World Heritage Cities Programme
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We gratefully acknowledge the support of
the City of Nanjing