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Decision : CONF 004 VI.12-14
Report of the Eighth Session of the Bureau: Historic Towns & Centres

12. Mr. da Silva Telles (Brazil), Rapporteur of the previous Bureau, presented the report of the eighth session of the Bureau held on 4-7 June 1984. He furthermore presented a report of the complementary meeting of the Bureau which had taken place on 29 October prior to the eighth session of the Committee itself. This complementary Bureau meeting aimed first of all at considering the conclusions of a group of experts brought together by ICOMOS to study the criteria applicable to historic towns and secondly examining the nominations of the historic centres of Quebec, Canada (N° 300) and of Salvador, Brazil (N° 309) in the light of these conclusions. It was attended by Mrs. Vlad-Borrelli (Chairperson), the representatives of Algeria, Australia, Guinea and Norway (Vice-Chairmen), Mr. A. da Silva Telles, Rapporteur, as well as the representatives of ICOMOS. The representatives of Bulgaria, Cyprus and Senegal attended as observers.

13. The bureau examined the conclusions of the Meeting of Experts to Consult on Historic Towns which met in Paris from 5 to 7 September 1984 and which was organised by ICOMOS. While commending ICOMOS for the work it had accomplished and adopting the proposed methodology, the Bureau suggested that several amendments might be made to this document, which was intended for wide distribution as a set of guidelines. Moreover, at the proposal of the representative of Guinea, the Bureau laid particular stress on the point that in the selection of towns for inclusion in the World Heritage List, the more general values of renown and cultural representativity should be considered, in so far as possible, along with the technical criteria defined by the experts. Since the selection of a town for inclusion in the World Heritage List called for a common conservational effort by its inhabitants, the latter must be closely associated with any decision upon which the future of the property in question depended.

14.   After examining the ICOMOS report and the recommendations of the Bureau, the Committee adopted the following text: 

'Article 1 of the Convention provides for the inclusion in the World Heritage List of "groups of buildings: groups of separate or connected buildings which, because of their architecture, their homogeneity or their place in the landscape, are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science".

Groups of urban buildings eligible for inclusion in the World Heritage List fall into three main categories, namely:

i towns which are no longer inhabited but which provide immutable archaeological evidence of a past; these generally satisfy the general criterion of authenticity and can be easily managed;

ii historic towns which are still inhabited and which, by their very nature, have developed and will continue to develop under the influence of socio­economic and cultural change, a situation that renders the assessment of their authenticity more difficult and any conservation policy more problematical;

iii new towns of the twentieth century which paradoxically have something in common with both the aforementioned categories: while their urban organization is clearly recognizable and their authenticity is undeniable, their future is unclear because their development cannot be controlled.

The assessment of towns that are no longer inhabited does not raise any special difficulties other than those related to archaeological sites in general. The general criterion of the uniqueness or exemplary character of a town has been used to make decisions regarding cultural properties that are clearly representative of a specific urban type or structure and contain dense concentrations of monuments. Examples include Timgad (Algeria), Mohenjo-­Daro (Pakistan) and Machupicchu (Peru). Sometimes as in the case of Cyrene (Libya) and Kilwa Kisiwani (Tanzania) the decisive criterion has been the town's important historical associations.

It is important for urban archaeological sites to be listed as integral units. A cluster of monuments or a small group of buildings is not adequate to suggest the multiple and complex functions of a city which has disappeared; remains of such a city should be preserved in their entirety together with their natural surroundings whenever possible.

In the case of inhabited historic towns the difficulties are numerous, largely owing to the fragility of their urban fabric (which has in many cases been seriously disrupted since the advent of the industrial era) and the runaway speed with which their surroundings have been urbanized. To qualify for inclusion, towns should possess architectural interest and should not be considered only on the intellectual grounds of the rule they may have played in the past or their value as historical symbols. under criterion (vi) of the Guidelines. To be eligible for inclusion, the organization of space, structure, materials, forms and, where possible, functions of a cultural property should essentially reflect the civilization or succession of civilizations which have prompted the nomination of the property.

Four categories of towns can be distinguished:

  1. Towns which are typical of a specific period of culture, which have been almost wholly preserved and which have remained largely unaffected by subsequent developments. Here the property to be listed is the entire town together with its surroundings, which it is essential to protect as well. Examples include Ouro Preto (Brazil) and Shibam (Democratic Yemen).
  2. Towns that have evolved along characteristic lines and have preserved, sometimes in the midst of exceptional natural surroundings, spatial arrangements and structures that are typical of the successive stages in their history. Here the clearly defined historic centre takes precedence over the present-day outskirts. Examples include Cuzco (Peru), Berne (Switzerland) and Split (Yugoslavia).
  3. "Historic centres" that cover exactly the same area as ancient towns and are now enclosed within modern cities. Here it is necessary to determine the precise limits of the property in its widest historical dimensions and to make appropriate provision for the management of its immediate surroundings. Examples include Rome (Italy), the old city of Damascus (Syria), and the Medina of Tunis (Tunisia).
  4. Sectors, quarters or isolated units which, even in the residual state in which they have survived, provide clear evidence of the character of a historic town which has disappeared. In such cases surviving areas and buildings should be adequate as an indication of the former whole. Examples include the Islamic district of Cairo, (Egypt) and the Bryggen district in Bergen (Norway).

Historic centres and ancient districts should be listed only where they have a large number of ancient buildings in a sufficiently good state of preservation to provide a direct indication of the characteristic features of a town of exceptional interest. Proposals regarding groups of isolated and unrelated buildings which allegedly represent, in and of themselves, a town whose urban fabric has ceased to be discernible should not be encouraged.

However, proposals could be made regarding works that occupy a limited space .but have had a major influence on the history of town planning, such as the squares of Nancy (France) and the Meidan-e-Shah square in Ispahan (Iran).

In such cases, the nomination should make it clear that it is the group of monuments that is to be listed and the town is mentioned only incidentally as the place where the property is located. Similarly, if a building of clearly universal significance is located in severely degraded or insufficiently representative surroundings, it should, of course, be listed without any special reference to the town. Examples include the Mosque of Cordoba (Spain) and the Cathedral of Amiens (France).

It is difficult to assess the quality of new towns of the twentieth century. History alone will tell which of them will best serve as examples of contemporary town planning. The files on these towns should be shelved until all the traditional historic towns, which represent the most vulnerable part of the human heritage, have been entered on the World Heritage List.

In conclusion, under present conditions, preference should be given to inclusion in the World Heritage List of small or medium-sized towns, which are in a position to manage any potential growth, rather than the great metropolises, which cannot readily provide files that will serve as a satisfactory basis for their inclusion as complete units.

In view of the effects which the inclusion of a town in the World Heritage List could have on its future, this should remain a limited measure.

Inclusion in the List implies that legislative and administrative measures must first be taken to secure the protection of the property and its environment. Informed awareness on the part of the population concerned, without whose active participation any conservation scheme would be impractical, is also essential.

Unesco should be kept informed, through regular reports by competent authorities, of the current situation of cultural property that is protected under the World Heritage Convention.'


 Decisions Report
Themes: Inscriptions on the World Heritage List, Reports
Year: 1984
Decision Code: CONF 004 VI.12-14