Decision : 35 COM 8B.23
Cultural Properties - Ancient Villages of Northern Syria (Syrian Arab Republic)
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Having examined Documents WHC-11/35.COM/8B and WHC-11/35.COM/INF.8B1,
2. Inscribes the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria, Syrian Arab Republic, as cultural landscape on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria (iii), (iv) and (v);
3. Adopts the following Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:
Located in a vast Limestone Massif, in the northwest of Syria, some forty ancient villages provide a coherent and exceptionally broad insight into rural and village lifestyles in late Antiquity and the Byzantine Period. Abandoned in the 8th-10th centuries, they still retain a large part of their original monuments and buildings, in a remarkable state of preservation: dwellings, pagan temples, churches and Christian sanctuaries, funerary monuments, bathhouses, public buildings, buildings with economic or artisanal purposes, etc. It is also an exceptional illustration of the development of Christianity in the East, in village communities. Grouped in eight archaeological parks, the ensemble forms a series of unique and exceptional relict cultural landscapes.
Criterion (iii): The Ancient Villages of Northern Syria and their relict landscapes provide exceptional testimony to the lifestyles and cultural traditions of the rural civilisations that developed in the Middle East, in the context of a Mediterranean climate in mid-altitude limestone mountains from the 1st to the 7th centuries.
Criterion (iv): The Ancient Villages of Northern Syria and their relict landscapes provide exceptional testimony to the architecture of the rural house and civilian and religious community buildings at the end of the Classical era and in the Byzantine Period. Their association in villages and places of worship forms relict landscapes characteristic of the transition between the ancient pagan world and Byzantine Christianity.
Criterion (v): The Ancient Villages of Northern Syria and their relict landscapes provide an eminent example of a sustainable rural settlement from the 1st to the 7th centuries, based on the careful use of the soil, water and limestone, and the mastery of production of valuable agricultural crops. The economic functionality of the habitat, hydraulic engineering, low protective walls and the Roman agricultural plot plan inscribed on the relict landscapes are testimony to this.
The architectural integrity is expressed adequately. The sites are sufficiently extensive; they encompass a large number of villages, places of worship, and monumental and archaeological testimonies to adequately express the Outstanding Universal Value. The number and quality of the relict landscapes are also adequate and essential to the expression of this value. Nonetheless, the recent trend of an agricultural re-settlement of the Limestone Massif could affect the built integrity of certain villages and the associated landscapes.
As a result of the absence of human occupation for a thousand years, the absence of any re-use of the stones and the absence of restoration/reconstruction campaigns in the 20th century, the property and its landscapes have retained a very high degree of authenticity. However, recent rural relocation could affect the conditions of authenticity, although replanting respectful of the ancient agricultural plot plan should contribute to revitalising the landscape without affecting its authenticity.
Protection and management requirements
The dynamic of the legal protection is heading in the right direction, notably following the decrees creating the parks, and to control farming and urban development compatible with the archaeological, monumental and landscape values of the sites. This must be reinforced by a revision of the Antiquities Law to improve the protection of the relict cultural landscapes.
The property is currently (2010) managed by the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), but on a transitional basis. The final management structure for the property will include eight parks set up for each of the sites, two management centres and the Maison du patrimoine to manage the ensemble overall and coordinate conservation, under the control of the DGAM, the Ministry of Tourism and the provincial governors. These bodies are currently being set up and are essential. In liaison with the municipalities, they will be tasked with overseeing successful economic, social and tourism development compatible with the conservation and expression of the property's Outstanding Universal Value.
4. Recommends that the State Party give consideration to the following:
a) Pursuing and extending the policy of protection and conservation of the cultural landscapes, notably through the revision of the Antiquities Law,
b) Increase the number of guards for those parks with the least number or which are most exposed to illegal activity,
c) Confirm that Park No 1 (Saint Simeon Sanctuary) is not affected by a project for high voltage power lines,
d) Confirm the complete rejection of the large property development project in Park No 3 (Sinkhar site),
e) Confirm that the visual integrity of Park No 5 (Jabal Zawiya) is not compromised by large quarry and/or industrial projects,
f) Complete as soon as possible the land surveys for each of the parks, under DGAM's supervision,
g) Maintain throughout the management transition period, DGAM's prerogatives for the supervision of the preservation and conservation of the sites,
h) Provide the Maison du patrimoine and park management centres with the human and material resources commensurate with their new missions for the protection, conservation, and economic and tourism development of the sites as stipulated in the Management Plan,
i) Finalise the Management Plan and the Action Plan with a schedule of actions considered suitable for the property's conservation and its expression of Outstanding Universal Value, together with their implementation timeframes,
j) Detail the monitoring indicators for the property's conservation as a function of the particularities of each site and as a function of more extensive landscape data;
5. Requests the State Party to submit a report by 1 February 2012 on the implementation of its new protection and on the management system for the property for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 36th session in 2012.