1.         Ancient City of Damascus (Syrian Arab Republic) (C 20bis)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1979

Criteria  (i)(ii)(iii)(iv)(vi)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger   2013-present

Previous Committee Decisions  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/20/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1981-2001)
Total amount approved: USD 156,050
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/20/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount allocated to the property: USD 3,900 for an expert technical mission in March 2007.

Previous monitoring missions

World Heritage Centre missions in December 1993 and March 2007.

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

a) Poor state of conservation;

b) Inappropriate restoration techniques;

c) Lack of a buffer zone;

d) Lack of a management plan.

Illustrative material  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/20/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2007

Since its inscription on the World Heritage List, the conservation of the Ancient City of Damascus has not been addressed in a comprehensive study and no global conservation actions have been taken. It is urgent to point out that the state of conservation of the property is very poor. Although the main monuments and buildings are more or less well conserved, the urban fabric has considerably degraded since the inscription of the Ancient City of Damascus on the World Heritage List.

Several single monuments were and are being restored, however inappropriate restoration techniques are often used within the property: for example, in the Ayyubid building al-Madrassa al-Adliyeh (7th century AD), Ayyubid ashlar stones have been partially cut and covered with mechanically cut stones cladding in large portions of the monument; this technique had been previously used also in the Roman perimeter of the Great Omeyyade Mosque of Damascus and was stopped following UNESCO recommendations in 1997. In private dwellings and in all historical buildings in general, reconstructions in cement are allowed provided that the original forms are reproduced; the use of the the traditional construction techniques in timber structure and mud bricks is not compulsory.

In addition, two alarming recent developments within the inscribed property have occurred without the World Heritage Centre being informed: several housing units have been destroyed in two locations to allow for new constructions, one adjacent to the Sitt Ruqiyah Mosque and the other situated along the Medhat Pasha Street (the former Roman cardo).

Moreover, and despite a World Heritage Centre mission in 2001 in which a definition of a buffer zone was agreed upon in principle with the General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums, the State Party did not yet officially submit a plan showing the buffer zone to the World Heritage Secretariat.

Nevertheless, in 2006, the State Party undertook a major positive step: the Ministry of Local Administration and Environment produced a “Conservation Action Plan” for the World Heritage property and transmitted it, in Arabic, to the World Heritage Centre. This Plan - that is still to be endorsed by several governmental agencies before its implementation is allowed - provides a comprehensive analysis of the conservation problems of the property and lists a series of remedial actions on the urban level. Although the Action Plan needs to be modified in some areas, mainly by cancelling the idea of a ring road around the city walls, and by up-dating the urban regulations and technical requirements of restoration works, its implementation can contribute to considerably improving the property’s physical conditions.

Within the framework of the implementation of the proposed “Action Plan”, all infrastructure services within the property will be buried. Therefore, any underground excavations that are planned should be supervised by competent and vigilant archaeologists, since these excavations will concern valuable and highly informative archaeological evidence that constitutes an intrinsic part of the property’s value.

In a recent World Heritage Centre mission to Syria (January 2007), the Governor of Damascus informed the Centre of a large scale project that involves the Malik Faisal area, tangent to the northern perimeter of the city walls. The project foresees to demolish the whole area, including large portions of the historical urban fabric inscribed on the National Register - that form part of the agreed upon buffer zone -, “clear” the constructions that hide the city walls, replace them with gardens, and, build a new 32 meter wide road parallel to the city walls, partly covering the Barada river that runs in this area.

The World Heritage Centre informed the State Party during the January 2007 mission and by letter immediately upon return, of the negative impact that this project would have on the World Heritage property, and on the necessity to inform the World Heritage Committee, as per the Operational Guidelines, before such a project is implemented. The State Party reacted by inviting the World Heritage Centre, in March 2007, to advise on the modifications that need to be done, and to take part as well in a national meeting on the Malik Faisal project, involving all the stakeholders. To answer this request, the World Heritage Centre dispatched a senior urban planner and a member of the Secretariat to Damascus from 28 March to 2 April. The members of the mission concluded that the planned project on the World Heritage property would have tangible and immediate negative effects on the property’s historical and heritage values, and harmful impact on the human, social, and economic levels. Moreover, the members of the mission highlighted the fact that the historical suburbs concerned by the Governorate’s project undeniably constitute a natural buffer zone to the property.

Finally, the mission underlined that, as mentioned in the Operational Guidelines (paragraphs 178 and 179), a World Heritage property - as defined in Articles 1 and 2 of the Convention - can be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger by the Committee in the cases of ascertained danger due to “serious deterioration of materials” and/or “serious deterioration of structure and/or ornamental features”, or potential danger because of “lack of conservation policy” and/or “threatening effects of regional planning projects”. Concern is indeed raised by the project foreseen in the northern outskirts of the property because of its negative and significant impact.

The World Heritage Centre communicated these conclusions by letter to the State Party on 23 April 2007, and proposed to support the Syrian Directorate of Antiquities and Museums in planning an implementing an alternative pilot project for the urban rehabilitation of the Malik Faisal area, before the end of the year 2008 in which Damascus has been designated as the Capital of Culture for the Arab World.

At the time of drafting this document, no answer was officially received by the World Heritage Centre regarding the possible decision of cancelling the project foreseen in the Malik Faisal area. Such a decision would be indispensable for the protection of the World Heritage Property’s integrity and open the way to reinforced cooperation with the Directorate of Antiquities and Museums in the field of urban rehabilitation.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM


Decision Adopted: 31 COM 7B.58

The World Heritage Committee,

1.       Having examined Document WHC-07/31.COM/7B.Add,

2.       Notes with satisfaction that the State Party has prepared an Action Plan for the conservation of the property;

3.       Encourages the State Party to implement the Action Plan provided that:

a)      Any ring road around the property must respect the integrity of the property;

b)      Infrastructure works are planned and implemented under high quality archaeological supervision;

c)      The legal framework for the protection of the property is improved and detailed;

d)      The use of traditional restoration techniques within the property becomes compulsory to guarantee the preservation of the property's integrity;

4.       Urges the State Party to refrain from undertaking any demolition work within the property and its buffer zone, in case such work impacts on the integrity of the property;

5.       Invites the State Party to consider extending the boundaries of the property in order to include its valuable historical neighbourhoods and requests the State Party to define the boundaries of the proposed buffer zone and to officially provide a map of this zone to the World Heritage Centre for approval by the Committee;

6.       Requests the State Party, in accordance with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, to inform the World Heritage Centre in advance of any planned changes and any foreseen project within and around the property;

7.       Further requests the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS mission in order to assess the situation and to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2008, a progress report on the above recommendations and on the state of conservation of the property for examination by the Committee at its 32nd session in 2008.