1.         Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications (Sri Lanka) (C 451)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1988

Criteria  (iv)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/451/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1997-1997)
Total amount approved: USD 3,334
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/451/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds


Previous monitoring missions

UNESCO Reactive Monitoring Mission in May 2002

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/451/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2005

Immediately following the tragic Sumatra Earthquake and South Asia Tsunami, and based on the first reports of damage caused to the World Heritage property of the Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications, the World Heritage Centre contacted the authorities of Sri Lanka to offer assistance.  A fact-finding and project-formulation Mission was organized from 2 to 10 March 2005, under the framework of an Agreement signed in October 2004 between Italy and UNESCO for the establishment of emergency response groups in case of disasters affecting World Heritage. The Mission was accompanied by an observer from the Nordic World Heritage Foundation.

The Mission visited the Old Town of Galle, as well as a number of other properties affected by the Tsunami, accompanied by the staff of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and National Heritage.   In Galle, the Tsunami caused the demolition of the Archaeological Marine Unit, and the washing away of its collection and equipment.  This Unit had been recently established on one of the old jetties just outside the northern gate of the Town by a joint Sri Lankan/Dutch Project.  Three small sections of the ramparts, between the Sailors Bastions and the Aurora bastion on the eastern side of the Citadel, were also partially destroyed, and an annex to the Dutch Hospital, which stood just behind the walls, was torn down by the wave.  The water entered also the Town from the northern gate and flooded the premises of the former Maritime Museum, within the so-called Dutch Warehouse (up to a height of 2,2 metres), which was closed for renovations at the time of the Tsunami.  Other very minor deteriorations were observed along the ramparts as a result of the exceptional wave.  These, however, should be seen as part of a long term process of erosion and deterioration of the walls from the combined effect of water and salts.

Thanks to the ramparts, however, the Old Town suffered only relatively minor damages from the Tsunami, especially compared to the massif extent of destruction caused by the disaster along the coast around the World Heritage property, where thousands lost their lives. The staff of the Marine Archaeological Unit (MAU), with the help of Dutch specialists, was able to recover some of the items of the Museums’ collection (approximately 30%) that had been dispersed by the Tsunami.  They also conducted some emergency rehabilitation and conservation actions on some of the items retrieved and the infrastructure of the MAU, and monitored the state of conservation of some of the wrecks discovered over the last years in the ancient harbour of the Town, which seem apparently to have been preserved in a fairly good state.  Over 25 wrecks, including from Omani ships dating from the 9th and 10th centuries, had in fact been located over an area east of the Citadel, justifying a proposal for the extension of the World Heritage property.  The commitment shown by the staff of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and National Heritage has been outstanding, especially at a time when the entire country is facing a national crisis of unprecedented proportions, with almost all available resources directed to address other priorities.  It is very important to assist the national authorities in protecting the heritage at this particular time, when a massif reconstruction effort (involving the establishment of buffer zones along the coast and new infrastructure) might engender the loss of non-listed but significant cultural and natural heritage places.  In this respect, worthy of praise is the effort made by the Sri Lanka ICOMOS Committee to coordinate the preparation of a survey of the cultural heritage properties affected by the Tsunami, in collaboration with seven national Universities.

Following the Mission, the World Heritage Centre prepared some project proposals for the rehabilitation of the World Heritage property and other properties affected by the Tsunami along the coasts of the country.  These projects, agreed upon with the national authorities, included the preparation of a Management Plan for the Old Town and its ancient harbour, the up-grading of infrastructure and facilities and the development of materials and interpretation signage for enhancing the presentation of the property.  Concerning the re-establishment of the Archaeological Marine Unit and the rehabilitation of the Maritime Museum, negotiations were under way at the time of the mission between the authorities of Sri Lanka and the Dutch Government.  The World Heritage Centre requested the national authorities to keep it informed of the outcome of these negotiations so as to avoid duplications and coordinate efforts.  Other projects, elaborated during the Mission, concerned the establishment of a monitoring system for the conservation of the ancient ramparts at Galle, and the rehabilitation of several damaged religious shrines along the coast, through the direct involvement of the local communities.  These projects were submitted to the Government of Norway for possible funding.  At the time of writing the present report, the World Heritage Centre has not received a response from the donor.

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


Decision Adopted: 29 COM 7B.56

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-05/29.COM/7B.Rev,

2. Expressing its deepest sympathies to the authorities of Sri Lanka and the victims of the tsunami of 26 December 2004,

3. Highly commends the State Party of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lanka ICOMOS Committee for the commitment shown towards the preservation of its cultural heritage at a time of national crisis;

4. Encourages the international community to contribute to the rehabilitation of the World Heritage property of the Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications and of the cultural heritage of the country in general;

5. Also encourages the State Party to integrate, within its reconstruction strategy and operational mechanisms, a concern for cultural heritage, including for vernacular architecture and traditional cultural landscapes that may have not yet been listed under the current Antiquities Law;

6. Requests the State Party to keep the World Heritage Centre informed of the outcome of the negotiations with the various donors interested in contributing to the safeguarding of the cultural heritage of the World Heritage property.