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  N/A

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

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1981-1994)
Total amount approved: USD 106,800
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/20/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

November-December 1995: experts mission

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Reconstruction works

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

Information presented to the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee in 1996

The authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic had requested that UNESCO send an expert mission to Damascùs, to provide advice on the restoration of the Omeyyades Mosque, where work was already underway.

This mission, comprising five experts of international renown, visited the site from 29 November to 5 December 1995. Their reports emphasized the tremendous investment on the part of the Syrian authorities for the conservation of the monument, but also revealed that, unfortunately, the work carried out over several years at the Mosque had been undertaken without sufficient preliminary studies and without taking account of the fundamental tenets of conservation and restoration of historic buildings, and that the consequences on the preservation of this monument, of world renown, are very disturbing.

The inordinate use of concrete, cement, marble and other materials, the demolition, reconstruction and replacement of materials, the way in which the work has been carried out and its general guidelines, are in fact more often than not totally contrary to the basic principles of restoration which, for years, have been observed by the entire international community.

The experts' reports and a summary have been sent to the General Direction of Antiquities and Museums, and by letters dated 19 January, the Centre and the Division of Cultural Heritage requested the Minister of Culture and the Minister of National Education, President of the National Commission, to undertake the necessary action to stop the work immediately and to continue it only when in-depth studies could be carried out, and in accordance with international standards for the respect of authenticity.

Action Required

The World Heritage Bureau expressed to the authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic their grave concern with regard to the serious damage sustained to the authenticity of this exceptional monument through the inordinate use of reinforced concrete, cement, plaster and marble, and by the demolition and reconstruction work carried out without sufficient scientific studies and without taking into account international standards for authenticity and integrity. It recalls Articles 4 and 5 of the World Heritage Convention ratified by the Syrian Arab Republic on 13 August 1975, whereby States Parties undertake to ensure the protection and conservation of their heritage - in accordance with international standards - and Paragraphs 24(b), 56 and 75 of the Guidelines for its implementation concerning the respect of the authenticity of the sites inscribed on the World Heritage List, and inviting States Parties to the World Heritage Convention to inform it, through the Secretariat of UNESCO, of their intentions to undertake or to authorize, in an area protected by the Convention, major restoration work or new constructions, which, in all evidence, have not been respected.

It requests the authorities to immediately issue the necessary instructions to suspend the work and that no further work be undertaken prior to a careful and in-depth study of the present needs, and in conformity with the standards of the international community concerning restoration work which respects the historical value of the monuments and with the advice, should they so wish, of experts that UNESCO is willing to provide.

It further recommends to avoid such work at all costs so as not to compromise the authenticity of other World Heritage sites, as for example, the monuments of the Ancient City of Aleppo. The Bureau thanks the authorities for the financial and human resources provided by Syria for the preservation of its heritage in general.

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 1996

The World Heritage Bureau, at its twentieth session, was informed that the authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic had asked UNESCO to send an expert mission to Damascus to advise them on the restoration of the Mosque of the Omeyyades where work was already underway.

This mission, composed of five experts of international renown, was carried out from 29 November to 5 December 1995. Their reports stressed the total commitment of the Syrian authorities to the conservation of the monument, but also noted that the work carried out by the restoration committee had been undertaken without sufficient studies and without taking into consideration the internationally recognized principles concerning the restoration of historic monuments, and that the consequences on the preservation of this world famous monument are very alarming (immoderate use of concrete, cement, marble and other material, destructions, reconstructions and replacement of materials...).

The reports of the experts and a summary document was sent to the General Direction of Antiquities and Museums, and by letter of 19 January, the Centre and the Division of Cultural Heritage requested the Minister of Culture and the Minister of National Education, President of the National Commission, to take the necessary steps to suspend this work and to recommence it only following in-depth studies and in accordance with international standards for the respect of authenticity.

The Centre also received a report from the former President of the Restoration Committee of the Mosque justifying the work carried out. This report was sent for comments to one of the experts of the mission, an ICOMOS member, who supported his opinion.

By letter of 10 July, the Centre transmitted to the Syrian authorities the grave concerns of the Bureau, its request to suspend the work, and its proposal to provide expert advice if necessary.

This proposal was reiterated during a working meeting held on 16 July at the Permanent Delegation of Syria, when it was confirmed that the work had indeed been suspended.

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

In view of the importance of this issue, the Bureau may wish to transmit the report to the Committee and recommend that it adopt the following text:

"After being informed of the conclusions of UNESCO's expert mission fielded at the request of the Syrian authorities in November-December 1995 to the Mosque of the Omeyyades of Damascus, as well as the Report of the President of the Restoration Committee, the World Heritage Committee thanked the authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic for interrupting the work which it felt did not conform to the international standards for restoration and conservation.

It strongly advised that one or two international experts, proposed by the World Heritage Centre, be invited for a consultation to help evaluate the situation, decide on measures to be taken, and, should the need arise, determine the most appropriate manner in which to pursue further work which might be necessary.

In this case, the Committee would of course be willing to contribute to financing the participation of these experts."

Decision Adopted: 20 BUR IV.7

The Bureau expressed to the authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic its grave concern with regard to the serious damage sustained to the authenticity of this exceptional monument, the Omeyyades Mosque through the inordinate use of reinforced concrete, plaster and marble, and by the demolition and reconstruction work carried out without sufficient scientific studies and without taking into account international standards for authenticity and integrity. It recalled Articles 4 and 5 of the World Heritage Convention ratified by the Syrian Arab Republic on 13 August 1975, whereby States Parties undertake to ensure the protection and conservation of their heritage - in accordance with international standards - and Paragraphs 24(b), 56 and 75 of the Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention.

It requested the authorities to immediately issue the necessary instructions to suspend the work and that no further work be undertaken prior to a careful and in-depth study of the present needs, and in conformity with the standards of the international community concerning restoration work and with the advice, should they so wish, of experts that UNESCO is willing to provide.

It further recommended to avoid such work at all costs so as not to compromise the authenticity of other World Heritage sites, as for example, the monuments of the Ancient City of Aleppo. The Bureau thanked the authorities for the financial and human resources provided by Syria for the preservation of its heritage in general.

Decision Adopted: 20 COM VII.D.55/56

VII.55 Ancient City of Damascus (Syrian Arab Republic)

The Secretariat recalled that a mission of five experts visited the city of Damascus late 1995 and that their reports emphasized the tremendous investment on the part of the Syrian authorities for the conservation of the Mosque of the Omeyyades, but also expressed severe concern and reservations about the conservation and restoration approach and techniques.

In January 1996, UNESCO requested the Syrian authorities to stop the work immediately and to continue it only when in-depth studies would be carried out, and in accordance with international standards for the respect of authenticity. The same request was made by the Bureau during its twentieth session.

The Permanent Delegation of Syria informed the Secretariat that the work had indeed been suspended.

After being informed of the conclusions of UNESCO's expert mission fielded at the request of the Syrian authorities in November-December 1995 to the Mosque of the Omeyyades of Damascus, as well as the Report of the President of the Restoration Committee, the World Heritage Commit tee thanked the authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic for interrupting the work which it felt did not conform to the international standards for restoration and conservation.

It strongly advised that one or two international experts, proposed by the World Heritage Centre, be invited for a consultation to help evaluate the situation, decide on measures to be taken, and, should the need arise, determine the most appropriate manner in which to pursue further work which might be necessary. It recommended also that training of national specialists and technicians be considered in cooperation with ICCROM.

In this case, the Committee would of course be willing to contribute to financing the participation of these experts.