1.         Ancient Villages of Northern Syria (Syrian Arab Republic) (C 1348)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  2011

Criteria  (iii)(iv)(v)

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

Threats for which the property was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger

Destruction and ascertained as well as potential threats consequent to the armed conflict in Syria started in March 2011

Corrective measures identified

Not yet identified

Timeframe for the implementation of the corrective measures

Not yet identified

Previous Committee Decisions  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1348/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 2007-2007)
Total amount approved: USD 30,000
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1348/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount provided to the property: USD 202,917 (2001-2010: Technical and Financial Assistance from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Culture in the framework of France-UNESCO Cooperation)

Total amount provided to the six Syrian World Heritage properties: 2.46 million Euros by the European Union (for World Heritage, movable and intangible heritage); USD 200 000 by the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage in Bahrain (for cultural heritage under conflict); USD 170 000 by the Flemish Government (for World Heritage, movable and intangible heritage); 63 000 Euros by the Government of Austria (for World Heritage, movable and intangible heritage)

Previous monitoring missions

Since the start of the conflict in March 2011, the security situation has not allowed any missions to be undertaken to this World Heritage property.

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Before the conflict:

Since March 2011:

Illustrative material  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1348/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2016

On 5 February 2016, the State Party submitted a state of conservation report for the six World Heritage properties in Syria, which is available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1348/documents.

The State Party reports that access to the serial property remains difficult and that it mostly relied on the cooperation with local communities for monitoring the property. The report details damage to the property in four of the eight archaeological parks arising from the armed conflict, (two out of three in the governorate of Aleppo; two out of five in the governorate of Idlib), highlighting that according to local communities all the components of the property in the governorate of Idlib suffered damages. The sites continue to be damaged by the use of stones for building material, illegal constructions and quarrying, illicit excavations and vandalism, as well as by the lack of conservation activities.

In addition to the damage previously reported since 2013, the report indicates that stones from the archaeological sites are being used as building material in Jabal Sem’an, at Saint Simeon (eastern church, buildings along the northern road), Rafade (western tower of the Castle and other buildings) and Sitt ar-Roum, as well as in Jebel Zawiye and at al-Bara by using explosives and heavy machinery. Illegal constructions are reported in the sites of Saint Simeon (inside the citadel, outside towards the south, main gate, near the south-western church, close to the Triumphal Arch), Rafade, Sitt ar-Roum and Qatura. Road construction is reported in Jebel Sem’an, notably at Rafade. Illegal quarries are reported at the sites of Saint Simeon (north east) and Rafade as well as in Jebel Wastani at the site of Kafr Aqareb, where unauthorized agriculture, digging for wells and displacement of stones from historic buildings are also taking place. Illicit excavations are reported at the sites of Qal’at Sem’an (south-west of the citadel, northern church and main gate), Rafade (southern area), Sitt ar-Roum and Sheikh Suleiman as well as in Jabal Wastani. Vandalism is reported at the sites of Sitt ar-Roum (mosaic of the church), Sheikh Suleiman and at al-Bara where sarcophagus of pyramid and ground tombs had been intentionally destroyed. Collapse of stones is reported at the sites of Saint Simeon and Rafade (southern façade of the castle) as well as structural risks to some building in Jabal Wastani, due to cracks. In May 2016, other sources reported the shelling of Saint Simeon, which hit the remains of the stylite tower and the collapse of other structures.

Relocation of displaced populations is reported at the site of Sitt ar-Roum, in Jebel Zawiye and at the sites of al-Bara, Serjila, and Shinshara, but no further information on the impact of the displacement is available.

The State Party indicates that the General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums continue to co-operate with local communities, including displaced populations, to protect the archaeological sites from destruction and illicit excavations, which has reduced the extent of damage.

Other sources indicates bombardments of historial structures in Jabal Zawiye at Shinshara and in Jabal Sam’an at Saint Simeon.

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

See General decision 40 COM 22 of this Document on the World Heritage properties of the Syrian Arab Republic.

The recent escalation of the conflict in and around the serial property is extremely preoccupying and is causing daily irreversible damage, including the recent shelling of Saint Simeon. The lack of stability has also led to the illegal re-use of archaeological material and inappropriate new construction, including of roads. The continuing conflict also prevents access of the DGAM to the property, which would enable a better understanding of the damage that has occurred and is continuing, and the undertaking of first-aid measures. It is recommended that the World Heritage Committee express its deep concern about the escalation of the conflict and the reported damages.



22.    General Decision on the World Heritage properties of the Syrian Arab Republic

The armed conflict in Syria started in March 2011 and has constantly escalated leading to significant violence and degradation of humanitarian conditions. Since the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee (Bonn, 2015) the armed conflict has caused severe damage to the inscribed properties as well as to the twelve sites inscribed on the Tentative List, by shelling, street fighting, underground explosions, extensive illegal excavations, military use, construction violations, quarrying, in addition to intentional destructions and inappropriate use of archaeological sites by internally displaced populations. 

In 2015, the State Party submitted an updated report for the Ancient City of Aleppo and on 5 February 2016, a state of conservation report with detailed information on the destruction and damage at the six World Heritage properties. These reports represent an official statement from the Syrian authorities and collate available information from the branches of the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) and from the local communities and social media up to 31 December 2015. The State Party also submitted on 4 May 2016 a damage assessment report of Palmyra and one on 11 May 2016 of al-Asrooniyah neighbourhood in the Ancient City of Damascus, which was destroyed by fire; all reports are available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/40COM/documents. The State Party notes that ground access in Syria for heritage experts is limited, and the full extent of the damage to World Heritage properties cannot be assessed in detail. Therefore, the reports do not provide first-hand information on all sites, in particular the Ancient City of Aleppo and the Ancient City of Bosra and thus do not allow a full understanding of the extent of damage to the properties. For the preparation of the state of conservation reports for the World Heritage Committee, additional information was sought from civil society organizations, international organizations, local experts and the media to supplement official data.

The State Party reported on the work carried out by the DGAM, despite the difficult working conditions, to monitor the World Heritage properties and cultural heritage in general, assess damages, undertake emergency conservation and risk mitigation actions whenever possible, and inventory built and movable heritage.

On 28 March 2016, the State Party provided updated information on the conservation of the sites inscribed on the Tentative List, which indicates the following:

Activities undertaken by UNESCO

Since the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee (Bonn, 2015), UNESCO has pursued its actions to assist the State Party in its continuous and sustained efforts to safeguard cultural heritage.

At the international level, UNESCO continues to raise the awareness of the international community on the destruction of cultural heritage in Syria, notably through the #Unite4Heritage campaign and in the framework of the implementation of the United Nations Security Council of Resolution (UNSC) 2199, adopted on 12 February 2015.

At the national level, UNESCO has pursued its activities to monitor the situation of Syrian cultural heritage, raise awareness on its protection, undertake short, medium and long-term actions to safeguard it, and coordinate the work of national and international entities working on its safeguarding.

In the framework of the European Union-funded “Emergency Safeguarding of Syrian Cultural Heritage” project (2.46 million Euros), co-financed by Flanders and Austria, started in March 2014, and implemented in partnership with ICOMOS and ICCROM, the following activities were undertaken:

The World Heritage Centre organized a technical meeting with a group of multidisciplinary experts to reflect on the issue of post-conflict reconstruction in the Middle-East context, and in the Ancient City of Aleppo in particular, at UNESCO’s Headquarters on 18-19 June 2015. The meeting set out basic recommendations and operational recommendations in the framework of an action plan.

UNESCO undertook a Rapid Assessment mission to Palmyra on 25 April 2016, during which a visit to the Ancient City of Damascus also took place. The mission allowed discussing damage assessment, documentation and first-aid measures in Palmyra and in the Palmyra Museum, and proposed short-, medium- and long-term actions.

UNESCO organized, with the support of the German Government, the second meeting for the Emergency Safeguarding of Syria’s Cultural Heritage in Berlin from 2 to 4 June 2016. The meeting aimed at taking stock of the progress made on the implementation of the UNESCO Action Plan adopted by the International Expert Meeting entitled “Rallying the International Community to Safeguard Syria’s Cultural Heritage” which took place at UNESCO Headquarters in May 2014. The meeting also aimed at bringing together all stakeholders, in order to identify the gaps in the safeguarding of the Syrian built, movable and intangible heritage, coordinate ongoing national and international documentation, damage assessment, and capacity building efforts and define the next steps focusing on future emergency and protection plans.

The armed conflict situation in Syria and its continued escalation has affected the six World Heritage properties and has substantially limited the capacities to adequately sustain and protect their Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). The properties are increasingly threatened by a specific and proven imminent danger, in particular the Ancient City of Aleppo, which has been extensively and increasingly destroyed, and which runs the risk of further irreversible destructions. Moreover, Palmyra was under the control of armed groups from 21 May 2015 until 27 March 2016, who inflicted unbearable violence to the population and invaluable losses to the property, and assassinated the former director of the site, Dr Khaled al-Assaad.

The illegal excavations across archaeological sites and tells in Syria are a major source for the illicit trafficking of cultural objects and are causing extensive and irreversible damages to those sites, many of which are on Syria’s Tentative List, as well as providing looted artifacts for sale in regional and international black markets.

It is recommended to commend the DGAM and all heritage professionals in Syria and local communities who have made sustained efforts to protect cultural heritage and to monitor it closely.

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies will continue to support the State Party in the identification of the necessary corrective measures and in the development of Desired states of conservation for the removal of the properties from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR), as soon as the situation allows. A joint World Heritage Centre/ICCROM/ICOMOS mission will be carried out to Damascus end of 2016, and will include other properties that would be accessible under the United Nations security and safety rules.

Furthermore, it is recommended that systematic documentation of all damage incurred at the World Heritage properties be duly pursued whenever the situation allows, and that the World Heritage Committee reiterate its call to the State Party to safeguard damaged property through minimal first aid interventions to prevent theft, further collapse and natural degradation, and refrain from undertaking other measures until the situation allows for the development of a comprehensive strategy and action plan that respond to international standards and high-quality scientific methods.

With regard to post-conflict interventions, it is recommended that the Committee call on the State Party to plan for the future of World Heritage properties, in full consultation with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies.

It is to be noted that the DGAM is following the World Heritage Committee decisions and recommendations and has engaged in a direct and transparent dialogue with regard to Palmyra’s future interventions notably. It is recommended to call for international and national heritage professionals continue to unite for the safeguarding of Syria’s cultural heritage.

Until conditions improve, it is also recommended that the World Heritage Committee call upon all parties associated with the conflict in Syria to refrain from any action that can further damage the heritage of the country, in particular World Heritage properties and all sites included on the Tentative List, and to fulfill their obligations under international law by taking all possible measures to protect such heritage including the evacuation of World Heritage properties used for military purposes, and the halting of all damages that result from targeting World Heritage properties. It is further recommended that the World Heritage Committee call upon all parties associated with the conflict in Syria and the international community, in particular the neighbouring countries to Syria, to ensure effective measures for the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural objects, in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 2199.

Decision Adopted: 40 COM 7A.19

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/16/40.COM/7A.Add,
  2. Recalling Decisions 37 COM 7B.57, 38 COM 7A.12 and 39 COM 7A.36, adopted at its 37th (Phnom Penh, 2013), 38th (Doha, 2014) and 39th (Bonn, 2015) sessions respectively,
  3. Taking into account Decision 40 COM 7A.22 on the World Heritage properties of the Syrian Arab Republic, adopted at its 40th session (Istanbul, 2016),
  4. Expresses its deep concern about the escalation of the conflict and the reported damages at the property, including at Saint-Simeon, as well as the illegal re-use of archaeological material and inappropriate new construction;
  5. Decides to retain the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria (Syrian Arab Republic) on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Decision Adopted: 40 COM 7A.22

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examinedDocument WHC/16/40.COM/7A.Add,
  2. Recalling Decisions 37 COM 7B.57, 38 COM 7A.12 and 39 COM 7A.34adopted at its 37th (Phnom Penh, 2013), 38th (Doha, 2014) and 39th (Bonn, 2015) sessions respectively,
  3. Deplores the conflict situation prevailing in the country, the loss of human life and the degradation of humanitarian conditions;
  4. Takes note of the report provided by the State Party regarding the state of conservation of the six Syrian World Heritage properties and the updated reports on the damage assessment of Palmyra, and on the fire in the Ancient City of Damascus and expresses its utmost concern at the damage occurred and the threats facing these properties and cultural heritage in general;
  5. Urges all parties associated with the situation in Syria to refrain from any action that would cause further damage to cultural heritage of the country and to fulfil their obligations under international law by taking all possible measures to protect such heritage, including the halting of all damages that result from targeting World Heritage properties, sites included in the Tentative List and other cultural heritage sites, as well as the illegal re-use of archaeological material and inappropriate new construction;
  6. Also urges the State Party to adopt measures against World Heritage properties being used for military purposes;
  7. Further urges the State Party to safeguard damaged properties through minimal first aid interventions, to prevent theft, further collapse and natural degradation, and refrain from undertaking conservation and reconstruction work until the situation allows for the development of comprehensive conservation strategies and actions, in full consultation with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies;
  8. Launches an appeal to all Member States of UNESCO to cooperate in the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural heritage coming from Syria as per the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2199 of February 2015;
  9. Reiterates its suggestion to the State Party to consider ratifying the Second Protocol (1999) of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Heritage during times of Armed Conflict;
  10. Commends the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), and all heritage professionals and local communities in Syria who are working on monitoring and protecting cultural heritage, for their sustained efforts amidst extremely difficult conditions and addresses its most sincere condolences to the families of the heritage professionals who lost their life;
  11. Requests the State Party to pursue the systematic documentation of all damage incurred by the World Heritage properties whenever conditions allow and to implement all possible risk mitigation measures, to inform the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the properties from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR) and the identification of corrective measures for all six properties, which should be informed by the proposed second meeting for the Emergency Safeguarding of Syria’s Cultural Heritage, and the proposed joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Reactive Monitoring mission and be developed in consultation with the Advisory Bodies, as soon as the security situation allows;
  12. Calls upon the international community to further support the safeguarding of Syrian cultural heritage through earmarked funds;
  13. Also calls upon the international and national cultural heritage professionals to unite for the safeguarding of Syria’s cultural heritage, and pursue their ongoing initiatives in coordination with UNESCO;
  14. Takes note of the State Party’s invitation of a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Reactive Monitoring mission to Syria to assess the state of conservation of the properties that would be accessible under the United Nations security rules, and elaborate, in consultation with the State Party, a prioritized action plan for their recovery;
  15. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2017, updated reports on the state of conservation of the properties and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 41st session in 2017.

Decision Adopted: 40 COM 8C.2

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined the state of conservation reports of properties inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger (WHC/16/40.COM/7A, WHC/16/40.COM/7A.Add and WHC/16/40.COM/7A.Add.2),
  2. Decides to retain the following properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger: