1.         Site of Palmyra (Syrian Arab Republic) (C 23bis)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1980

Criteria  (i)(ii)(iv)

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/23/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1989-2005)
Total amount approved: USD 81,250
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/23/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

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

April 2016: World Heritage Centre Rapid Assessment mission

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Before the conflict:

Since March 2011:

Illustrative material  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/23/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2016

The reports indicate that up to 21 May 2015, the Syrian military forces were in control of the site and took measures to protect it, including cooperation with the local communities to retrieve more than four hundred artifacts that have been looted from the site, but that after the loss of control of the site, the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) could only document damages and raise national and international awareness of its importance. They also indicate that the site has been largely, but not completely, de-mined and that the search for booby-traps and the de-mining continue.

The report confirms the damage that was reported in satellite images and propaganda videos; these include: the destruction of the Lion Statue of Athena (June 2015), the blowing-up of: the Temple of Baal-Shamin (23 August 2015), the cella and surrounding columns of the Temple of Ba’al (30 August 2015), the Triumphal Arch (4 October 2015) as well as three columns in the main colonnade (26 October 2015). However, the DGAM could not access the Valley of the Tombs, the southwest Necropolis, and the southeast Necropolis to assess the destruction and looting of the funeral towers tombs within the buffer zone, visible in satellite images of September 2015 and March 2016. Similarly, the damages at the Mameluk citadel, referred to as Castle of Fakhr-al-Din al-Ma’ani could only be assessed through photos owing to its current inaccessibility. The report states that the Citadel appears to be in fair condition overall but some collapse is visible at the northeastern part, and major areas of collapse are in the southeastern part; explosives were detonated at the entrance to the castle destroying the entranceway staircase. The report notes that much of the ancient city's ruins remain intact, such as tetrapylon, the amphitheatre, the agora, the baths, the camp of Diocletian, and the colonnaded decumanus, and indicates that the existing elements that lay on the ground as a result of explosions, could be sufficient to allow restoration and consolidation works, with the original elements, without the need for extensive reconstruction. With the support of a professional team, the DGAM also undertook detailed photographic documentation of the site using advanced technology, and a 3D photogrammetry of the Temple of Ba’al and identified some emergency measures especially at the museum, and actions required to prevent potential collapse of some structures at the site, and intends to conduct its future actions in Palmyra in full consultation with international scientific institutions.

The former Director of the DGAM branch in Palmyra, the archaeologist Khaled al-Assaad, was brutally assassinated by the armed groups in August 2015.

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.

A The Director General of UNESCO decided to dispatch a UNESCO Rapid Assessment mission. The mission went to Palmyra on 25 April 2016 and confirmed the substantial damage and destruction described in the State Party reports, in particular at the Ba’al and Ba’al-Shamin temples, and at the Triumphal Arch. The remaining attributes of the property offer a strong testimony of Palmyra’s urban layout, and its relationship with the surrounding desert and oasis landscape. The DGAM ongoing assessment and documentation is commendable and indispensable; the mission proposed short, medium and long terms actions for the property and its museum, and noted that funds are urgently needed to support this work. The full report of the mission is available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/23/documents. 

The DGAM future plans for the property will be prepared in close consultation with the international scientific community, with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies. Although it is acknowledged that there is pressure to act quickly to reverse the damage, the property will require, before any hasty work is undertaken, detailed studies and extensive fieldwork, as well as discussions on defining optimal approaches and considerations that go beyond technical issues including adequate conditions on the ground. Discussions on how restoration might be undertaken, and whether or not anastylosis might be considered, should be based on broad consultation amongst national stakeholders, and involve international cooperation and close consultation with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies.

Meanwhile, it is noted that current actions should be limited to damage assessment, documentation and emergency measures.



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.21

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.36adopted 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. Condemns the deliberate acts of destructions at the property and deplores the considerable damage to the attributes of the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV);
  5. Acknowledges the documentation and damage assessment undertaken by the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) at the site and at the museum, as well as the Rapid Assessment mission dispatched by UNESCO’s Director General;
  6. Notes with concern the pressures to act quickly to reverse the damage at the property and considers that before any restoration work is undertaken, the property will require detailed studies and extensive field work, and also discussions on defining optimal approaches as well as considerations that go beyond technical issues, including adequate conditions on the ground;
  7. Welcomes the commitment that the development of recovery plans for the property will be undertaken in close consultation with the international scientific community and underlines the need to ensure that there is also broad consultation amongst national stakeholders as well as close consultation with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies, and that adequate time is given for the completion of the overall process;
  8. Reiterates its view that meanwhile the State Party should safeguard Palmyra through minimal first-aid interventions, to prevent theft, further collapse and natural degradation;
  9. Calls on the international community to provide financial support for the emergency measures that are required at the property;
  10. Requests to the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Reactive Monitoring mission to proceed to a comprehensive assessment of the state of conservation of the property and identify measures needed to reverse the decay and ensure the conservation and protection of the property, as soon as the security situation allows;
  11. Decides to retain the Site of Palmyra (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 8B.37

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Documents WHC/16/40.COM/8B.Add and WHC/16/40.COM/INF.8B1.Add,
  2. Noting that the submission of the proposed minor boundary modification was received after the established deadline, accepts on an exceptional basis to examine it;
  3. Refers the proposed buffer zone for the Site of Palmyra, Syrian Arab Republic, back to the State Party in order to allow it to:
    1. provide greater clarity on the line of the proposed boundaries,
    2. provide greater clarity on the protection offered by the various protective zones,
    3. ensure that protection offered by the buffer zone in relation to the property encompasses not only visual parameters but recognises attributes that are related to Outstanding Universal Value such as palm-groves, Wâhat, underground water channels, Qanât-s, quarries, remains of caravan routes and archaeological sites,
    4. provide more details as to how the limits of urban development will be defined.

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:

Decision Adopted: 40 COM 8D

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/16/40.COM/8D,
  2. Recalling Decision 39 COM 8D, adopted at its 39th session (Bonn, 2015),
  3. Acknowledges the excellent work accomplished by States Parties in the clarification of the boundaries of their World Heritage properties and commends them for their efforts to improve the credibility of the World Heritage List;
  4. Recalls that the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies are not able to examine proposals for minor or significant modifications to boundaries of World Heritage properties whenever the delimitations of such properties as inscribed remain unclear;
  5. Takes note of the clarifications of property boundaries and areas provided by the States Parties as presented in the Annex of Document WHC/16/40.COM/8D:

    ARAB STATES

    • Syrian Arab Republic: Site of Palmyra;

    EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA

    • Canada: Dinosaur Provincial Park;
    • Croatia: Plitvice Lakes National Park;
    • Czech Republic: Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc; Litomyšl Castle;
    • France: Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France; Place Stanislas, Place de la Carrière and Place d'Alliance in Nancy;
    • Germany: Bauhaus and its Sites in Weimar and Dessau; Luther Memorials in Eisleben and Wittenberg;
    • Holy See: Vatican City;
    • Italy: City of Verona;
    • Russian Federation: Kremlin and Red Square, Moscow;
    • Spain: Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain; Las Médulas; La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia; San Millán Yuso and Suso Monasteries;
    • Sweden: Skogskyrkogården;
    • United States of America: La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico; Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site; Chaco Culture;

    LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN

    • Belize: Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System;
    • Cuba: Old Havana and its Fortification System;
    • Mexico: Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacan;
    • Peru: Huascarán National Park;
    • Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of): Coro and its Port;

  6. Requests the States Parties which have not yet answered the questions raised in the framework of the Retrospective Inventory to provide all clarifications and documentation as soon as possible, and by 1 December 2016 at the latest, for their subsequent examination, if the technical requirements are met, by the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee in 2017.