At its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008), the World Heritage Committee, while welcoming the cancellation of the development foreseen on King Faisal street, requested to be informed of any revised plans and of details of any other major projects. It also requested that all infrastructure work should include an archaeological impact assessment and salvage excavations. It further highlighted the need to apply traditional approaches to conservation, restoration, repair and maintenance of building fabric, in order to maintain the authenticity of the property. The World Heritage Committee regretted the construction of the new cultural centre on Medhat Pasha Street, urging the State Party to transmit all available information on the project.
It reiterated its invitation to the State Party to consider extending the boundaries of the property, in order to include associated historical neighbourhoods and further requested the State Party to complete its work on defining a buffer zone.
Finally, regarding the development of a management plan, the World Heritage Committee requested the State Party to ensure co-ordination of all actions undertaken, bringing together the various planning mechanisms and international co-operation programmes, and to grant the authority, resources and status to the bodies responsible for the Ancient City of Damascus.
The State Party submitted a report on 28 January 2009, prepared by the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM).
a) Development in King Faisal street area
The State Party reported that the Governorate of Damascus, after having stopped the first phase of the project, intends to re-study it again, taking into consideration the importance of the area and the urban and traffic plan of Damascus.
b) Buffer zone
A committee has been established by the Ministry of Culture to identify the buffer zone (limits and regulations) of the property and other historical areas. Among the different zones, the identified historic districts will receive the same level of protection as the Ancient city. Detailed building regulations will be set up and adopted by the protection committee according to the national law applied in the Ancient city. Urban infrastructure development would be allowed in identified “Neighbourhood Conservation Districts”, with limitations on the height and appearance and under the supervision of the Antiquities Authorities. A series of urgent actions is suggested, in particular the preparation of a master plan and detailed plan for the buffer zone.
The results of this committee's studies have been approved by the Minister of Culture and the Governor on 28 January 2009 and the identified areas submitted to the High Council of Antiquities to be registered on the national list.
c) Infrastructural work
A first phase of the infrastructure rehabilitation project in Medhat Pasha street was completed at the end of 2008 and a second phase for the lighting will be implemented in 2009. The report stresses that the works were carried out "quickly", although in close coordination with the DGAM that formally documented all archaeological findings. The results of excavations (158 pieces of columns and stones) are presented inside the Old City. The infrastructure works will continue in Al Nakashat area, Sit Raqia and the Jewish area.
d) New cultural centre on Medhat Pasha Street
At its 32nd session, the World Heritage Committee regretted the construction of a cultural centre in Medhat Pasha street, and requested further information. This information was not included in the State Party’s report.
e) Other issues
The State Party report also mentioned the following:
In relation to the important stock of abandoned buildings in the Jewish quarter, the report states that the government is now considering designating the neighbourhood as a "preserved cultural area" and preparing a plan for its renovation.
It is reported that a comprehensive cooperation system to protect the historic districts is being established between the national authorities and the international institutions involved in the preservation of Old Damascus, but without additional information being provided.
It gives information about the "rehabilitation and reuse of the Damascus Citadel master-plan", under preparation by an Italian team: until now an analysis of the existing conditions have been carried out, whereas the project document specifies the principles for concept design, identifying conservation and regeneration areas in order to preserve the architectural complex and open it to the public, creating new functional and spatial connections between the Old City and the City Centre.
Finally, the State Party mentions a new project in the south corridor between the citadel and Hamidiyeh Souq involving the design of a new streetscape environment. After having asked for additional details, the World Heritage Centre was informed that "the general goal of the project for developing the Souq is to give a unified architectural style to a construction that was composed of many elements and varied styles. This can be done by replacing some of the materials and shapes used in the facades with others that integrated more harmoniously into the general environment. ". Besides these works, the infrastructure redevelopment is an important component of the project.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that urgent attention must be paid to the re-study of the King Faysal Street project and in general to the strongly negative consequences of the "beautification" activities in the property and other historic neighbourhoods. The example of the renovation of the facades on the Medhat Pasha street, showing an uniform and sometimes insensitive design that does not correspond, in many cases, to the internationally established conservation requirements, should be avoided elsewhere.