World Heritage Cities Programme September 2020

World Heritage Cities Programme

Urban Notebooks

Newsletter September 2020

Ancient Ksour of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata (Mauritania);
Author: Jean-Jacques Gelbart;
© Editions Gelbart


Our hearts go out to those who lost their lives or suffered in the explosions at the port of Beirut that claimed hundreds of lives and left thousands injured. The explosions severely damaged some of Beirut’s most historic neighbourhoods, as well as major museums, galleries, cultural places and religious sites. The explosions deepened and compounded the challenges that Lebanon was already facing, including the current pandemic. The Director-General of UNESCO has launched an international fund-raising appeal, Li Beirut, to enable rebuilding and recovery.

We also regret profoundly the loss of life and property in Yemen following exceptional and extreme weather conditions that have severely impacted the World Heritage cities of Zabid, Shibam, and Sana’a. Here too, along with its international partners, UNESCO has been mobilizing resources and expertise to safeguard Yemen’s cultural heritage by implementing a number of projects on urban rehabilitation.

These tragic events underscore the importance of coming together as a global community to support local communities in times of distress. They are also reminders of the increasing fragility of our urban heritage that, for those who live with it every day, may seem durable and timeless simply by the fact of having come down through the centuries. From the impacts of climate change to the current pandemic, the urgency of enhancing the resilience of urban heritage as much as those of the urban communities that inhabit them is clear.

Urban communities have also been at the heart of movements for racial justice that have risen up across the world in the past couple of months. The importance of promoting policies for just and inclusive communities is especially significant for historic cities as history and heritage easily become tools to justify perpetuating discrimination and racial injustice. Rather, some heritage sites deeply rooted in inequality and racial discrimination, such as the Island of Gorée in Senegal and the Aapravasi Ghat in Mauritius, serve to educate with lessons from history in this regard and promote a culture of peace...

If you have been working to make your historic city more just, inclusive, and resilient, please share your experience with us!

Jyoti Hosagrahar
Deputy Director, World Heritage Centre

From UNESCO World Heritage Centre

Rebuilding heritage, culture and education #ForBeirut #LiBeirut

UNESCO extends its deepest condolences to the families of those impacted by the devastating twin explosions in Beirut, Lebanon, on 4 August 2020 and renews its strong support to the city of Beirut. UNESCO mobilized leading organizations and experts from Lebanon and abroad on two occasions for the UNESCO Coordination Meeting for Emergency Response on Culture in Beirut to coordinate emergency and longer-term measures to safeguard the city’s severely damaged cultural heritage and rehabilitate its cultural life. The explosions claimed hundreds of lives and left thousands injured also inflicting severe damages to some of Beirut’s most historic neighbourhoods, major museums, galleries and religious sites at a time when Lebanon was already reeling from other crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, launched on 27 August 2020 an international fund raising appeal, Li Beirut (For Beirut in Arabic), to support the rehabilitation of schools, historic heritage buildings, museums, galleries and the creative economy, all of which suffered extensive damage in the deadly explosions that shook the Lebanese capital.

Read more from UNESCO, and by the UNESCO WHC

Learn more about UNESCO’s activities for Beirut and the Director-General`s visit

Lear more on the UNESCO virtual ResiliArt Lebanon debates: such as the upcoming “ResiliArt Lebanon: Bridging the Past and Future through Built Heritage” on 24 September 2020, 19:00-20:30 UTC+2 (CEST).

UNESCO support to Safeguard Yemen’s Cultural Heritage

UNESCO profoundly regrets the loss of life and property in a number of historic centers in Yemen, including in the World Heritage cities of Zabid, Shibam, and Sana’a, in recent days following exceptional extreme weather conditions in the country.

UNESCO has been mobilizing the Heritage Emergency Fund to quickly and effectively respond to crises resulting from armed conflicts and disasters in the country. Along with our partners, the organization has intervened in Al-Qasimi area of the Old City of Sana’a and the Historic Town of Zabid to save 30 buildings from collapse.

Learn more

Cinema Impero in Asmara: A Modernist African City World Heritage site in Eritrea ©UNESCO/Karalyn Monteil

Exploring the potential of the Modern Heritage of Africa

The African World Heritage Fund (AWHF) is coordinating the Modern Heritage of Africa (MoHoA) Programme in collaboration with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), to define, identify, protect, and promote modern heritage of Africa.

The AWHF together with the University of Cape Town and The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL hosted the first brainstorming meeting online 20-27 August 2020 to explore the potential of developing a programme on the Modern Heritage of Africa. The workshop sessions, organized across six themes, aimed to raise awareness and build capacity amongst key stakeholders on identification, protection and promotion of modern heritage of Africa. At the moment, Rabat and Asmara are two African cities which have been inscribed as modern heritage on the World Heritage List. Such an initiative could potentially aim to contribute to improve Africa's representation on the World Heritage List and highlight the role of modern heritage in promoting urban sustainability, in line with the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the African Union's Agenda 2063.

Learn more

Walled City of Baku with the Shirvanshah's Palace and Maiden Tower; Ko Hon Chiu Vincent;
© Ko Hon Chiu Vincent

20th Anniversary Conference in Baku on “World Heritage: Challenges for conservation and sustainable development post-pandemic”

On the event of the 20th anniversary of the inscription of “Walled City of Baku with the Shirvanshah's Palace and Maiden Tower” on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Conference “World Heritage: Challenges for conservation and sustainable development post-pandemic” was held online on 3 September 2020. Speakers included the World Heritage Centre, ICCROM, the Organization of World Heritage Cities as well as representatives of several World Heritage Cities. The discussion centred on heritage conservation with sustainable urban development. A special focus was given to the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and perspectives for addressing them in World Heritage cities.

“Euro-Mediterranean Cities in the Post-pandemic Era”

The COVID-19 pandemic has specifically challenged cities everywhere, including World Heritage cities. Will these cities ever be the same?

The “Euro-Mediterranean cities in the post-pandemic era” webinar was organized on 22 July 2020 by the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) Secretariat with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, and reflected on sustainable urban development in the Mediterranean region post-COVID. Among other issues, the conversation centred on the importance of protecting cultural heritage in cities and seeing them as solutions to address climate change and social inequalities, in addition to issues of transport highlighted by the current pandemic.

The event was opened by the UfM Secretary-General, Nasser Kamel, chaired by the Deputy Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and structured around a conversation with Prof. Richard Sennett, Senior Fellow at the Centre on Capitalism and Society at Columbia University and Visiting Professor of Urban Studies at MIT.

Learn more

Watch the full webinar

World Heritage site closures and re-openings - Update

UNESCO continues to monitor the situation of World Heritage Sites facing the COVID-19 pandemic. Its global map on the closure of World Heritage sites due to COVID-19 and analysis has been updated on 31/08/2020. As you can see 62% of World Heritage properties in some countries are now open or partially open.

See the Map

World Heritage City Webinar available online!

The complete video recording of the World Heritage City Webinar “Re-thinking Urban Heritage for Recovery and Resilience”, held online on 17 June 2020, is now available on the UNESCO YouTube channel.

Watch the video

Upcoming Events

UNESCO ResiliArt Lebanon

UNESCO is hosting three virtual ResiliArt debates in September in the framework of its action #ForBeirut to mobilize support for the recovery of the Lebanese capital:

10 September 2020, from 7 pm to 8.30 pm UTC+2 (CEST): ResiliArt Lebanon: Defending cultural diversity through creativity.

Watch the debate

17 September 2020, from 6 pm to 7.30 pm UTC+2 (CEST): ResiliArt Lebanon: Museums and Art Galleries for the Return of Cultural Life in Beirut.

24 September 2020, from 7 pm to 8.30 pm UTC+2 (CEST): ResiliArt Lebanon: Bridging the Past and Future through Built Heritage.

Learn more
Lear more about the UNESCO ResiliArt campaign

Hoi An Ancient Town;
Author: Aneta Ribarska;
© Aneta Ribarska

World Heritage City Dialogues

This month, the World Heritage City Dialogues are inviting Site Managers and national World Heritage Focal Points from the Africa and Asia and the Pacific regions to share their latest experiences and challenges. Dialogues will take place in the upcoming weeks.

If you are a Site Manager or a Focal Point, please keep us updated with your contact details and join us! Share with us the specific topics and ideas you would like to discuss during upcoming Dialogues.

International Conference “Water, Megacities and Global Change”

The Second International Conference on “Water, Megacities and Global Change” (EauMega 2020), will take place from 1 to 4 December 2020 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, to bring different actors together, 5 years after its first edition, also known as EauMega 2015.

Megacities – urban centers which accommodate more than 10 million inhabitants - are facing “mega”-challenges related to providing water services for their inhabitants, while managing their environment. Climate change effects of intensifying magnitude and global challenges, such as sea level rise, increasing temperatures or urbanization, threaten these cities. Now, there is a need for action to achieve resilient cities.

Learn more

City Focus

City Focus is a corner for the World Heritage Cities
to share their challenges and initiatives.
Share yours!

Byblos (Lebanon);
Author: Raheel Mohammad;


Ms. Tania Zaven, site manager of the World Heritage site of “Byblos” (Lebanon) told us about the closure of the archaeological site during the COVID-19 pandemic (until 22 June 2020).

During the July 2020 session of the World Heritage City Dialogues for the Arab States region, Ms. Tania Zaven explained how after one month of confinement, vegetation was growing inside the archaeological site and affecting its conservation before archaeological works could be resumed. She also underlined how local people used the site as a public space to do yoga, and other open-air activities during the period when there were restrictions on travel and movement around the town due to the pandemic. Besides, a mobile application was developed to allow virtual visits. Currently, the site is open under certain conditions and measures, such as the use of masks.

Watch the video

Historic Centre of the Town of Goiás; Author: jmarconi;
© jmarconi


Mayor Selma Bastos presented the challenges in the World Heritage city of Goiás (Brazil) facing the COVID-19 pandemic. In the video shared with the WHC, she underlined the importance of following recommendations and postponing travel to the area, but at the same time expressed the eagerness of the people of Goiás to once again share their many cultural expressions with visitors.

In late July 2020, during the online World Heritage City Dialogues for the Latin America and the Caribbean region, representatives of the “Historic Centre of the Town of Goiás”, Ms. Aline Amaral Di Salvo and Ms. Aline Cristina Pinheiro Barroso (IPHAN) shared new updates. Even though the city had only reported one case of COVID-19 at the time, all tourism-related activities had been cancelled (such as Easter celebrations, festivals, cinema, commemorative events). For this reason, main efforts in the cultural sector are being put on supporting artists until activities resume and future economic rehabilitation can be taken up.

Watch the video

Market Gardeners’ District in the Town of Bamberg;
Author: Jürgen Schraudner;
Source: Bamberg City Archive

Aerial view of parts of the Market Gardeners’ District;
Author: aerowest;
Source: Bamberg Municipal Building Department

Bamberg gardeners present their vegetables 2006 in a parade through the city;
Author: Roland Rinklef;
Source: Bamberg World Heritage Office

Bamberg Gardeners’ Interest Group
Author: Jürgen Schraudner;
Source: Bamberg Gardeners’ Interest Group

Sharing Practice: Bamberg

The UNESCO World Heritage Site “Town of Bamberg” (Germany), shared their experience of how the COVID-19 crisis enabled them to consume more locally and sustainably, and how this has resulted in an increased popularity of Bamberg`s gardening tradition.

With around 78,000 inhabitants, Bamberg is a growing midsize town and an urban district in the south of Germany, in the state of Bavaria. It has a rich cultural heritage reflected in several international titles. In 1993, the ‘Town of Bamberg’ was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. One of the three urban districts of the Bamberg World Heritage Site is the Market Gardeners’ District. The typical gardener's houses still preserved, together with their cultivated areas, show how gardener families have lived and worked for generations. The inner-city commercial horticulture in Bamberg, practiced since the Middle Ages, is unique in Germany and was therefore included in the German Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2016. However, the number of gardening businesses still active in Bamberg has decreased considerably. Competitive pressure, climate change and lack of follow-up are just some of the reasons for this decline.

The COVID-19 pandemic has confronted Bamberg gardeners with new challenges. A survey taken among the gardeners by the World Heritage Office and the Bamberg Gardeners' Interest Group highlights the situation of Bamberg gardeners during this period: 75 % of the garden companies agreed that the greatest difficulty in recent month was keeping track of the constantly changing regulations.

In addition to all the restrictions, the COVID-19 crisis also had positive effects on the nurseries. For example, most of the Bamberg gardeners reported higher sales than in the same months of the previous year. 87.5% of those surveyed said that the current pandemic had increased the demand for local garden products. Further results of the survey show that customers currently want to support local producers in a targeted manner (100%) and that they are currently attaching greater importance to short transport routes and sustainability (62.5%). The Bamberg nurseries have also observed that their customers currently prefer to shop in an outdoor environment. The time factor has had a positive effect on shopping in the Market Gardeners’ District. In the Bamberg nurseries, customers buy from certified masters of their profession and directly from the producer. If anyone needs help with cultivation and plant care, the Market Gardeners’ District is the right place to go. The variety among the contributions is large: offered are herbs as well as fruit and vegetable plants, besides cut flowers, floristic, bushes and grave care. Experiences with new forms of gardening, such as self-harvest gardens, show that gardening in Bamberg is also developing further and is exploring new paths. The next challenge is to make this a lasting change.

Historic Inner City of Paramaribo (Suriname);
Author: Ron Van Oers;

“Urban Heritage Strategies for World Heritage Cities”

Part 1 of the course “Urban Heritage Strategies for World Heritage Cities” was held online from 3 to 14 August 2020.. The course, organized by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, Delft University of Technology and Erasmus University Rotterdam, in cooperation with the World Heritage Centre, addressed sustainable development and revitalization of historical cities with a specific focus on four designated UNESCO World Heritage cities: Willemstad (Curaçao), Paramaribo (Suriname), Salvador de Bahia (Brazil), and Sawahlunto (Indonesia).

Learn more

Reflections of an Expert

Yukio Nishimura

Watch the video
Urban Heritage in the Era of the Pandemic in Asia and the Pacific

In these difficult days of the pandemic with limited activities in streets and devastating economic impacts in the urban heritage sites, we inevitably must ponder the future of our historic towns and urban heritage - and the future of their inhabitants.

This forced pause in the rush of urban life is an unwelcome but rare opportunity to rethink the real value of urban heritage. Urban heritage was not created for the enjoyment of visitors and tourists but has value for the society of which it is a part. Urban heritage in the era of the pandemic reminds us to look deeper into the histories, values, beliefs, desires, power and humanity that are materialized and expressed in the built forms of urban heritage. At the core are the fundamental values that created the components and attributes of urban heritage in the first place. These essential values are the identity of the local communities: a part of their history at another time.

Urban heritage belongs firstly to the local communities. Hence the future plans and visions of historic urban areas too, must belong to the local communities and visitors from the region. World Heritage cities are no exception to this.

In the rush of daily life before the pandemic, in the race for tourism and receiving of large numbers of visitors worldwide, there was no moment or space to consider the heritage values and meanings of the sites with their local communities. Only this unimaginable global disaster of the pandemic has forced the borders to shut down and made us realize that local communities are the ultimate custodians of urban heritage. This enormous and unthinkable pandemic has accelerated a shift in the conventional framework of the socioeconomic ecosystem to a ‘new normal’ way of life with fewer visitors, slower economy, e-commerce and remote work among other things. Everyone must accept these changes and this shift now.

The socio-economic impacts on urban heritage in the era of the pandemic in the Asia and the Pacific region is the same as in other parts of the world. We are reminded to recognize once again the local communities as custodians of urban heritage and as those who most intimately engage with it and give it meaning. In the best circumstances, they are also the ones who most appreciate the value of their urban heritage. On the one hand, man urban heritage sites in Asia and the Pacific had been and are still heavily populated; communal activities in and around the heritage sites are also extremely rich keeping alive a sense of community and identity. On the other hand, local communities in many countries of the Asia and the Pacific region are witnessing the vast transformation of social infrastructure caused by the rapid urbanization and economic growth. These have, in turn, created a series of problems including the commodification of urban heritage. The pandemic has forced an abrupt halt to tourism in historic urban centres and slowed down the economy. This is the moment to pause and look down at our feet to rediscover the importance of local communities as primary custodians of urban heritage and the ones who give it the most meaning by the way they engage with it.

In the era of the corona virus, we must recognize that urban heritage provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to re-envision the future of historic towns and cities with a central role for local communities – globally, but especially in Asia and the Pacific region.

Yukio Nishimura, Professor at Kokugakuin University,
Emeritus Professor, University of Tokyo, and
Former President, ICOMOS Japan,
September 2020

Publications of interest

Practical actions in cities to strengthen preparedness for the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond An interim checklist for local authorities.

World Health Organization (17 July 2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that we experience our cities and towns, and this effect has been especially noticed in historic cities where social distancing and disease containment measures are worsened by the qualities of the urban fabric. This practical action checklist follows previous advice by the World Health Organization, including “Strengthening preparedness for COVID-19 in cities and urban setting” and the COVID-19 strategic preparedness and response plan (SPRP) and strategy update. The document provides practical information for city managers, local authorities and policymakers to improve the readiness and resilience of their cities to the pandemic.

Browse the publication

Cities on the frontline: Managing the coronavirus crisis

Agustí Fernández de Losada and Hannah Abdullah (Eds.) (2020) CIDOB Report #5

What role have cities played in the coronavirus crisis? The Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB), a Spanish think-tank, has a new report “Cities on the frontline: Managing the Coronavirus crisis” which examines how 12 cities around the world have managed the COVID-19 pandemic, including case studies from Milan, Barcelona, Berlin, London, Vienna, Zurich, San Francisco, Chicago, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Melbourne and Hong Kong. The analysis of these case studies offers several lessons that can help guide future urban development: how to manage complex and uncertain situations, making cooperation and resilience a priority; how to make our cities more healthy and liveable, favouring social distancing but retaining the urban density which defines the identity and life of the city; how to address the upcoming economic recession without neglecting the commitment to the ecological transition; and why these challenges make international collaboration between cities more important than ever.

Browse the publication

General View, mosques.
Historic Cairo (Egypt);
Author: Spier-Donati, Marianne;

On My Watch: Amira Souliman and Abeer Saed Eledeen at Takiyyat Ibrahim al-Gulshani in Cairo, Egypt

World Monuments Fund blog, 3 August 2020

Amira Souliman and Abeer Saed Eledeen are two young archaeology graduates currently responsible for documenting Takiyyat Ibrahim al-Gulshani, the first Sufi religious foundation established in Cairo after the Ottoman conquest in 1517. The project, developed by Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities in partnership with the World Heritage Fund (WMF), consisting of documentation utilizing historical reports, studies, drawings, photographs, and researching archival materials to assess the current condition of the site and explores different possibilities for its adaptive reuse. The interview provides an insight into the work and motivations of emerging professionals in the field and WMF’s activities in Cairo.

Read the full article

Our partners

ICCROM Lecture Series

The ICCROM lecture series proposes new discussions online this month:

WSCM (Western Sudan Community Museums): Post-conflict Recovery of Living Cultural Heritage 10 September 2020 12:00 UTC+2 (CEST) (Rome, Italy)

Dialogue on “Applying resilience thinking to heritage places: from theory to practice”
17 September 2020 14:00 UTC+2 (CEST) (Rome, Italy)

Heritage Conservation Learning in the COVID World - Challenges and Opportunities
22 September 2020 16.00-18.00 UTC+2 (CEST) (Rome, Italy)

Results of the ICOMOS July 2020 General Assembly

The first virtual ICOMOS General Assembly took place between 23 and 24 July 2020. The conference was convened by the President, in order to reach an agreement to hold all 2020 statutory meetings virtually, in response to travel and gathering restrictions afforded by the current pandemic. The measure was passed with over 90% of members voting in favour of the proposal.

Read more

Watch the video


Complex of Hué Monuments;
Author: Giora Dan;
The World Heritage Collection

ISOCARP “101 Urban Innovations”

ISOCARP’s Community of Practice on Urban Innovation is gathering a set of 101 Urban Innovations in the areas of (I) Planning and Design Innovations, (II) Technological Innovations, (III) Economic Innovations, (IV) Art, Culture and Heritage Innovations, and (V) Sustainability and Environmental Innovations.

A first call for Planning and Design Urban Innovations (I) (20 to be selected) at three levels: city-, community-, and place-scale, has been launched.
Case-proposals can be submitted until 30 September 2020

Learn more

European Heritage Days

The European Heritage Days (EHD) is a participatory cultural event celebrated by people all over Europe. Held in September each year, the Heritage Open Days take place in the different signatory countries to the European Cultural Convention. During this period, numerous monuments and sites open their doors to free visits allowing citizens to learn about cultural heritage and actively engage in its protection and enhancement.
This year the theme of the EHD will be “Heritage and Education”.

Browse and look for activities around Europe

Call for content: newsletter special edition

The team in charge of the IUCN Congress is looking for contributions for the October edition of its newsletter, with a focus on Protected Areas. Interested members are invited to share their work and/or discuss protected areas. Suggested topics include land use, protected areas, marine protected areas, parks, livelihoods, governance, health and environmental health related to protected areas.

Contributions can be sent to

The special issue aims at highlighting the different issues worldwide and giving a voice to IUCN Members while promoting the Congress. Please note that IUCN and France have decided to postpone the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2020 to 7-15 January 2021. Registration is now open.

Learn more

Note: The practices shared in Urban Notebooks are not assessed in any way by the World Heritage Centre or presented here as model practices nor do they represent complete solutions to heritage management problems. The views expressed by experts and Site Managers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Heritage Centre. The practices and views shared here are included in Urban Notebooks as a way to provide insights and expand the dialogue on urban heritage with a view to furthering urban heritage management practice in general.

Room for thought

- How is COVID-19 changing urban heritage conservation and management approaches?

- How can we better integrate sustainable development with heritage conservation in our cities and settlements?

- How could we support colleagues though our international community?

Share your thoughts and concerns with us!
Send us your questions by email for discussion during City Dialogues

Guidelines for Contributions

Urban Notebooks is a way for World Heritage Cities to share up-to-date information, practices and opportunities around the world.

Please share with us your challenges and projects. Share with us the initiatives and activities related to culture in your city in response to the COVID-19. Please share opportunities as well. Your contributions will make the Urban Notebooks better.

Keep us updated!

Send us your news
photos, videos, projects, activities, publications

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#WorldHeritageCities #ShareOurHeritage #ShareCulture ; tag @UNESCO

Send us your current contact details and stay updated on our latest initiatives

Find the form for submissions here (English/French) and Grant of Rights document (English/French)

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We gratefully acknowledge the support of
the City of Nanjing