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Old Walled City of Shibam

Factors affecting the property in 1991*
  • Flooding
  • Other Threats:

    Poor maintenance

International Assistance: requests for the property until 1991
Requests approved: 2 (from 1982-1988)
Total amount approved : 51,800 USD
Missions to the property until 1991**
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 1991

Three restoration projects have been developed within the context of the international campaign for its safeguarding. Inscribed on the World Heritage List under criteria (iii), (iv) and (v), Shibam, former capital of Wadi Hadramaut, is called the "Manhattan of the desert" because of its tall houses reaching up to seven or eight stories and entirely built of clay. Founded in the 4th century A.D., and situated at the meeting point of the wadis, it was an important halt on the spice and incense routes. It has been partly destroyed by devastating floods and rebuilt on its old foundations several times in the past.

A considerable amount of work has already been completed in Shibam by the Campaign Office, principally: the restoration of two sultans' palaces, the repair of almost the entire city wall, and the installation of a waste water drainage system.

The Muza dam was burst by floodwaters and has been rebuilt several times in the past, most recently in the disastrous floods of 1983 and 1989. Considerable damage was also done to the earthen retaining banks of the main channel and the diversion canals. The main causes were the silting-up of the area behind the dam wall and the diversion channels, and obstruction of the flow of water from the main road bridge to the east of Shibam. A new drainage system has been completed by the Campaign Office, serving the whole of the old city. New domestic water supply pipes have been laid throughout the city, above street level in order to control leaks. All the streets and open spaces of the old city should be paved in order to protect the foundations of the buildings from infiltrating water and salts from animal waste. It is suggested that all future restoration projects should include in their budget provision for the paving of the surrounding area.

Three projects have been developed by an UNESCO consultant and will be proposed as extrabudgetary funding.

(1)  Project No. 1 - Beit Jarhum House Museum. Located to the north-west of Shibam, Beit Jarhum is reputed to be the oldest house in the old city, its age being variously estimated at between 400 and 500 years. It shows a combination of the typical causes of decay to be observed in the old city. Some years ago, a burst water main caused the north-west corner to settle and severe cracking to appear. Poor maintenance of the protective lime plaster of the upper stories has led to leaks through cracks, the collapse of parts of the roof, and damage to the floors below resulting from rainwater penetration. Conservation of doors and windows will consist of cleaning, repairing broken parts, tightening joints and replacing missing parts with matching wood. The setting of the future museum is almost equally as important as the building itself. In order to protect the foundations, it is proposed that the paving of the surrounding area be included in the project. The whole of the work should amount to 270,000 dollars of the United States of America.

(2)  Project No. 2 - Masjid Haroun al Rashid (Grand Mosque). One of the earliest buildings in Shibam, it is typical in its layout of the oldest mosques in Wadi Hadramaut. The presence of red baked bricks in the plinth at the north-west corner is the only known example in Shibam. The minaret was rebuilt c. 1970 A.D. in the baroque style. An unfortunate concrete block structure was in the course of construction in front of the mosque to house the drinking water cooler. The mosque is, in general, structurally stable, with no sign of recent settlement. The major area needing urgent attention is the roof, which is leaking in several places, and the walls suffering from moisture infiltration. Conservation work would be restricted largely to maintenance, with the exception of the minbar, which needs specialist attention. Termite-infected wooden members which have lost their mechanical strength should be consolidated with epoxy or polyester resins. The work has been estimated at 250,000 dollars of the United States of America.

(3)  Project No. 3 - Madrassa al Fatah wa Amdad. This fine mosque-madrassa fell into disuse when the modern school was built in the opposite corner of the city. Two stories high, with a fine minaret and domed entrance, it fell into ruin. The roof and large parts of the floor have collapsed, and the action of rain has weakened the mud suspended floor and basement walls of the mosque. In order to ensure the permanence of any future restoration works, the root causes of decay should first be remedied. The paving of the surrounding streets should be included in the project, in order to protect the foundations. The project is estimated at US$180,000.

Decisions adopted by the Committee in 1991
Monitoring of the State of Conservation of the World Heritage Cultural and Related Technical Problems

18. The monitoring report presented by the Secretariat dealt with the following sites: Xanthos-Letoon (Turkey), the City of Valletta (Malta), Shibam (Yemen), National Historical Park - Citadel, Sans Souci, Ramiers (Haiti), Kathmandu Valley (Nepal), Moenjodaro (Pakistan), and the Madara Rider (Bulgaria). Monitoring visits had been made to seventeen sites by an expert who was in charge of co­ordinating action for the preservation of 115 Mediterranean sites within the framework of the UNEP - Barcelona Convention. These visits had yielded a wealth of information and documentation which needed analysis and the establishment of a dialogue with the national authorities before a report could be presented to the Committee. A summary of the findings of this expert concerning two sites was included in the Working Document SC-91/CONF.002/3. Reports on the state of conservation of the other fifteen sites will be presented to the Bureau in June 1992. In addition, the expert who was present at this session was ready to explain to the Committee his approach and to respond to specific questions. An additional monitoring report had been prepared by the Co-ordinator of the UNDP/UNESCO Regional Project on Cultural Heritage and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, who was also present at this session.

19. The Committee was also informed of the type of continuous monitoring which the Secretariat pursued with regard to projects which were the subject of international campaigns or supported by UNDP. A recently published brochure on the work carried out in Sana'a, as well as the report on the mission to Bulgaria which was annexed to the Document SC-91/CONF.002/3, showed that the most efficient monitoring could be done through technical assistance missions. Unfortunately, the financial and personnel resources of the Secretariat were far too small compared with the many World Heritage sites to be monitored.

20. In the opinion of the Secretariat, a monitoring action should be carried out in the form of a continuous dialogue with the State Party which should begin even before the inscription of the site, in order to inform local competent authorities (politicians and technicians) about the values to be maintained and the principles and methods of conservation to be applied. In particular, the implementation of the management plan requested at the time of the proposal for inscription should be verified by means of a monitoring exercise.

21. The representative of ICOMOS brought to the attention of the Committee alarming news about the deterioration of certain parts of monuments of Khizi Pogost (USSR). He stressed the fact that his organization was interested in sending a mission on the spot to evaluate the state of conservation of the site. With reference to the cultural centre in the process of being built between the Tower of Belem and the Monastery of the Hieronymites (Portugal), he underlined that the work was almost completed and that a comprehensive file submitted by the government showed that the rules of the competition had taken account of the fact that the site was classified as a World Heritage property. Part of the existing building replaced industrial constructions and this represented an improvement. This case proved that it was necessary to determine a future strategy to guide architects in charge of the development of sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. The Portuguese observer remarked that the project of integrating this cultural centre was part of a plan for safeguarding of the zone with a view to reasserting the value of the site. The Committee took note of the report of ICOMOS and, in the light of this example, emphasized that States Parties should attach the greatest attention to maintaining the values of World Heritage properties, when elaborating development projects, new constructions or major restorations. They should equally inform the Committee, through UNESCO's Secretariat, of their intention to undertake or to authorize projects in an area protected under the Convention before any irreversible decisions were taken. The need for close collaboration between the Secretariat and the local competent authorities was stressed during the debate. The Committee took note that ICOMOS, in co-operation with ICCROM, was preparing a guide on the management of sites for authorities responsible for World Heritage.

22. The Co-ordinator of the UNDP/UNESCO Regional Project on Cultural Heritage and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean introduced the method which had been used in the detailed analysis of six sites in the region. The documents presented only reflect work already achieved within the framework of a wider project concerning sixteen sites in all, the evaluation of which will be carried out up until 1993 and will cost the World Heritage Fund US$40,000.

23. The Committee took note of this report. While considering that the method was interesting, it judged that it would not be necessarily applicable to all regions.

24. The Co-ordinator of a network set up by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for the protection of Mediterranean sites under the Barcelona Convention introduced in his turn his working method on monitoring. During visits to seventeen sites around the Mediterranean, he evaluated,, in collaboration with local experts, the different problems raised by the conservation of the sites concerned. Following his visits he kept in touch with the competent authorities with a view to assisting them in their task with technical advice and documentation.

25. Regarding the management of sites, a member of the Committee questioned the limits to the possibility of intervention by the Committee and the Secretariat. The Secretariat explained that national authorities, whose collaboration was obviously indispensable, were always informed.

26. The possibility of intervention by the private sector in activities of safeguarding and development of World Heritage was raised. A delegate considered that progress in this field remained far below desirable levels. For instance, various difficulties encountered by a high visiting capacity of the sites could be solved through co­operation with, private associations.

No draft Decision

Report year: 1991
Date of Inscription: 1982
Category: Cultural
Criteria: (iii)(iv)(v)
Danger List (dates): 2015-present
Documents examined by the Committee
arrow_circle_right 15COM (1991)

* : The threats indicated are listed in alphabetical order; their order does not constitute a classification according to the importance of their impact on the property.
Furthermore, they are presented irrespective of the type of threat faced by the property, i.e. with specific and proven imminent danger (“ascertained danger”) or with threats which could have deleterious effects on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (“potential danger”).

** : All mission reports are not always available electronically.