Year of inscription on the World Heritage List 1986
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
Previous Committee Decisions see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/21/documents/
Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 5,250
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/21/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)
200000 USD by the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage in Bahrain
170000 USD by the Flemish Government
Previous monitoring missions
Since the start of the conflict in March 2011, the security situation has not allowed any missions to be undertaken to the Syrian World Heritage properties.
Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports
Illustrative material see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/21/
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2014
Due to the tremendous escalation of the armed conflict, the Ancient City of Aleppo has been severely damaged since 2013, and is undergoing regular destructions due to bombardments, targeted explosions and fire. On 28 January 2014, the State Party submitted a state of conservation report of all cultural heritage sites in Syria including the six World Heritage properties available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/21/documents. The report indicates that at least 121 historical buildings have been damaged or destroyed, in addition to 30 to 40% of the property’s building stock including than 1500 shops of the medieval Old Suq. The report also indicates that the 11th century Minaret, the prayer hall and the main gate of the Great Umayyad Mosque were destroyed and that its courtyard and all its decorative elements have suffered severe damage, as did all of the mosque’s surrounding neighbourhood, and that an armed group disassembled the wooden Minbar and claimed its transfer to a safer location. Furthermore, the report notes that the armed conflict has caused additional damage to the Aleppo Citadel’s 13th century gate, and damaged the gates of the city wall, including Bab al-Hadid, Bab Qinnasrin, Bab Antakeya and Bab al-Nasr, to some of the most important Islamic architecture buildings, including Bimaristan Arghun al-Kamili, Khan Al-Wazeer, Khan al-Gumruk, Khan al-Saboun, Hammam al-Sarraj and Hammam Bab al-Hadid, and to most historic houses of the Jdeideh quarter, including Beit Wakil, Beit Ghazaleh (where decorative elements were also stolen), and Dar Zamaria (which was totally destroyed). The State Party also reports that artefacts were looted from the Museum of Popular Traditions (Beit Ashiqbash) and from the Aleppo museum and that the Waqifiyya Library was set on fire and all its collections burned. Information is also included on damage, illegal excavation and looting at archaeological sites surrounding Aleppo.
Additional information sources suggest a very serious alarm about the ongoing clashes in and around the Citadel that is being used for military purposes, and bombs placed in underground tunnels in the area surrounding it, causing violent explosions and destroying several buildings which hold strategic military positions placing the Citadel itself and its surroundings are at high risk of total destruction. Finally, it is understood that the very high-value private collection of the Poche house was also looted. This information has yet to be confirmed by the State Party.
Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM
General Decision on the World Heritage properties of the Syrian Arab Republic
Current conservation issues
The armed conflict in Syria started in March 2011 and has constantly escalated leading to significant violence and degradation of humanitarian conditions. Since the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee in 2013, the destruction of Syria’s exceptional archaeological, urban and architectural heritage has risen significantly and has continued to affect all six inscribed properties as well as the twelve sites inscribed on the Tentative List.
The State Party has sent two letters to the Director-General of UNESCO, dated 4 December 2013 and 6 March 2014, to express the concern of the Syrian authorities about the destruction of cultural heritage and requesting UNESCO’s assistance. The UNESCO Director-General has issued several appeals calling on all parties to the conflict to stop the destruction of cultural heritage and to refrain from using cultural heritage sites for military purposes. She also requested the countries bordering Syria to reinforce the fight against the illicit trafficking of Syrian cultural property and wrote to the members of the UN Security Council ahead of the Geneva 2 conference in January 2014 to plead for the protection of Syrian heritage and for an international ban on trade in Syrian cultural objects. She reiterated this again in February 2014 to draw attention to the danger of the use of cultural heritage sites for military purposes in Syria, in respect of international obligations of all parties involved in the conflict, notably the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of Armed Conflict, and in consistency with customary international humanitarian law. On 12 March 2014, the Director-General also issued a joint statement with the UN Secretary-General, and the UN and Arab League Special Representative on the situation of cultural heritage in Syria.
These efforts have led to a greater awareness of the destruction of cultural heritage in Syria at the level of the United Nations and to the adoption of resolution 2139 by the Security Council on 22 February 2014, which “calls on all the parties to immediately […] save Syria’s rich societal mosaic and cultural heritage, and take appropriate steps to ensure the protection of Syria’s World Heritage Sites”.
On 28 January 2014, the State Party submitted a state of conservation report of all cultural heritage sites in Syria including the six World Heritage properties; available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/38COM/documents.
This report represents an official statement from the Syrian authorities and collates available information from the branches of the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) and from social media. However, it notes that ground access in Syria is extremely limited for heritage experts, and the full extent of the damage to World Heritage properties cannot be assessed in detail at this time. Therefore, the report does not provide first-hand information on several sites, in particular the Old City of Aleppo and the Ancient City of Bosra, to be able to gauge the extent of damage to the properties. For the preparation of the state of conservation reports, additional information was sought from civil society organisations, international organisations, local experts and the media to supplement official data.
The State Party highlighted the destruction and identified damages at the World Heritage properties due to their use for military purposes and as military training areas, and from direct shelling, targeted explosions, extensive illicit excavations, intentional destruction, construction violations, and temporary human occupation. The report also stresses the positive role of local communities to safeguard heritage and fight illegal excavations. It stresses the day-to-day work carried out by the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums, within the existing limitations, to assess the damage, monitor the World Heritage properties and undertake emergency conservation and risk mitigation actions whenever possible.
Actions implemented by the Advisory Bodies and UNESCO
Since the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee (Phnom Penh, 2013), UNESCO has intensified its activities to monitor the situation of Syrian heritage, raise awareness on its protection, and undertake emergency actions to safeguard it. On 29 August 2013, the UNESCO Director-General convened a high-level technical meeting with the participation of the UN and Arab League Joint Special Representative, the Director-General of the DGAM, ICOMOS, ICCROM, ICOM, Interpol, the World Customs Organisation and the European Union, where an Action Plan for the Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage was adopted. Based on this Action Plan, UNESCO elaborated a project entitled “Emergency Safeguarding of Syrian Cultural Heritage”.
Following Decision 37 COM 7B.57, which requested the Director-General of UNESCO to consider the creation of a Special Fund aimed at the conservation of the World Heritage properties in Syria, the World Heritage Centre successfully raised funds for the safeguarding of Syrian cultural heritage, including:
The World Heritage Centre has maintained regular communication with the DGAM and heritage specialists throughout Syria to document the situation on the ground and assist where possible, and has worked with the UNESCO staff in charge of the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, and Interpol to fight illicit trafficking and block illegal selling of Syrian cultural property on a day-to-day basis. Since October 2013, the World Heritage Centre has engaged with national and international professionals working on Syrian heritage to map and coordinate international efforts, and to avoid duplication of activities; it also elaborated Damage Assessment Sheets that are regularly filled-in by heritage professionals in Syria to document damage, and established the following webpage dedicated to Syrian Cultural Heritage :
The World Heritage Centre also organised, at the request of the State Party, an emergency meeting with ICOMOS, ICCROM and Interpol, to provide technical recommendations and risk mitigation measures for the Old City of Damascus. Another such meeting is foreseen in May 2014 for the emergency measures to protect the Crac des Chevaliers.
UNESCO is also organising an International Experts Meeting for the Preservation of the Syrian Cultural Heritage (26-28 May 2014) and actively fundraising for further actions to protect World Heritage properties and the sites inscribed on Syria’s Tentative List. Finally, UNESCO has also sounded the alarm on the destruction of Syrian heritage at numerous occasions in the media and through press conferences at UNESCO and the UN Headquarters in New York.
ICOMOS and ICCROM have contributed to awareness raising regarding the state of cultural heritage in Syria through several releases on their web pages and participation in international experts meetings. They also held, in cooperation with the DGAM, a new e-learning course for the protection of cultural heritage in Idlib Governorate, Syria, on 21 August 2013. This course follows on from an earlier course held in Damascus in January 2013. Course activities focussed on potential measures to safeguard and protect cultural heritage during conflict situations, and on first aid and emergency responses to damaged sites and collections. The course had over 100 participants, including DGAM staff and experts on cultural heritage, curators from Idlib Museum, and representatives of cultural heritage NGOs, as well as first aiders from the Red Crescent. ICOMOS and ICCROM are working on providing practical guidelines in Arabic and English for salvaging and securing damaged cultural heritage. Further documentation on the initiative is available at:
The ICCROM and ICOMOS Guidelines for First Aid Training courses were translated into Arabic by the ICCROM-ATHAR Regional Centre and shared with the DGAM to support their conservation actions.
Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM
The armed conflict situation in Syria and its continued escalation has affected the six World Heritage properties and has 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 Old City of Aleppo which has been extensively destroyed and which runs the risk of further irreversible destructions, including its Citadel.
It is recommended that the World Heritage Committee commend the DGAM and all heritage professionals in Syria and local communities for their 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 a Desired state of conservation for the properties, as soon as the situation allows for an assessment mission to be carried out.
Furthermore, it is recommend that systematic documentation of all damage incurred at the World Heritage properties be duly undertaken whenever the situation allows, and the World Heritage Committee may urge the State Party to safeguard damaged property through minimal first aid interventions to prevent theft, further collapse and natural degradation, and refrain from undertaking conservation work until the situation allows for the development of comprehensive conservation actions that respond to international standards.
Until conditions improve, It is further 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 inscribed on the Tentative List, and to fulfil 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 recommended that the World Heritage Committee also thank the European Union, the Flemish Government, and the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage for their financial contributions for the implementation of the Action Plan for the Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage. It is also worth bringing to the attention of the World Heritage Committee that earmarked projects have proven to be a successful fundraising strategy for the safeguarding of Syrian cultural heritage.
Decision Adopted: 38 COM 7A.12
The World Heritage Committee,
Decision Adopted: 38 COM 8C.2
The World Heritage Committee,