1.         Ancient City of Damascus (Syrian Arab Republic) (C 20bis)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1979

Criteria  (i)(ii)(iii)(iv)(vi)

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 https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/20/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1981-2001)
Total amount approved: USD 156,050
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/20/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

10,000 USD from the Italian Funds-in-Trust.

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

March and December 2007: World Heritage Centre missions for the King Faisal Street project; April 2008: Joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission. 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 https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/20/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2016

On 5 February 2016, the State Party submitted a state of conservation report for the six Syrian World Heritage properties, which is available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/20/documents.

The State Party indicates that in addition to the damage reported in 2015, the property continues to be targeted and the roof of the Umayyad Mosque and the Sakka Amini house have suffered damage from mortar shelling in February 2015.

As regards the December 2013 Emergency Response Plan (recommended by the World Heritage Centre in cooperation with ICOMOS, ICCROM and Interpol) implemented as reported in 2015, the State Party has taken some measures such as preventing illegal buildings and unauthorized demolitions, assessing and documenting damage in cooperation with all stakeholders, raising awareness of local communities about the values of the site and role of residents in conservation, preservation and restoration works as well as the provision of expertise and support for such works. However, and despite the focus of the Emergency Response Plan on fire prevention, on 26 April 2016, a major fire broke out, owing to an electrical incident and extensively damaged the neighborhood of al-Asrooniya located at the West of the Old City where shops and warehouses contained highly inflammable items. The shops and all neighboring buildings have been completely destroyed by the fire. The “Ottoman Bank” (1895) was severely damaged; its roof collapsed and only its stone façade remains. A short report on the damage was submitted by the State Party in May 2016; a detailed report on the damage is expected from the State Party.

The State Party report also indicates that restoration works have started at the citadel (structural consolidation restoration at the eighth and eighteen towers) and that the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) has joined the Anqa project, a CyArk /ICOMOS joint initiative for Emergency recording and Archiving implemented in collaboration with UNESCO which first phase started within Damascus in January 2016. In March 2016, the State Party sent a separate report on the discovery and restoration of an important mosaic and fresco in the prayer’s hall of the Umayyad Mosque (dated between the XIth and XIIIth centuries), at the north of the axial nave.

The DGAM also reported that a DGAM staff member was killed on 18 August 2015 as the result of mortar shelling in Damascus.

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.

The World Heritage Centre’s Rapid Assessment mission of April 2016 conducted a visit to several important components of the property, including the Ummayad Mosque, the Citadel, al-Azm Palace, Khan As’ad Pasha and took a tour in the old city streets. However, the mission could not access the site affected by fire at al-Asrooniya because the fire was still not fully extinguished during the visit to the site, more than 12 hours after it broke out.

The damage to the Old City of Damascus arising from the conflict remains limited but has affected very important monuments such as the Omayyad Mosque, the Citadel and the Madrasa al-Adiliye, and parts of the urban fabric that include important historic structures and houses. The city has been subject to recent shelling and the property remains at risk.

The discovery of the mosaic in the Umayyad Mosque and its restoration is a good development. However, the rapid assessment mission noted that although the quality of the restoration seemed good, the treatment of the lacunae could benefit from improved restoration techniques.

The major fire that ravaged al-Asrooniya within the property has caused severe damage and shows that the fire-related mitigation measures taken by the DGAM and Maktab Anbar, the municipal entity in charge of the property’s management, are insufficient. The property needs to be freed from highly flammable materials; fire-prevention and extinguishing require more efficient measures. In general, the State Party needs to undertake risk prevention and mitigation measures as per the Emergency Response Plan of December 2013, and any additional measures deemed necessary. A report on these measures is to be requested from the State Party. In addition, immediate actions should be taken to save the remaining structures through adequate shoring and temporary consolidation measures.

In order to recover the social-economic life of al-Asrooniya neighborhood and other areas, there is a need to develop reconstruction guidelines for buildings in collaboration with the Advisory Bodies and the World Heritage Centre, that take into account existing documentation and surveys before and after the fire.

Recognizing the potential negative impact on the property of hasty decisions taken during the conflict, plans for conservation and restoration should be limited to emergency first aid interventions; reconstruction and restoration plans in al-Asrooniya neighbourhood should be submitted to the World Heritage Centre for review by ICOMOS and approval by the World Heritage Committee prior to the commencement of any works.

Pending improvement of the security situation, the property’s prominent architectural elements, such as the Suleymaniye and Umayyad Mosque Minarets, should not be used for military purposes.

A joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Reactive Monitoring mission to Syria to assess the state of conservation of the properties and elaborate, in consultation with the State Party, a prioritized action plan for their recovery, is currently planned for end 2016, in accordance with Committee Decision 39 COM 7A.36.



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.18

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.36, adopted at 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. Expresses its deep concern over the damage caused by the conflict, and the fire at al-Asrooniya neighbourhood within the property, and requests the State Party to submit a detailed report on the damage caused by the fire;
  5. Also requests the State Party to engage in regular communication and consultation with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies on ongoing emergency first-aid interventions at the property and on future urban plans for the al-Asrooniya neighbourhood; and in particular to:
    1. Limit conservation or restoration to first aid interventions until the security situation improves,
    2. Take immediate action to save the remaining structures through adequate shoring and temporary consolidation measures,
    3. In order to recover the social-economic life of al-Asrooniya and other neighbourhoods, develop restoration and reconstruction guidelines, in collaboration with the Advisory Bodies and the World Heritage Centre, that take into account existing documentation and surveys before and after the fire, and the particular social and economic needs of the areas,
    4. Submit to the World Heritage Centre for review by ICOMOS and approval by the World Heritage Committee, reconstruction and restoration plans in al-Asrooniya neighbourhood prior to the commencement of any works;
  6. Urges the State Party to plan and implement all necessary risk-prevention and mitigation plans outlined in the Emergency Response Plan of December 2013, and to report back to the World Heritage Centre on the progress made thereon;
  7. Also urges all parties associated with the situation in Syria to refrain from any action that could cause further damage to the Ancient City of Damascus, including preventing the use of cultural property and prominent architectural elements, in particular the Suleymaniye and Omayyad Mosque Minarets, for military purposes;
  8. Takes note that the State Party has invited a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Reactive Monitoring mission to evaluate the state of conservation of the property and identify measures needed to reverse the decay and ensure the conservation and protection of the property,and that the mission is foreseen end of 2016, provided that the security situation allows;
  9. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2017, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 41st session in 2017;
  10. Decides to retain the Ancient City of Damascus (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 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: