Ancient City of Damascus (Syrian Arab Republic) (C 20bis)
Year of inscription on the World Heritage List 1979
Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger
Threats for which the property was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger
Destruction as well as ascertained and 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/
Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 156,050
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/20/assistance/
UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds
Total amount granted to the property: USD 10,000 from the Italian Funds-in-Trust.
Total amount provided to the six Syrian World Heritage properties: 200,000 Euros by the Italian Government for movable and intangible heritage: 2.46 million Euros by the European Union, USD 170,000 by the Flemish Government, 63,000 Euros by the Austrian Government, USD 200,000 by the German Government; for cultural heritage under conflict: USD 200,000 by the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage in Bahrain
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:
- Poor state of conservation
- Inappropriate restoration techniques
- Lack of a buffer zone
- Lack of a management plan
- Development projects threatening the significant historic fabric
Since March 2011:
- Damage due to the armed conflict
- Fire due to an electrical incident at al-Asrooniya and elsewhere in the property
Illustrative material see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/20/
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2019
On 8 January 2019, 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/, and includes updated information on progress and challenges in a number of conservation issues addressed by the Committee, as follows:
- The property is indirectly impacted by the conflict situation. Due to the scarcity and higher costs of traditional materials, the inhabitants are undertaking inadequate restoration works on their houses and in the suq area. The absence of a Master Plan is still one of the major constraints to the adequate preservation of the property;
- The Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) started the elaboration of a management plan in 2010, but works were halted by the conflict situation and the priority was given to the documentation of damages and risk management, particularly concerning fires. Nevertheless, the DGAM resumed works and has initiated several activities, including the creation of a databank of existing documentation (works include digital archiving, gathering scientific documents, 3d documentation, etc.), the preparation of communication and awareness raising material, fostering exchanges between stakeholders, and training a specialized team. Given the lack of funds, the implementation rate is slow;
- In addition, the DGAM is cooperating with the Directorates of Endowments (Aqwaf) and Education to document and preserve several historic buildings owned by the two Directorates. The DGAM is also resolving property issues, setting regulations for licensing of traditional craft centres, and is establishing a centre for the traditional production of building material, in cooperation with Damascus Governorate. It is also engaged in reinforcing academic studies in the field of restoration and management;
- The report highlights the lack of financial and technical resources needed to implement a digital tour guide designed to benefit of local communities and a ‘digital footprint’ project for understanding the state of conservation of the historic buildings before damage;
- Regarding the restoration of the “Ottoman Bank”, structural works were initiated according to the recommendations of the UNESCO experts, following the workshop that took place in 2016. However, the DGAM has highlighted difficulties in controlling the works, due to the lack of funds and conflicting interests among stakeholders;
- In 2019, focus was given to monitoring Al-Azem Palace where cracks have been observed, though thecauses remain yet to be identified.
Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM
See General Decision 43 COM 37 of this Document on the World Heritage properties of the Syrian Arab Republic.
No information has been provided in response to the requests by the Committee (Decision 42 COM 7A.32) to analyze the reasons behind fires previously reported within the property, and to implement necessary risk-prevention and mitigation measures outlined in the Emergency Response Plan of December 2013.
On the other hand, despite the difficult financial situation, some of the issues that were raised in former Committee decisions are being addressed. The establishment of a center for the traditional production of building materials, and the setting up of licensing regulations, are both to be welcomed as ways of addressing the use of non-traditional construction techniques and materials for restoration works, which were resulting in the gradual diminution of the authenticity of the property.
The DGAM has also initiated several activities for the elaboration of an Integrated Management Plan, including a database of documentation and archives. These activities remain crucial to inform restoration decisions, reduce conflicting interests and ensure coordination among stakeholders. The proposed digital tour guide for local communities and the ‘digital footprint’ project will also both greatly support efforts to raise awareness, if the necessary technical and financial resources can be found.
It is recommended that the Committee encourage the international community to support the implementation of these activities, and encourage the State Party to consider requesting International Assistance for the development of the Management Plan for the property.
Regarding the rehabilitation works at the “Ottoman Bank”, it is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to provide the revised detailed designs for the proposed project, and details of work already undertaken and to encourage it to continue implementing all the recommendations of the 2016 UNESCO Technical Assistance Workshop.
37. 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. It has inflicted damage on the inscribed properties as well as on the 12 sites inscribed on the Tentative List. Sites have been damaged by shelling, fires, extensive illegal excavations, military use, construction violations, in addition to intentional destructions and inappropriate use of archaeological sites by internally displaced populations. Some sites are still at risk, due to the conflict.
On 8 January 2019, the State Party submitted a state of conservation report, available at http://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/43COM/documents/#state_of_conservation_reports. This report represents an official statement of the Syrian authorities and collates available information from the branches of the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) up to 31 December 2018. In some areas, access to heritage sites is extremely limited. In particular, the site of the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria remains inaccessible, which does not allow a full understanding of the extent of damage at this property.
The State Party reported on actions carried out by the DGAM, despite the difficult working conditions. These comprise monitoring World Heritage properties and cultural heritage in general, assessing damages, undertaking emergency conservation and risk mitigation actions whenever possible, and preparing inventories of the built and movable heritage. The report also stressed the extreme financial difficulties faced by DGAM in its efforts for the preservation of cultural heritage and the restricted international funding to support these efforts.
Updated information on the conservation of sites inscribed on the Tentative List was also provided in the report, indicating the following:
- The site of the ‘Arwad Island’ is subject to tourism development pressures, with an extensive project planned on an area of 7 acres belonging to the Ministry of Tourism;
- At the site of the ‘Noreas of Hama’, the Directorate of Wheels and the DGAM carried out maintenance works on the wooden wheels and consolidation works on the stone structures, despite the lack of adequate material and skilled labor given that huge levers are needed for the works;
- In ‘Maaloula’, following the restoration works carried out by the Municipality and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on infrastructures, residential houses and on the Monastery of Mar Takla, 35% of the inhabitants have returned to the site;
- In ‘Ugrarit (Tell Shamra)’ the national archaeological mission has been clearing the site from vegetation growth and has carried out maintenance works on the site’s infrastructure;
- In ‘Tartus: the Crusaders Citadel-City’, the DGAM has carried out maintenance works;
- Access to ‘Apamea (Afamia)’ is still limited, however the DGAM has documented damages at the site, including thousands of illegal excavation holes, using drone technology;
- The site of ‘Ebla’ is still inaccessible. Local communities informed the DGAM that the Museum of Idlib, which hosted the “archives of Ebla”, has been extensively looted;
- The sites of ‘Mari (Tell Hariri) and Dura Europos’ are still inaccessible, and no new information is reported;
- No further damage is reported at the sites of ‘Qasr al-Hayr ach-Charqi, a desert Castle’ and ‘Raqqa-Rafiqa: the Abassid City’.
Activities undertaken by UNESCO
- Since the 42nd session of the Committee (Manama, 2018), 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 awareness of the international community on the destruction of cultural heritage in Syria, in the framework of the implementation of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2199 (February 2015) and Resolution 2347 (March 2017) recognizing for the first time the importance of heritage protection for peace and security;
- At the national level, UNESCO has pursued its activities to monitor the situation of Syrian cultural heritage, raise awareness on its protection, undertake 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 project “Emergency Safeguarding of Syrian Cultural Heritage” (2.46 million euros), co-financed by Flanders and Austria, and implemented in partnership with ICOMOS and ICCROM (March 2014 – December 2018), the following activities were undertaken:
- A 52-minute documentary entitled “Stonekeepers”, in Arabic, English and French, was produced and will soon be distributed,
- In July 2018 in Brussels, an awareness-raising event was organized to launch a publication on Syrian Traditional Music,
- From 22 to 27 June 2018 at the Matenadaran in Yerevan (Armenia), a training on the conservation and restoration of Syrian manuscripts and archival documents was organized;
- The UNESCO-UNITAR joint publication “Five years of Conflict: the State of Cultural Heritage in the Ancient City of Aleppo” was launched in November 2018 and is available at https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000265826?locale=fr. It is being translated into Arabic and French. Another publication on the state of World Heritage properties in Syria and at sites inscribed on the Syrian Tentative List is under preparation;
- Two international assistance requests have been approved, one for the Ancient City of Bosra (21 December 2018 under the emergency World Heritage Fund) and one for the Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Dine (6 February 2019);
- An Italian Funds-in-Trust project entitled “Reinforcing Cultural Heritage Protection in Syria, and in the Ancient City of Bosra in particular as a follow up to the World Heritage Committee Decisions” (200 000 euros) has been endorsed by the Syrian Authorities. The project will allow the provision of further technical support to World Heritage properties.
Activities undertaken by the Advisory Bodies
Members of the ICOMOS Working Group on the Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage in Syria and Iraq took part in a colloquium on the destruction of Syrian archaeological heritage in Paris and were invited by the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums to participate in a workshop entitled "Developing the National Strategy for the restoration of the old city of Aleppo". Through its Project Anqa, which was run in cooperation with Cyark, and funded by the Arcadia Foundation, and which concluded in 2019, ICOMOS contributed to the 3D recording of seven at-risk heritage sites in Damascus and to the capacity building of Syrian professionals
Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM
The situation of armed conflict in Syria has affected the six World Heritage properties and has substantially limited capacities to adequately sustain and protect their Outstanding Universal Value. The properties have been increasingly threatened by ascertained and potential dangers, in particular the Ancient City of Aleppo, which has been extensively and increasingly destroyed, and which runs the risk of further irreversible destruction during the challenging recovery phase.
Illegal excavations across archaeological sites and tells in Syria are causing extensive and irreversible damage to those sites, many of which are on Syria’s Tentative List. They are also a major source for the illicit trafficking of cultural property, providing looted artifacts to be sold in regional and international black markets.
It is recommended that the Committee commend the DGAM, heritage professionals in Syria and local communities who have made sustained efforts to protect cultural heritage, to monitor it closely and to implement first aid measures for its safeguarding, despite the very difficult situation.
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 state of Conservation statements for the removal of the properties from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR), for all six properties, as soon as the situation allows.
It is important that humanitarian and security related actions be carried out in coordination with cultural heritage stakeholders, to avoid further irreversible damages to the properties, and allow for undertaking first aid measures for its cultural heritage. Furthermore, it is recommended that systematic documentation of all damage incurred at World Heritage properties be duly pursued, whenever the situation allows, and that the Committee reiterate its call to the State Party to safeguard damaged properties through minimal first aid interventions to prevent theft, further collapse and natural degradation, and to 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 the future of the World Heritage properties according to international conservation charters and standards, in full consultation with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies.
It is recommended that the Committee also call for international and national heritage professionals to continue to unite for the safeguarding of Syria’s cultural heritage; and to further support its safeguarding through earmarked funds and contributions to the UNESCO Heritage Emergency Fund.
Until conditions improve, it is recommended that the Committee urge all parties associated with the conflict in Syria to refrain from any action that could further damage the heritage of the country, in particular all World Heritage properties and sites included on the Tentative List, and to fulfil their obligations under international law, especially the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2347 of March 2017, in part by taking all possible measures to protect such heritage and preventing any damage that may result from targeting World Heritage properties.
It is also recommended that the Committee reiterate its suggestion that the State Party consider ratifying the Second Protocol (1999) of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.
It is further recommended that the Committee also call upon all parties associated with the conflict in Syria and the international community, in particular the neighboring 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: 43 COM 7A.33
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Document WHC/19/43.COM/7A.Add,
- Recalling Decisions 42 COM 7A.32 and 42 COM 7A.36, adopted at its 42nd session (Manama, 2018),
- Taking into account Decision 43 COM 7A.37, on the World Heritage properties of the Syrian Arab Republic,
- Welcomes the establishment of a center for the traditional production of building materials and the setting up of licensing regulations as ways to encourage the use of traditional construction techniques and materials for restoration works and address cumulative threats to authenticity of the property; and also welcomes the proposed development of a digital tour guide for local communities and a ‘digital footprint’ project to raise awareness of the history of the property, if the necessary technical and financial resources can be found;
- Encourages the State Party to continue its efforts in implementing the Committee’s decisions, despite a difficult technical and financial situation, particularly in addressing the need to gather historical archives and documentation, and in the efforts to use traditional materials and techniques in restoration works;
- Also encourages the State Party to continue implementing the recommendations of the 2016 UNESCO First Aid Support Meeting and the 2016 UNESCO Technical Assistance Workshop, to pursue its efforts towards the development of a Management Plan for the property and consider applying for an International Assistance request to this end;
- Reiterates its request to the State Party:
- To analyze the reasons behind the previously reported fires, to continue implementing all necessary risk-prevention and mitigation actions outlined in the Emergency Response Plan of December 2013, and to report back to the World Heritage Centre on the progress made thereon,
- To submit to the World Heritage Centre, for review by ICOMOS, in conformity with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, information on any proposed reconstruction and restoration projects within the property, and on all damaged structures, including the revised detailed designs and work so far undertaken for the restoration of the “Ottoman Bank”;
- Calls on all UNESCO Member States to support emergency safeguarding and recovery measures, including through the UNESCO Heritage Emergency Fund;
- Also reiterates its request that the invited joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Reactive Monitoring mission be carried out as soon as the security situation allows, in order to proceed with a comprehensive assessment of the state of conservation of the property and identify measures needed to reverse the decay, ensuring the conservation and protection of the property;
- Requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2020, 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 44th session in 2020;
- Decides to retain Ancient City of Damascus (Syrian Arab Republic) on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Decision Adopted: 43 COM 7A.37
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Document WHC/19/43.COM/7A.Add.2,
- Recalling Decision 42 COM 7A.36, adopted at its 42nd session (Manama, 2018),
- Deplores the conflict situation prevailing in the country, the loss of human life and the degradation of humanitarian conditions;
- Taking note of the report provided by the State Party regarding the state of conservation of the six Syrian World Heritage properties and the sites inscribed on the Syrian Tentative List, 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, but expresses its utmost concern about the damages incurred and the threats facing these properties and cultural heritage in general;
- Urges again all parties associated with the situation in Syria to refrain from any action that would cause further damage to the country’s cultural heritage, and to fulfil their obligations under international law, in particular the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2347 of March 2017, by taking all possible measures to protect such heritage, including preventing any damage that may results from targeting World Heritage properties, sites included in the Tentative List and other cultural heritage sites;
- Also urges the State Party and the international community to include recovery actions of cultural heritage properties within the overall humanitarian, security and peace building response;
- Further urges the State Party to safeguard damaged properties through minimal first aid interventions to prevent theft, further collapse and natural degradation, and to refrain from undertaking conservation and restoration work until the situation allows for the development of comprehensive conservation strategies and actions that respond to international standards, in full consultation with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies;
- Reiterates its appeal to all Member States of UNESCO to cooperate in fighting against the illicit trafficking of cultural property coming from Syria as per the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2199 of February 2015, and, in engaging in the protection of cultural heritage during armed conflict as per the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2347 of March 2017, and reiterates its suggestion to the State Party to consider ratifying the Second Protocol (1999) of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict;
- Requests the State Party to pursue the systematic documentation of all damage incurred at World Heritage properties, whenever conditions allow, to implement all possible risk mitigation measures, and to inform on the development of 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;
- Reminds the State Party about the need to submit to the World Heritage Centre, for examination by the Advisory Bodies, information on any future plans for major restoration or new construction projects, including infrastructure development projects, that may affect the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of World Heritage properties, in conformity with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, before making any decisions that would be difficult to reverse;
- Reiterates its call upon the international community to further support the safeguarding of Syrian cultural heritage through earmarked funds or through contributions to the UNESCO Heritage Emergency Fund;
- Also reiterates its call upon the international and national cultural heritage professionals to unite for the safeguarding of Syria’s cultural heritage, and to pursue their ongoing initiatives in coordination with UNESCO;
- Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2020, an updated report on the state of conservation of the properties and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 44th session in 2020.
Decision Adopted: 43 COM 8C.2
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined the state of conservation reports of properties inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger (WHC/19/43.COM/7A, WHC/19/43.COM/7A.Add, WHC/19/43.COM/7A.Add.2, WHC/19/43.COM/7A.Add.3 and WHC/19/43.COM/7A.Add.3.Corr),
- Decides to retain the following properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger:
- Afghanistan, Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley (Decision 43 COM 7A.41)
- Afghanistan, Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam (Decision43 COM 7A.42)
- Austria, Historic Centre of Vienna (Decision 43 COM 7A.45)
- Bolivia (Plurinational State of), City of Potosí (Decision 43 COM 7A.48)
- Central African Republic, Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park (Decision 43 COM 7A.5)
- Côte d'Ivoire / Guinea, Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve (Decision 43 COM 7A.6)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, Garamba National Park (Decision 43 COM 7A.7)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kahuzi-Biega National Park (Decision 43 COM 7A.8)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, Okapi Wildlife Reserve (Decision 43 COM 7A.9)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, Salonga National Park (Decision 43 COM 7A.10)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, Virunga National Park (Decision 43 COM 7A.11)
- Egypt, Abu Mena (Decision 43 COM 7A.17)
- Honduras, Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve (Decision 43 COM 7A.4)
- Indonesia, Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (Decision 43 COM 7A.1)
- Iraq, Ashur (Qal'at Sherqat) (Decision 43 COM 7A.18)
- Iraq, Hatra (Decision 43 COM 7A.19)
- Iraq, Samarra Archaeological City (Decision 43 COM 7A.20)
- Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls (site proposed by Jordan) (Decision 43 COM 7A.22)
- Kenya, Lake Turkana National Parks (Decision 43 COM 7A.12)
- Libya, Archaeological Site of Cyrene (Decision 43 COM 7A.23)
- Libya, Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna (Decision 43 COM 7A.24)
- Libya, Archaeological Site of Sabratha (Decision 43 COM 7A.25)
- Libya, Old Town of Ghadamès (Decision 43 COM 7A.26)
- Libya, Rock-Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus (Decision 43 COM 7A.27)
- Madagascar, Rainforests of the Atsinanana (Decision 43 COM 7A.13)
- Mali, Old Towns of Djenné (Decision 43 COM 7A.53)
- Mali, Timbuktu (Decision 43 COM 7A.54)
- Mali, Tomb of Askia (Decision 43 COM 7A.55)
- Micronesia (Federated States of), Nan Madol: Ceremonial Centre of Eastern Micronesia (Decision 43 COM 7A.43)
- Niger, Aïr and Ténéré Natural Reserves (Decision 43 COM 7A.14)
- Palestine, Palestine: Land of Olives and Vines – Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir (Decision 43 COM 7A.30)
- Palestine, Hebron/Al-Khalil Old Town (Decision 43 COM 7A.29)
- Panama, Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo (Decision 43 COM 7A.50)
- Peru, Chan Chan Archaelogical Zone (Decision 43 COM 7A.51)
- Senegal, Niokolo-Koba National Park (Decision 43 COM 7A.15)
- Serbia, Medieval Monuments in Kosovo (Decision 43 COM 7A.46)
- Solomon Islands, East Rennell (Decision 43 COM 7A.2)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient City of Aleppo (Decision 43 COM 7A.31)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient City of Bosra (Decision 43 COM 7A.32)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient City of Damascus (Decision 43 COM 7A.33)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient Villages of Northern Syria (Decision 43 COM 7A.34)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din (Decision 43 COM 7A.35)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Site of Palmyra (Decision 43 COM 7A.36)
- Uganda, Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi (Decision 43 COM 7A.56)
- United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City (Decision 43 COM 7A.47)
- United Republic of Tanzania, Selous Game Reserve (Decision 43 COM 7A.16)
- United States of America, Everglades National Park (Decision 43 COM 7A.3)
- Uzbekistan, Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz (Decision 43 COM 7A.44)
- Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Coro and its Port (Decision 43 COM 7A.52)
- Yemen, Historic Town of Zabid (Decision 43 COM 7A.38)
- Yemen, Old City of Sana’a (Decision 43 COM 7A.39)
- Yemen, Old Walled City of Shibam (Decision 43 COM 7A.40)