1.         Ancient Villages of Northern Syria (Syrian Arab Republic) (C 1348)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  2011

Criteria  (iii)(iv)(v)

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 as well as ascertained and potential threats consequent to the armed conflict in Syria started in March 2011

Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger

In progress

Corrective measures identified

In progress

Timeframe for the implementation of the corrective measures

In progress

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1348/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 2007-2007)
Total amount approved: USD 30,000
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1348/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount provided to the six Syrian World Heritage properties: 200,000 Euros by the Italian Government; for built, 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

Since the start of the conflict in March 2011, the security situation has not allowed any missions to be undertaken to this World Heritage property

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Before the conflict:

Since March 2011:

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1348/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2021

On 15 January 2020 and 7 January 2021, the State Party submitted state of conservation reports for the six Syrian World Heritage properties, which are available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1348/documents/, but which include very limited information about the property and its state of conservation, as follows:

No further information is provided in its reports.

The damage previously reported at the property, such as the use of stones from the archaeological sites as building material, new roads, illegal constructions and quarrying, illegal excavation, clearing of lands for agricultural purposes, and the use of the sites for military purposes, is confirmed by the UNITAR/UNOSAT comparison analysis of satellite images captured between 2017 and 2020. This analysis has been undertaken for the elaboration of the UNESCO-UNITAR joint publication “Ten Years of Conflict: The State of Cultural Heritage in Syria”. The satellite images show that reported threats have been realised and that damage has increased in most of the archaeological parks. In particular, the analysis highlights the complete destruction of the village of Batouta in Jebel Sem’an, likely to increase agricultural lands, and the destruction of the remaining part of the column of Saint Simeon in Qal’at Sem’an and the hermit tower in Sheikh Sulaiman. Several other archaeological buildings were destroyed in Jebel Barisha, in particular at the sites of Dar Qita, Deirouneh, Baqirha, and Kherbet al-Khatib; in Jebel Wastani, in particular in Kafr Aqareb; and in Jebel Zawiyeh, in particular at the sites of Shinshara and al-Bara where the major Church of al-Hosn was completely destroyed, and the site cleared for agriculture purposes.

Other sources present on the ground have also assessed damage in Jebel Zawiyeh and Jebel al-A’la, providing ground images of damages reported by UNITAR/UNOSAT. In addition, they have provided information about Jebel al-Al’a, and the impact of the conversion of the church of Qalb Lozeh into a school and the use of Qirqbizeh as a camp to accommodate displaced populations. In both cases, the efforts of the local community to protect and conserve the component of the property have been highlighted.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM

See General Decision 44 COM 24 of this Document on the World Heritage properties of the Syrian Arab Republic.

The state of conservation of the property, assessed through satellite images, as well as by local communities on the ground, is a matter of serious concern. In particular, the assessment highlights the destruction of the village of Battuta, and many other historic buildings in other sites. This has been mainly carried out for agricultural purposes and for the use of archaeological stones as building material. The continued illegal activities that are continuing to occur in most of the archaeological parks and the prevailing lack of access to the serial property that prevents the undertaking of any emergency conservation and protection measures, present ongoing threats to the attributes which contribute to the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property.

In view of the ongoing conflict in the area, it is recommended that the Committee express its deep concern about the situation at the property, and reiterate its call on all concerned parties to refrain from any action that could cause further damage to the property, including through its use for military or other purposes.

It is essential to conduct a full detailed on-site assessment of the damage and the overall state of conservation of the property in detail as soon as the security situation allows, and to identify measures needed for ensuring the conservation and protection of the property, and, in due course, for the elaboration of the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger and identification of an associated set of corrective measures.




24.       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 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 targeted destruction of cultural property by armed groups, and inappropriate use of archaeological sites by internally displaced populations. Some sites remain at risk as a result of the conflict.

On 15 January 2020 and 7 January 2021, the State Party submitted state of conservation reports, available at http://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/44COM/documents/#state_of_conservation_reports. These reports represent official statements by the Syrian authorities and collate available information from the various branches of the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) up to 31 December 2020. In some areas, access to heritage sites is extremely limited. In particular, the property of the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria remains inaccessible, preventing full understanding of the extent of damage to this site and reliance on third party documentation.

The State Party has reported on actions carried out by the DGAM, despite the difficult working conditions. These comprise monitoring World Heritage properties and cultural heritage in general, and assessing damage, including some very detailed reporting for the Ancient City of Bosra, the Ancient City of Aleppo, and the Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din. Emergency conservation and risk mitigation actions have occurred whenever possible as well as restoration and reconstruction activities, in particular at the properties of the Ancient City of Aleppo, and the Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din. At the site of the Ancient City of Damascus, which suffered to a lesser extent as a result of the conflict, the State Party has resumed regular conservation and management activities, in parallel to the emergency works undertaken at the ancient city wall. The State Party reports emphasise that the reasons for which the Ancient City of Damascus and the Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List in Danger no longer apply. The reports also stress the extreme financial difficulties that the DGAM is facing in its efforts to ensure the preservation of cultural heritage, in addition to the limited international funding provided 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 report highlights requests by the DGAM for technical support for updating the Syrian Tentative List, initiating the process of nomination for the site of ‘Maaloula’, and carrying out assessment surveys at the sites of ‘Apamea (Afamia)’, ‘Mari (Tell Hariri) and Dura Europos’ and ‘Qasr al-Hayr ach-Charqi, a desert Castle’.

Activities undertaken by UNESCO

In the framework of the 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), a technical assistance workshop was initially organized in Beirut in October 2019, in order to assess ongoing emergency interventions undertaken by the DGAM at the Ancient City of Bosra, the Ancient City of Damascus and at the Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din. The meeting was also intended to provide advice on recovery interventions, and to initiate elaboration of the Desired State of Conservation for the Removal of the properties from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR). Owing to the prevailing security situation in Lebanon at the time, the workshop could not take place, so it was rescheduled for March 2020 in Amman (Jordan), but again could not take place because of the prevailing sanitary conditions restricting travel and meetings. The workshop will still take place as soon as health conditions allow. Nevertheless, initial work on DSOCRs for some of the Syrian World Heritage properties was initiated remotely, through exchanges between the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and the DGAM. Online meetings were organized on 19 November 2020, 15 February and 3 May 2021. The DSCOR for the Ancient City of Damascus was finalized in May 2021, and the process is regarded as a successful ‘pilot project’ for proceeding with the implementation of the DSOCR process in circumstances when a Reactive Monitoring mission is not possible.

Activities undertaken by the Advisory Bodies

ICOMOS has actively participated in the above ‘pilot project’ to devise the document for the DSOCR of the Ancient City of Damascus and related corrective measures. Although this process has facilitated the preparation of the DSOCR, it remains desirable that a Reactive Monitoring mission take place as soon as circumstances allow. ICOMOS has also participated in preliminary steps to follow a similar approach for Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din, and it is expected that preliminary work on the DSOCR for the Ancient City of Bosra and for the Site of Palmyra will be initiated subsequently.

ICOMOS made presentations on Syrian heritage in the context of several meetings, as follows: Conference on "Reconstruction and Recovery of Towns after war damage in the different parts of the world. Theory, methodology, practice", International Committee on Historic Cities, Towns and Villages (CIVVIH), September 2019 (Poland); “Bouncing back after the drama: heritage and resilience" Institut National du Patrimoine Blue Shield France, January 2020 (France); “Private actors/institutional actors, which mission, which methods?" Institut National du Patrimoine – École du Louvre, February 2021 (France); "A Hundred/Thousand Years: Genealogies and Perspectives of the National Museum of Damascus", Institut national d'histoire de l'art, April 2021 (France).

ICOMOS members also contributed to the publication “After Hour Zero – learning from post-war experiences for Syria? Preservation of historical monuments, archaeology and urban planning as an international task)", German Archaeology Institute (DAI), November 2019 (Germany).

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 sustain and protect their Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). The properties have been increasingly threatened by ascertained and potential dangers.

Illegal excavations across archaeological sites and tels in Syria are causing extensive and irreversible damage to those sites, a number 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 in monitoring and protecting cultural heritage, and implementing 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 DSOCRs, and have been successfully pursuing more flexible approaches and online engagement that have demonstrated that the preparation of DSOCRs can be progressed, despite the current circumstances and inability to schedule Reactive monitoring missions at this time.

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 pursued, whenever the situation allows, and that the Committee reiterate its call to the State Party to continue 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.

It is recommended that the Committee further encourage the State Party to plan for 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, also taking into consideration the 2018 Warsaw Recommendation on Recovery and Reconstruction. It is also appropriate to remind the State Party of its obligation to transmit to the World Heritage Centre, for examination by the Advisory Bodies, detailed information on future projects, before making any decisions that would be difficult to reverse, in conformity with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines.

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 repeat its previous call for 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, and support recovery plans that are based on community participation, sustainability and inclusion.

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 countries neighboring 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: 44 COM 7A.21

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/21/44.COM/7A,
  2. Recalling Decisions 43 COM 7A.34 and 43 COM 7A.37, adopted at its 43rd session (Baku, 2019),
  3. Taking into account Decision 44 COM 7A.24, on the World Heritage properties of the Syrian Arab Republic,
  4. Expresses its great concern about the situation at the property, in particular the presence of armed groups, illegal excavation and looting activities in and around the property, and the lack of detailed information on damage incurred;
  5. Calls again on all parties involved in the conflict to refrain from any action that could cause further damage to the property, including through its use for military or other purposes;
  6. Also calls again on all States Parties to support emergency safeguarding and recovery measures, including through the UNESCO Heritage Emergency Fund;
  7. Reiterates the need for the invited joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Reactive Monitoring mission to 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;
  8. Requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2022, 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 45th session;
  9. Decides to retain the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria (Syrian Arab Republic) on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Decision Adopted: 44 COM 7A.24

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/21/44.COM/7A.Add,
  2. Recalling Decision 43 COM 7A.37, adopted at its 43rd session (Baku, 2019),
  3. Deplores the continued conflict situation prevailing in some parts of the country, the loss of human life and the degradation of humanitarian conditions;
  4. Taking note of the reports provided by the State Party regarding the state of conservation of the six Syrian World Heritage properties and the sites included on the national 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 damage incurred and the threats facing these properties and cultural heritage in general;
  5. 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 result from targeting World Heritage properties, sites included in the national Tentative List and other cultural heritage sites;
  6. 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, and support recovery plans that promote community participation, sustainability and inclusion;
  7. 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;
  8. Takes note with satisfaction of the works initiated by the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies for the elaboration of a set of corrective measures and the Desired state of conservation for the removal from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR) of some of the Syrian properties;
  9. Reiterates its appeal to all States Parties 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;
  10. 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;
  11. 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;
  12. 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;
  13. 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;
  14. Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2022, 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 45th session.

Decision Adopted: 44 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/21/44.COM/7A, WHC/21/44.COM/7A.Add, WHC/21/44.COM/7A.Add.2, WHC/21/44.COM/7A.Add.2.Add),
  2. Decides to retain the following properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger: