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Historic Areas of Istanbul

Türkiye
Factors affecting the property in 2021*
  • Commercial development
  • Ground transport infrastructure
  • Management activities
  • Management systems/ management plan
  • Underground transport infrastructure
  • Other Threats:

    decay and loss of Ottoman/vernacular architecture

Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
  • Commercial development
  • Ground/underground transport infrastructure
  • Low impact research/monitoring activities
  • Management systems/management plan
  • Loss of integrity and authenticity: decay and loss of Ottoman/vernacular architecture
UNESCO Extra-Budgetary Funds until 2021

Total amount granted: USD 211,900 (Conservation of Hagia Sophia); USD 36,686.30 (Convention France-UNESCO); USD 155,000 (in the framework of the International Safeguarding Campaign for Istanbul and Göreme)

International Assistance: requests for the property until 2021
Requests approved: 16 (from 1986-2004)
Total amount approved : 452,208 USD
Missions to the property until 2021**

November 1997: ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission; October 1998: World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission; January 2000, May 2001, 2002, December 2003, 2004: World Heritage Centre missions; April 2006, May 2008, April 2009, November 2012: World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission; December 2016: World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission; April 2019: Joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Advisory mission; October 2020: UNESCO Advisory mission; January/February 2021: UNESCO Advisory mission.

2021 Report on the UNESCO Advisory mission to the Historic Areas of Istanbul (Turkey), 29 January-03 February 2021
2020 Report on the UNESCO Advisory mission to the Historic Areas of Istanbul (Turkey), 05-09 October 2020
2019 Report on the joint UNESCO World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Advisory mission to the World Heritage property of the ...
2016 Report on the joint UNESCO World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission to the World Heritage site of ...
2012 Report on the Joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS Reactif Monitoring Mission to the Historic Areas of Istanbul, ...
2009 Report on the Joint UNESCO/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring Mission to the Historic Areas of Istanbul, 27-30 April 2009
2008 Report on the Joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS Mission to the Historic Areas of Istanbul, 8-13 May 2008
2001 Report on mission to report on the impact of subway construction on the World Heritage values of the Historic Areas ...
2000 UNESCO Expert Mission Report, Historic Areas of Istanbul, 29 October – 5 November 2000
2000 Report on the Mission at Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (3rd visit), 26-28 January 2000
1999 Report on the Mission at Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (2nd visit), 7-9 June 1999
1999 WHC Mission Report, Historic Areas of Istanbul, April 1999
1999 Report on the Mission at Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (1st visit), 18-19 March 1999
1998 Report on the Joint UNESCO/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring Mission to Istanbul, October 1998
1998 Report of a Mission to Ephesus, Pamukkale and Hagia Sophia; 5-8 March 1998
1997 Report on the ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring Mission to Istanbul, November 1997
1993 Report on the UNESCO Mission to Istanbul to report on the present State of the Hagia Sophia Monument and make ...
1993 First UNESCO Mission Report, Historic Areas of Istanbul
1993 Second UNESCO Mission Report, Historic Areas of Istanbul
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2021

I


On 6 December 2019, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property, available at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/356/documents/, which outlines progress made in relation to the requests of the Committee, and current projects, as follows:

  • An urgent Action Plan was implemented for simple maintenance and repair of 10 privately owned Ottoman timber houses in Süleymaniye. A similar project is ongoing for 10 Ottoman timber houses located in Zeyrek and for civil architecture in Süleymaniye;
  • Reconstruction projects have been undertaken for 20th century civil architecture buildings;
  • Simple repairs were made to the facade of numerous buildings and there have been surveys of 654 civil architecture buildings within Fatih Municipality;
  • Information is provided on completed and ongoing large-scale restoration projects at: Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and Affiliated Units, Istanbul Archaeology Museum building, Basilica Cistern and Molla Gürani Mosque. Restoration works are in progress at several mosques, schools and burial sites;
  • A Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment report (CHIA) has been prepared for the Land Walls and the Fatih Municipality initiated a landscape design project to create a Land Walls National Garden;
  • A joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Advisory mission in 2019 assessed the conservation and restoration work at the Molla Zeyrek Mosque, the Chora Museum, the Bucoleon Palace, the Land Walls and the Hagia Sophia Madrasa and confirmed that all projects meet international standards. The Hagia Sophia Madrasa reconstruction was previously positively assessed through an ICOMOS Technical Review;
  • Capacity building and public awareness activities were organized, including, for example:
  • a CHIA workshop for 100 participants, including representatives of central and local government, cultural heritage professionals, NGOs, private sector and academics;
  • Conservation and restoration training programs for Traditional Timber Structures, stone-making and wooden techniques, study tours, seminars and workshops were provided to graduate students and experts in architectural restoration;
  • A ‘Booklet for the Management of Disaster Risks against Cultural Heritage’ was published, following an earlier workshop in Istanbul and Ankara;
  • A ‘Conservation and Restoration Training Program for Traditional Timber Structures’ aimed at high school graduates;
  • An Istanbul Cultural Heritage Council was created to revise conservation and management policies, set a visionary framework and expand participation;
  • A CHIA for the Kazliçeşme Marina Project was completed and will be submitted to the World Heritage Centre once translated;
  • An Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), Feasibility Report and CHIA are in progress for the Yenikapi Cruise Port project;
  • The ‘Cultural Heritage Inventory Project’ will create a digital database for Istanbul and will allow compilation, classification and transformation of the archives into a spatial databank, up-to-date, accessible and open for query.

 

II

From May 2020 onwards, the World Heritage Centre received various information emanating from media sources but also from States Parties raising concerns on a possible change by the State Party of Turkey of the museum status of Hagia Sophia, to turn the monument into an active religious building. On 9 and 18 June 2020, the World Heritage Centre sent letters to the State Party of Turkey, reminding it of the spirit of the Convention, as well as its Operational Guidelines, according to which States Parties are responsible for the sustainable use of a property, must provide prior notice to the World Heritage Centre in case of any substantial modification and must ensure that no change in use adversely affects the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property.

The change of status of Hagia Sophia and its conversion into a mosque were subsequently confirmed by a Turkish Court decision and a Presidential decree on 10 July 2020 that announced moreover transferring the management of the site to the Presidency of Religious Affairs. UNESCO issued a public statement on 10 July (see https://en.unesco.org/news/unesco-statement-hagia-sophia-istanbul), stating that UNESCO deeply regrets the decision of the Turkish authorities, made without any prior discussion and called for the universal value of World Heritage to be preserved. ICOMOS and the International Council on Museums (ICOM) issued a joint statement on 16 July 2020 (see https://www.icomos.org/en/178-english-categories/news/76133-icomos-and-icom-joint-statement-on-hagia-sophia-istanbul-turkey), noting among other concerns about accessibility, the importance of shared heritage and emphasising the multi-layered cultural richness of Hagia Sophia.

The State Party of Turkey responded to UNESCO on 20 July 2020 advising that a Cooperation Protocol was signed between the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (formerly in charge of Hagia Sophia) and the Directorate General of Religious Affairs aiming at “ensuring the preservation, development and sustainability of the historical, cultural, social, and spiritual values that are represented by (the) World Heritage Site and to duly address the aesthetic concern”; also stating that “no work or physical interventions which can harm the Outstanding Universal Value of Haghia Sophia, both tangible and non-tangible, can be carried out” and that “the World Heritage Centre will be informed beforehand of any restoration or infra-structure relating to the Grand Mosque”.

The Director General of UNESCO received a letter dated 24 July 2020 from the Minister of Culture and Tourism of Turkey informing UNESCO of “Turkey’s steps concerning the change of Hagia Sophia status into mosque”. The Minister’s letter underlined that “the conservation and protection of the Hagia Sophia as an architectural masterpiece is under the full responsibility of the State” which “is to fulfill (this) responsibility through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and Article 2 of the Organisational Law of the Ministry entrusts it with the duty to protect our cultural heritage”. It further stated that the “UNESCO World Heritage Centre will be informed before the major restoration works that may affect the Hagia Sophia and its setting within Sultanahmet Archaeological Park and a cultural heritage impact assessment report will be prepared”.  However, in the covering letter received from the Delegation of Turkey, it was advised that a number of changes had already been implemented, namely:

  • Visitors routes are determined. The property will be open for both worshippers and visitors;
  • Worship and visiting areas are separated;
  • Only during the prayer times, the apse mosaics on the mihrab in the worship area, the Imperial Gate Mosaic and the southwestern entrance mosaic (the vestibule mosaic) will be closed with a folding curtain system, the remaining mosaics and frescos will be kept as they are;
  • Felt is laid over the ground of the worship area and it is covered with a carpet;
  • The imperial coronation area within the main area (naos) is separated with esthetic barriers;
  • Works will be carried out in order to make the First Mahmut Fountain usable within the courtyard.

In late August 2020, the World Heritage Centre received information from media sources stating that the museum status of the Chora Museum, within the property, has been revoked by a Presidential decree to turn the monument into an active religious building. The World Heritage Centre sent to the State Party of Turkey a letter recalling its obligations as regards paragraphs 119 and 172 of the Operational Guidelines

In addition to the potential impact on the OUV of the property, linked to issues such as access and to physical interventions, the decision to change the status of these two components raised multiple questions, relating to the potential impact of this very change of status, on the OUV. Indeed, the justification for inscription of the property “Historic Areas of Istanbul”, underlined that it was built “at the crossroads of two continents” and one of the criteria under which the property was inscribed, criterion iii, refers to the “testimony to the Byzantine and Ottoman civilisations.” The immense symbolic importance, in particular of Hagia Sophia in this regard, is to be underlined. The absence of notification to the World Heritage Centre and to other stakeholders fails to fulfil the obligations of the State Party in relation with the World Heritage Convention and the Operational Guidelines. The consequences of the change of status are to be assessed in this context.

Further to the decisions of Turkey in July and August 2020 to turn Hagia Sophia and Chora into mosques, despite the fact that they were museums at the time of the inscription as integral components of the World Heritage property, the State Party of Turkey invited a UNESCO Advisory mission to the property (5 - 9 October 2020). The mission collected information relevant to the decision to change the status of the Hagia Sophia and Chora, and assessed any works done to both the interior and exterior of these components.

In reaction to numerous inaccurate statements and errors circulating in the press regarding the situation of Hagia Sophia and Chora, the UNESCO World Heritage Centre issued a public statement on 16 November 2020 (see https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/2197), recalling the July 2020 UNESCO statement and confirming that the results of the mission will be submitted to the World Heritage Committee at its next session.

Following the recommendations of the 2020 UNESCO Advisory mission, and on the invitation by the State Party of Turkey, a second UNESCO Advisory mission was carried out to the property (29 January – 3 February 2021) to complete the assessment conducted during the first mission. The mission looked in detail at the issues of access and physical interventions in Hagia Sophia and Chora, and their potential impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, authenticity and integrity, through site visits and working meetings with key stakeholders.

The findings of both missions are available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/356/documents/.

In late May 2021, the World Heritage Centre received third-party information regarding the addition of major light installations between the minarets of the Hagia Sophia. The World Heritage Centre shared this information with the State Party of Turkey in line with paragraph 174 of the Operational Guidelines.

Analysis and Conclusion by World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies in 2021

 I

The State Party has continued its efforts to streamline reporting on significant projects including through the 2019 joint Advisory mission. However, although project documentation has been submitted, this has typically occurred after decisions have been made to proceed and/or works have commenced, contrary to both the spirit and some specific requirements of the World Heritage Convention and the Operational Guidelines. In particular, prior notifications of major restorations or new constructions which may affect the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property have not been submitted in accordance with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines. For a number of projects, no CHIA has been prepared. The CHIA process has been included in the revised draft Management Plan for the property, and the State Party advises that it is constantly drawing the need for CHIA to the attention of relevant authorities. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism organized a CHIA workshop, in conjunction with the 2019 mission, aimed at increasing awareness and understanding of the process and encouraging better implementation of CHIA procedures.

The revised draft Management Plan for the property should be reviewed in order to protect the attributes that convey the OUV of the property. This is an overdue matter of high priority, as these attributes underpin the policies and actions of the Management Plan and understanding them will help inform assessment of the heritage impact of recent and proposed changes at the property. There is reported progress on this item since Decision 42 COM 7B.31 (Manama, 2018), with the State Party currently working on the completion of the Plan through a focus group meeting and committing to submit the complete draft Management Plan to the World Heritage Centre for review.

The maintenance and repair of Ottoman timber and stone houses, reconstruction projects for 20th century civil architecture buildings, surveys and the repairs to building facades are all welcome. However, the State Party has not advised on how the Ottoman houses project relates to the long-term strategy for timber buildings requested by the Committee in Decision 42 COM 7B.31.

Many proposed restoration and reconstruction projects are currently taking place or being planned. However, the Committee’s request that a strategic roadmap with a short- and long-term strategy covering all types of projects that may impact upon the OUV of the property has not been implemented. The Committee should reiterate its request that such a document be prepared in close cooperation with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies.

Large-scale projects such as the Kazliçeşme Marina and the Yenikapi Cruise Port, will undoubtedly have a major effect on the city’s cruise tourism. The report mentions that in both cases, CHIAs are in progress and will be submitted to the World Heritage Centre. In addition to the CHIAs, the State Party should also submit an EIA, which addresses the consequences of additional tourism, to the World Heritage Centre before any irreversible decisions are taken.

The creation of the Istanbul Cultural Heritage Council in November 2019, which will reinforce participative levels among the different stakeholders and determine a future-looking plan for the city is welcome. The creation of a Cultural Heritage Inventory Project aiming at creating a digital database for Istanbul is also welcome, as it will enhance monitoring of state of conservation of the property.

 

II

The change of status of Hagia Sophia and Chora museums to turn both heritage buildings into active religious sites has been decided and implemented without prior notice to the World Heritage Centre, despite explicit and repetitive requests made in reference to Paragraphs 172 and 174 of the Operational Guidelines in the past years as well as during the weeks before the Presidential decree of 10 July 2020.

Widely publicized in the press, the revocation of their museum status, originally granted respectively in 1934 and 1945, has raised major international protests and concerns, especially regarding public access to both components of the property. Having regard to the obligations that arise under Article 5 of the World Heritage Convention, and the OUV of the property, it is important that provision should be made for ongoing access to and presentation of the multi-layered cultural richness of Hagia Sophia and Chora museums.

The invitation by the State Party for the 2020 and 2021 UNESCO Advisory missions to the property is welcomed. The missions’ findings and recommendations on the issues of access and physical interventions to date can be summarized as follows:

Access to the Hagia Sophia remains open to all visitors. The antique marble paving inside the prayer hall of Hagia Sophia is covered with a green/turquoise wool carpet. The mission recommended to analyse the degree of humidity created by the carpet and to consider enrolling rugs of more appropriate colours at prayer times. During prayers, mosaic panels on the ground floor level are covered by canvasses operated through electrical systems which do not touch the surface of the mosaics. Through this system, the mosaics are made visible for visitors outside of prayer times.

There is no new construction of lavatories in the southern part of the Hagia Sophia, as they are being installed in a former office building. The renovation works of the Hagia Sophia Madrasa are in its final phase. For the fitting out of the lavatories and the conclusion of the Madrasa works, the mission recommended to have a landscaping and circulation plan drawn up between these two buildings and the entrance to the Hagia Sophia, and to establish an "Archaeological Garden" regrouping the archaeological pieces scattered in the southern area of Hagia Sophia. A "Master Plan" for the entire Hagia Sophia area would be beneficial for a long-term vision of this area.

The site of Saint Sauveur in Chora (Kerya) will undergo a two-year large-scale conservation and enhancement project during which it will not be open for visitors. Consequently, the implementation of the decision to convert it into a mosque has been delayed. The mission recommended to take advantage of these two years to organise an International Seminar on "the conservation of mosaics and frescoes". Inside the Chora, arrangements to intermittently cover three mosaic panels during prayer times have already been completed. The coverings are electronically controlled and made in colours that do not contrast with the aesthetic of the naos. The mission recommended the authorities to also consider drafting a “Master Plan” for the Chora area.

Considering the outstanding symbolic significance of Hagia Sophia in particular, the Committee may wish to call on the State Party to take the recommendations from the missions into account, to inform the UNESCO World Heritage Centre of any proposed plans for major restoration or new construction projects that may affect the OUV of the property, and to pursue international cooperation and dialogue before any further major changes are implemented at the property.

Decisions adopted by the Committee in 2021
44 COM 7B.58
Historic Areas of Istanbul (Turkey) (C 356)

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/21/44.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decision 42 COM 7B.31, adopted at its 42nd session (Manama, 2018),

    I
  3. Thanks the State Party for inviting a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Advisory mission in April 2019; commends the State Party for the conservation and restoration work accomplished to international standards at a number of built structures within the property; and requests the State Party to implement fully all of the 2019 Advisory mission recommendations;
  4. Welcomes the implementation of an urgent Action Plan to maintain and repair ottoman timber houses and reiterates its request to the State Party to provide information on how this relates to a long-term strategy for timber buildings within the property;
  5. Also reiterates its request to the State Party to define the attributes that convey the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property in the draft Management Plan as a matter of priority before it is completed; and also requests that the draft Management Plan is submitted to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies before being formally adopted;
  6. Noting the large number of proposed infrastructure and other projects at the property, further reiterates its request to the State Party to develop a progress report on these projects, together with a road-map including short and long-term strategies covering all types of project (development/renovation/renewal), which may have an impact on the OUV of the property, in close cooperation with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies, before any irreversible decisions are taken, and submit this road map to the World Heritage Centre by 1 December 2021;
  7. Further requests the State Party to undertake Heritage Impact Assessments, as well as Tourism and Environmental Impact Assessments for large-scale projects including the Kazliçeşme Marina and the Yenikapi Cruise Port that may have a negative impact on the OUV of the property; and submit such reports to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies before any irreversible decisions are taken;

II

  1. Welcomes the State Party’s invitation for two UNESCO Advisory missions in October 2020 and January/February 2021 to review the impacts of change of status of Hagia Sophia and Chora Museum on the OUV of the property;
  2. Requests furthermore the State Party to implement fully all of the missions recommendations;
  3. Deeply regrets the lack of dialogue and information from the State Party prior to the change of status of Hagia Sophia and Chora Museums, two components of the property, despite numerous requests addressed to the State Party to comply with paragraphs 172 and 174 of the Operational Guidelines;
  4. Expresses grave concern about the potential impact of changes at these key components may have on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property;
  5. Calls on the State Party of Turkey to engage in international cooperation and dialogue before any further major change are implemented at the property;
  6. Finally 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.
Draft Decision: 44 COM 7B.58

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/21/44.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decision 42 COM 7B.31, adopted at its 42nd session (Manama, 2018),

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3. Thanks the State Party for inviting a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Advisory mission in April 2019; commends the State Party for the conservation and restoration work accomplished to international standards at a number of built structures within the property; and requests the State Party to implement fully all of the 2019 Advisory mission recommendations
4. Welcomes the implementation of an urgent Action Plan to maintain and repair ottoman timber houses and reiterates its request to the State Party to provide information on how this relates to a long-term strategy for timber buildings within the property
5.  Also reiterates its request to the State Party to define the attributes that convey the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property in the draft Management Plan as a matter of priority before it is completed; and also requests that the draft Management Plan is submitted to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies before being formally adopted;
6. Noting the large number of proposed infrastructure and other projects at the property, further reiterates its request to the State Party to develop a progress report on these projects, together with a road-map including short and long-term strategies covering all types of project (development/renovation/renewal), which may have an impact on the OUV of the property, in close cooperation with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies, before any irreversible decisions are taken, and submit this road map to the World Heritage Centre by 1 December 2021;
7. Further requests the State Party to undertake Heritage Impact Assessments, as well as Tourism and Environmental Impact Assessments for large-scale projects including the Kazliçeşme Marina and the Yenikapi Cruise Port that may have a negative impact on the OUV of the property; and submit such reports to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies before any irreversible decisions are taken;

II

    8. Welcomes the State Party’s invitation for two UNESCO Advisory missions in October 2020 and January/February 2021 to review the impacts of change of status of Hagia Sophia and Chora Museum on the OUV of the property;
    9. Requests furthermore the State Party to implement fully all of the missions recommendations;
    10. Deeply regrets the lack of dialogue and information from the State Party prior to the change of status of Hagia Sophia and Chora Museums, two components of the property, despite numerous requests addressed to the State Party to comply with paragraphs 172 and 174 of the Operational Guidelines;
    11. Expresses grave concern about the potential impact of changes at these key components may have on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property;
    12. Calls on the State Party of Turkey to engage in international cooperation and dialogue before any further major change are implemented at the property;

     

    13. Finally requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 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 in 2022.
    Report year: 2021
    Türkiye
    Date of Inscription: 1985
    Category: Cultural
    Criteria: (i)(ii)(iii)(iv)
    Documents examined by the Committee
    SOC Report by the State Party
    Report (2019) .pdf
    Report (2019) .pdf
    Initialy proposed for examination in 2020
    arrow_circle_right 44COM (2021)
    Exports

    * : 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.


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