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Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications

Sri Lanka
Factors affecting the property in 2024*
  • Commercial development
  • Illegal activities
  • Management systems/ management plan
  • Marine transport infrastructure
Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
  • Commercial development
  • Illegal activities
  • Management systems/ management plan
  • Marine transport infrastructure
UNESCO Extra-Budgetary Funds until 2024


International Assistance: requests for the property until 2024
Requests approved: 1 (from 1997-1997)
Total amount approved : 3,334 USD
Missions to the property until 2024**

December 1994: ICOMOS Mission to Sri Lanka; December 1998: ICOMOS Monitoring Mission to Dambulla, Kandy and Galle, Sri Lanka; March 2001: Reactive Monitoring Mission to the Ancient City of Sigiriya; 2002: World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS mission; November 2007: UNESCO expert Advisory mission; April/May 2008: UNESCO New Delhi Office Advisory mission; February 2010: World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission; July 2016: ICOMOS Advisory mission

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2024

On 31 January 2024, the State Party submitted a state of conservation report, which is available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/451/documents/. Progress in a number of areas is presented, as follows:

  • To date, approximately 75% of the Integrated Management Plan (IMP) and 50% of the Sustainable Tourism Management Plan (STMP) have been implemented. Most recently, this has included:
    • Preparation of an inventory of heritage buildings, which will also be used as a planning tool,
    • The Netherlands Alumni Association of Lanka developed a photogrammetric model of the property as a tool to support management decision-making,
    • Draft amendments to the Act of the Galle Heritage Foundation (GHF), which will grant them greater management powers, are being finalized before submission to Parliament for approval,
    • Amendments to the regulations for planning and development in the property will soon be adopted by the Urban Development Authority,
    • Of the five state-owned properties identified as pilot projects for adaptive re-use, two are now conserved and in use, with a third project under way,
    • A Heritage Award Scheme is being used to encourage residents to remain in the historic houses,
    • GHF was rebranded and its social media relaunched,
    • A first Heritage Week celebrated 35 years of World Heritage status with a programme of public events,
    • Five trainees were recruited and provided with interpretation training,
    • A Tourist Police Unit was established for visitor safety and informal vendors were provided with identity cards and a code of conduct;
  • A Rapid Conservation Survey was completed for the historic buildings, based on the newly adopted retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value (RSOUV). The identified conservation priorities will be used in a Conservation Master Plan;
  • Planning applications to buildings within the property are reviewed by the Galle Heritage Planning Committee before approval is granted to ensure that there are no negative impacts on the OUV;
  • The port development plan has been revised; consequently, an Archaeological Impact Assessment (as per national legislation) and a Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) addressing the OUV have been requested;
  • The GHF reports to have adequate human resources for management of the property, with 28 staff directly employed by GHF and others provided by partner institutions. The GHF covers its staffing costs through ticket income and space rentals but has no budget for capital expenditure.
Analysis and Conclusion by World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies in 2024

Progress has been made on the Committee’s requests, in particular the newly adopted RSOUV (Decision 45 COM 8E) being used to inform a variety of activities, including planning consent and conservation work, so that all activities are based on a shared understanding of the property’s OUV.

The State Party has continued to implement as much of the IMP and STMP as possible and have achieved much, despite the country’s ongoing economic crisis. Given the circumstances, instead of attempting to complete these plans, the State Party proposes updating and combining them into a single management plan, to be prepared in 2024. Given that the IMP and STMP were prepared in 2015 and 2016 respectively, a new planning cycle to merge the two plans, and in line with the implementation of the UNESCO 2011 Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL Recommendation), seems appropriate. This could respond to the newly adopted RSOUV, the improved state of conservation and presentation of the property, and the rapid conservation survey to identify clear management objectives. The new tools available to support management and greater clarity about the GHF’s role and resources will allow for a better implementable list of actions to be included in the management plan. The Department of Conservation is also preparing a complementary conservation plan based on the identified conservation priorities.

Additional information provided on recent development and conservation projects within the property and the approval process mostly relates to permissions for repairs, restoration and adaptive re-use of historic buildings within the property, which the relevant authorities review on the basis of their potential impacts on its OUV. Recent restoration activities, which include landscaping to the fort and conservation of state-owned buildings, are welcome. The project documentation provided shows that fair conservation approaches are applied, but that these could be further improved.

The Sri Lanka Ports Authority has revived the project for the expansion of the existing modern port at Galle, which is located on the opposite, east side of the bay outside of the buffer zone. The drawing sheets provided as an Annex do not show many significant changes to the project that was last examined by the Committee (Decision 42 COM 7B.17): the location and dimensions of the breakwaters, wharf, approach channels and turning circle remain the same as the 2013 project, while the HIA recommended considering moving the proposed infrastructure away from the centre of the bay and closer to the existing port, in order to avoid any potential negative impacts on OUV. Instead, the two changes identified in the limited documentation provided are the removal of a breakwater at the existing port and the reclamation of a 40 ha area of land to the south of the port.

In particular, the latter would need an evaluation to understand its potential impact on Galle Bay as a whole and on the neighbouring Rumassala Marine Sanctuary and its corals. It is reassuring that the request for impact assessments has already been made. The Committee may wish to request that no action be undertaken until the Advisory Bodies have been able to positively review these plans, informed by completed impact assessments.

Information is provided on GHF’s resources and needs, with a conclusion that staffing is adequate for the management of the property. However, capital for conservation activities remains a challenge, and the GHF continues to rely on external loans and grants. The State Party acknowledges an ongoing need for capacity building, and the Advisory Bodies remain at their disposal to provide support.

Decisions adopted by the Committee in 2024
Draft Decision: 46 COM 7B.41

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/24/46.COM/7B,
  2. Recalling Decisions 45 COM 7B.172 and 45 COM 8E, adopted at its extended 45th session (Riyadh, 2023),
  3. Welcomes the State Party’s ongoing efforts for the protection, conservation and presentation of the property and its use of the recently adopted retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) to inform planning, management and conservation activities;
  4. Encourages the State Party to continue developing its restoration and re-use approaches and methods to maximise the retention of historically authentic building fabric in the property;
  5. Notes the continued implementation of the Integrated Management Plan (IMP) and the Sustainable Tourism Management Plan (STMP), welcomes the State Party’s plans to revise and combine these into a single updated management plan and to prepare a conservation master plan, that is recommended to be in line with the implementation of the UNESCO 2011 Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL Recommendation); and requests that, once ready, these documents be provided to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies;
  6. Notes that the Galle Heritage Foundation (GHF) has suitable staffing but lacks sufficient financial resources to undertake conservation activities and requests the State Party to investigate mechanisms, such as a tourism levy, to ensure that the GHF has sustainable financial resources to undertake conservation activities;
  7. Requests that the Heritage Impact Assessment for the revised port development project be carried out in conformity with the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessment in a World Heritage Context, focusing on the property’s OUV, and also requests the State Party to submit information, including plans, timelines and completed impact assessment reports for the revised port project to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies before any decisions on the implementation of the port project are made;
  8. Finally requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 December 2025, 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 48th session.
Report year: 2024
Sri Lanka
Date of Inscription: 1988
Category: Cultural
Criteria: (iv)
Documents examined by the Committee
SOC Report by the State Party
Report (2024) .pdf
arrow_circle_right 46COM (2024)

* : 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.