1.         Historic Town of Zabid (Yemen) (C 611)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1993

Criteria  (ii)(iv)(vi)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger    2000-present

Threats for which the property was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger

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

The present situation does not allow the formulation of benchmarks for this property.

Corrective measures identified

a) Stopping the illegal constructions and clamping down on major building violations, mostly in public spaces, to re-design the original urban pattern;

b) Carrying out the inventory of the buildings of the historic town;

c) Completing the urban conservation plan, and the socio-economic revitalisation action plan;

d) Ensuring the adoption and implementation of the urban regulations for the historic core.

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/611/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1994-2004)
Total amount approved: USD 159,167
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/611/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount provided to the property: USD 7,200 from the Italian Funds-in-Trust.

Previous monitoring missions

2002 and 2003: international expertise; December 2004: World Heritage Centre; January 2007: Joint ICOMOS/World Heritage Centre mission.

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Serious deterioration of the city’s heritage. In particular, around 40% of the city's houses were replaced by concrete buildings, and many other houses and the ancient souq are in a deteriorating state. Large sections of the city’s open spaces have been privatized, either illegally or informally and more than 30% of these built-up.

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/611/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2007

A report was received from the State Party in February 2007. This reported that in December 2006, in response to high level concerns, a special governmental meeting had been convened and a cabinet decree issued requiring various ministries and the General Organization for the Preservation of Historic Cities in Yemen (GOPHCY) to initiate a programme of work. In February 2007 the Social Development Fund awarded USD 85,000 for a pilot project for subsidies to support rehabilitation and restoration. Furthermore GTZ, the German Development Agency, is currently establishing an urban development project in Zabid. The overall foreseen budget for the Zabid Urban Development project for the next three years is of about USD 2 million. This will include funds for the Conservation plan and for a housing restoration subsidies scheme, similar to what has been done in Shibam.

An ICOMOS/World Heritage Centre mission took place in January 2007. The mission confirmed that the city is in decline, with little conservation framework in place, with more than 50% of the buildings within the city walls now built of concrete. Furthermore, the lack of active maintenance and the poor quality and uncontrolled nature of modern construction mean that there is little confidence that the situation can be reversed.

The mission reported that no progress has been made with improving the legal and administrative framework as Zabid does not seem to be high on the Government’s Agenda. The well motivated local GOPHCY office is under resourced and lacks appropriate authority and does not appear to be well supported by local and regional Councils. The Preliminary Urban Conservation Plan produced rapidly as a scoping document in 2002 has not been completed or integrated into the Urban Development Plan nor has this latter been transmitted to the local authorities. No conservation work was carried out by GOPHCY in 2006/2007.

On the positive side, a few rich owners look after their highly decorated stucco houses well and some litter has been cleared from the souq. The Social Development Fund has recently sponsored restoration projects on the main gates of the city and the Al-Ashaer Mosque.

Zabid is no longer seen as an economic centre and as a result there are inadequate services. Rubbish is not properly cleared and there is no overall mechanism for the provision of services to houses. All this combined with unrestrained and uncontrolled new building presents an unattractive picture for tourists – for whom there are no reasonable provisions. However a new paving programme is being developed and will be carried out in conjunction with storm water drainage with funds allocated by the Social Development Fund. A pilot project will start in mid 2007.

A quick engineering survey by the mission concluded that the traditional houses were well constructed and could be adapted for modern living but traditional skills are lacking and the absence of maintenance and services is beginning to impact on the integrity of the Urban fabric.

The skyscape of the town is now dominated by a water tower and masts, as well as two and three storey concrete structures. At the initiative of the mission, a two week field survey was carried out to quantify the extent of remaining traditional buildings. The results of the survey show that surviving traditional buildings account for only 44% of the total, while 46% of buildings are either new insertions or new buildings on open ground. Thus possibly less than 50% of the urban fabric retains authenticity. Furthermore there is almost complete re-development around the periphery of the old city inside the walls and in the assumed buffer zone area. Within the centre of the city there are a few enclaves of traditional buildings but ruins are spreading and there is general degradation of open spaces.


The mission concluded that as a result of degradation, lack of conservation, no supportive devolvement, and widespread inappropriate new building, Zabid was losing the values for which it was inscribed on the World Heritage List. Furthermore, it concluded that unless the process was immediately stopped and reversed, Zabid should be considered for removal from the World Heritage List. The mission set out the scope and content of a programme of urgent actions to be carried out – in effect a rescue plan.

This Urgent Action Plan details what needs to be undertaken by whom and in which timescale. It covers legal protection, inter-governmental committees, local stakeholder involvement, costed schedules, capacity building, necessary resources and the provision of relevant conservation documents in Arabic. Medium and longer term objectives are also set out – in effect the contents of a Management/Conservation Plan.

While ICOMOS commends the content of the Urgent Action Plan, it is concerned that the cost of such a plan will be extremely high and currently there is no prospect of all the necessary funding being in place. Furthermore it is also concerned that the overall integrity of the city is under threat and that authenticity now only survives within individual buildings rather than in the pattern of the urban fabric. Zabid was a city that displayed a network of traditional buildings with one or two grander structures. Thus its outstanding universal value resided in the collection of urban structures rather than in the exceptional buildings.

Even if the funds could be found for the rescue plan, and it was implemented successfully, Zabid would probably still not display anymore the values for which it was inscribed. ICOMOS reluctantly comes to the conclusion that consideration should be given to the eventual removal of Zabid from the World Heritage List. However, the World Heritage Centre considers that it would be appropriate to assess the outcomes of the first year of the recommended Urgent Action Plan. 

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


Decision Adopted: 31 COM 7A.19

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC-07/31.COM/7A,
  2. Recalling Decision 30 COM 7A.21, adopted at its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006),
  3. Regrets that the main recommendations made by the World Heritage Committee at its 29th (Durban, 2005) and 30th (Vilnius, 2006) sessions - notably the completion of an urban conservation plan, and a socio-economic revitalization action plan - have not been implemented;
  4. Notes with great concern the continuing decline of the city, the lack of a conservation framework, the loss of possibly up to 50% of the traditional urban fabric within the city walls, the lack of active maintenance and the poor quality and uncontrolled nature of modern construction;
  5. Urges the State Party to consider how the Urgent Action Plan set out by the mission could be implemented and in particular how the activities foreseen for the first year can be completed:

    a) Adequate legal and institutional framework set up in one year:

    (i) Re-issuance of Cabinet Decree No.425 - 2006;
    (ii) Government provision to GOPHCY in Sana'a and Zabid of adequate budget to stabilise the degradation of the World Heritage property;
    (iii) Completion of heritage protection laws;
    (iv)Completion of the draft Conservation Plan, with translation into Arabic. Provision of short version for wide dissemination;

    b) Physical degradation stopped immediately and reversed within two years:

    (i) Stopping of poor new construction and further degradation of protected heritage assets,

    (ii) Approval of contractors and individual specialists for carrying out emergency conservation works,

    (iii)Appropriate house improvement design - bathrooms and kitchens, infrastructure and air conditioning,

    (iv)Good designs for new houses within Zabid,

    (v)Starting demolition of the concrete walls on the streets and other public spaces and replacing with brick walls,

    (vi) Planned, costed and programmed schedule of medium and long-term actions,.

    (vii)Prescription rules and regulations to be followed by inhabitants and owners,

    (viii)Adoption of Zabid Urban Development Plan,

  6. Requests the World Heritage Centre to contact the German Development Agency to explain the outstanding universal value of the property and encourage the protection of these values in the urban development plan;

  7. Calls upon the States Parties to the Convention, especially from the region, to consider extra-budgetary funding to implement urgent action to ensure retention of the outstanding universal value of the property;

  8. Requests the State Party, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS, to develop a draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value including the conditions of integrity and authenticity, for examination by the Committee at its 32nd session in 2008;

  9. Also requests the State Party, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS, to develop a draft statement of the desired state of conservation for the property based on its Outstanding Universal Value;

  10. Further requests the State Party to submit, by 1 February 2008, a progress report on the implementation of the above activities, for examination by the Committee at its 32nd session in 2008;

  11. Decides to retain the Historic Town of Zabid (Yemen) on the List of World Heritage in Danger for a further two-year period, subject to regular reporting on the part of the State Party as to the progress in the implementation of the activities listed in paragraph 5 above. The State Party reports shall be reviewed by the Committee on a yearly basis.  The Committee shall consider the possibility of eventual deletion of the property from the World Heritage List at its 33rd session in 2009. 

Decision Adopted: 31 COM 8C.2

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Following the examination of the state of conservation reports of properties inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger (WHC-07/31.COM/7A and WHC-07/31.COM/7A.Add, WHC-07/31.COM/7A.Add.2, WHC-07/31.COM/7A.Add.3),

2. Decides to maintain the following properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger: