“ICOMOS Guidance on Post Trauma Recovery and Reconstruction for World Heritage Cultural Properties”

Document published on ICOMOS website on 03/23/2017

This document was prepared in response to the request for guidance on reconstruction expressed in the World Heritage Committee decision (Decision 40 COM7) at its 39th session in Bonn, Germany. It was largely developed through the deliberations of an international workshop on reconstruction convened at ICOMOS Headquarters in Paris in September 2016 and sponsored by Kyushu University, Japan.

The workshop was attended by a geographically and professionally diverse group of twenty participants. The feedback and comments from numerous ICOMOS National Committees and from UNESCO, some of whom participated in the workshop, were integrated into the document.

It should be regarded as the 2017 version of a working document that will be tested, revised and refined through experience and reflection.


The background for issuing this document is set by the scale, persistence and nature of destructive events of
recent times. These dramatic losses, the results of natural processes and human action, have renewed
awareness of the vulnerability of our cultural inheritance – heritage which includes places whose attributes
are of ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ (OUV) – and awareness of the commitment of the overall international
community to the common purpose of preserving and transmitting it to future generations. The magnitude of
natural disasters such as those that have affected Nepal, Cuba or Italy, and the destruction, whether
intentional or not, caused by armed conflicts on sites in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, the former Yugoslavia and Mali
among many others, create unprecedented challenges for recovery and possible restoration.
Conservation actions address partial destruction of properties and the fact that the events may affect areas
that extend far beyond the properties protected through their World Heritage designations. The imperatives
of transmission persist in each circumstance and have brought sharply into focus the variety of issues of
reconstruction in damaged World Heritage properties in particular, most challengingly where these include
areas or values that support living communities. In this context, the status of reconstruction of heritage within
the broader framework of post-disaster recovery is established through reference to the accumulated
experience of action and reflection.

Cultural heritage reconstruction

Within the discourse on heritage protection, reconstruction has long been considered in the context of
restoration. At the heart of debate and practice has been the concern to prevent loss while avoiding damage
and deceit. One can observe that statements of principles for conservation action have developed from
reflection on experience and predictive modelling of societal needs. The authors of the Venice Charter of
1964 saw the urgent need for a fresh appraisal of the principles and approaches set out in Athens in 1931
(Athens Charter for the Restoration of Historic Monuments). This early Charter, concerned with the
destruction as well as the decay of monuments, could not have anticipated the scale of destruction and
reconstruction occasioned by WWII. Similarly, as recovery took hold, it became necessary to address the
impact of redevelopment on historic centres, to establish the essential elements of significance and the
ethical basis for intervention. The Charter on urban conservation was adopted as the Washington Charter of
1987 (Charter for the Conservation of Historic Towns and Urban Areas), which was followed by the Vienna
Memorandum of 2005 and most recently embodied in the Valetta Principles of 20111
The reflection is ongoing and the world community now faces an equivalent task: how to address the multidimensional challenges of today, taking into account the understanding of cultural inheritance across
civilisations which is embodied in the Nara Document of 1994 (Nara Document on Authenticity). It is now
apparent that recovery from destruction cannot be understood as a single undertaking or programme, but
involves processes and long-term commitments in which local populations, authorities and international
bodies exercise critical roles.

Further reflection and refinement continually introduce additional considerations. The involvement of
inhabitants in ensuring the continuing life of cultural heritage receives cursory acknowledgement in the
Athens Charter, is seen as important in the Venice Charter, and is strongly promoted in the Washington
Charter. Understanding the interpenetration of tangible and intangible aspects of cultural heritage, especially
in inhabited cultural environments, underlines the necessity for a new mind-set, one that perceives
reconstruction as a set of processes, with high priority placed on sustainable development and active
engagement of communities. Such considerations must underpin any framework for post trauma recovery
and reconstruction.

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