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Minaret of Iconic Umayyad Mosque has been Destroyed


Minaret Umayyad Mosque

As reported by several news agencies yesterday, one of Syria’s UNESCO world heritage sites was destroyed in fighting yesterday (April 24th, 2013).  The minaret of the famed 11th century Umayyad Mosque collapsed Wednesday amid fighting between government troops and Syrian rebels in the ancient city of Aleppo while each side accused the other side for this destruction.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, in an official statement said: “This is like blowing up the Taj Mahal or destroying the Acropolis in Athens.

The mosque which had earlier been damaged during fighting in the ancient city in October 2012 has an impressive history that dates back at least to Hellenistic times, and is believed that it served as a temple to the Aramaic god of rain. Later, it became a Roman temple, then a church. And early in the 8th century, a mosque – one of the most important sites in the Muslim world today.

Modern Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital has been badly affected by Syria’s civil war. As reported by National Public Radio and many other agencies, the city now suffers from shortages of water, flour and electricity and widespread destruction. Disease is rampant because of festering piles of garbage.  Syria is home to six sites on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list and most have been damaged as a result of continued fighting.

Symposium: The Legacy of Cyrus the Great and the Cyrus Cylinder


Cylider-EnglandOn April 26th and 27th, 2013, the Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art in Washington D.C., is holding a symposium focused on the legacy of Cyrus the great and the Cyrus Cylinder which is now on a exhibit tour in the U.S.

On Friday, April 26th the symposium starts with a talk by John Curtis, British Museum.  Mr. Curtis was the Keeper of the Department of the Middle East at the British Museum 1989–2011, and is currently Keeper of Special Middle East Projects. He is particularly interested in Iraq and Iran and has published widely on those subjects. His recent books include Forgotten Empire: the World of Ancient Persia (2005) and An Examination of Late Assyrian Metalwork (2013). He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a Corresponding Member of the Archaeological Institute of America.  Mr. Curtis will talk about the significance of the Cyrus Cylinder and also looking at the life of the Cylinder since 1971, and what it represents for different constituencies at the present time.

On Saturday, April 27th, 2013, the Symposium includes a number of longer talks as well as presentations of shorter papers.  The invited speakers include scholars from University College London, German Archaeological Institute,  Columbia University, University College Dublin, Stanford University,  and Brandeis University.

The Cyrus Cylinder was discovered at Babylon in 1879. Scholars soon realized its inscription corroborated with the biblical account of how the Jews brought to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar were repatriated by Cyrus and allowed to start building the Second Temple. While the Cylinder does not mention the Jews by name, it does refer to the restoration of sacred statues to various shrines together with the people from those shrines.  It also gives a detailed account of Cyrus’s capture of Babylon.  From the beginning, the Cylinder was celebrated as an important historical document. It did not acquire its present iconic status until the late 1950s, however, when it began to be described as the First Charter of Human Rights.

For more information visit the Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Arthttp://www.asia.si.edu/events/cyrus-symposium/agenda.asp

Shushtar Historical Hydralic Systems



Our Heritage activists (Iran / Branch) are reporting that the Shushtar historical hydraulic systems are in danger of major deterioration and destruction.  The site which was inscribed in 2009 as a “historical hydraulic masterpiece of creative genius” by UNESCO is an Iranian national heritage site and can be traced back to Darius the Great in the 5th century B.C.   It involved the creation of two main diversion canals on the river Kârun one of which, Gargar canal, is still in use providing water to the city of Shushtar via a series of tunnels that supply water to mills. It forms a spectacular cliff from which water cascades into a downstream basin. It then enters the plain situated south of the city where it has enabled the planting of orchards and farming over a vast area known as Mianâb (Paradise). The property has an ensemble of remarkable sites including the Salâsel Castel, the operation centre of the entire hydraulic system, the tower where the water level is measured, damns, bridges, basins and mills.

It is believed by international experts; engineers and archeologists that the Sassanid engineers had created a structure that was a masterpiece.  The river was channeled to form a moat around the city, while bridges and main gates into Shushtar were built to the east, west, and south. Several rivers nearby are conducive to the extension of agriculture and the cultivation of sugar cane. A system of subterranean channels called Ghanats, connected the river to the private reservoirs of houses and buildings, and supplied water for domestic use and irrigation, as well as to store and supply water during times of war when the main gates were closed. Traces of these ghanats can still be found in the crypts of some houses. This complex system of irrigation degenerated during the 19th century. 

Over the last ten years, neglect of the cultural heritage in Iran has escalated and has impacted many historical and heritage sites and in the case of Shushtar Historical Hydraulic Systems, UNESCO demanded (in April 2011) that Iranian government submit explanations regarding the situation following the collapse of a portion of the Gargar Bridge at the Shushtar’s ancient water system. 

Endangered Iranian Forests


forest destroy 1It is widely believed by the experts and activists that the decisions and actions made by the Iranian government over the last three decades and especially the last eight years have greatly damaged the conditions of the Iranian forests and have put them in danger of destruction.

These actions include the followings:

–          Iranian government has allowed exploration for oil in the Kavir Desert National Park which is a protected National Park and is believed to be the original habitat for the Persian Cheetah.

–          The government has allowed building roads through Cloud Forest. Cloud Forest is one of the most unique forests in Iran.  In the last three decades, deforestation has destroyed the soil in the Iranian forests and created drought.

–           The government has allowed the extraction and exploitation of mines in environmentally protected areas with major and distinct wildlife. This has happened in many cases while the while the individual or people are not under the law entitled or allowed to start a mine.

–          The government has allowed building houses and apartment complexes in many areas of forests that should have been protected.

These decisions have resulted in the gradual destruction of forests, and extinction of animals and plant species in many areas in Iran.

An Innovative New Way of Teaching Archeology


virtualProfessor Maurizio Forte of Duke University has managed to make archeology more interesting to many students who normally, perhaps, would not be taking archeology classes.  However, Forte’s new approach is now attracting new students with backgrounds in computer science, environmental sciences as well as arts and architecture.  Using satellite photos and high-tech imaging technology Forte and his class take a look at the remains of a Roman villa hidden below ground. Using this remote data, students are creating a virtual replica of the building.

Forte and his class work in an Immersive Virtual Environment facility where they can examine virtual ruins in Turkey, China, Italy and elsewhere. This way, they can virtually bring ancient civilizations back to life, and simulate them with an unusual level of detail and accuracy but at the same time making the distinction between re-creating the site/community and simulating it.  Forte and his students apply their knowledge of these ancient places and peoples while learning more about the design as well as how people lived.

Professor Forte believes that technology used in innovative ways can be a catalyst for new ideas and by combining the talents of people with different backgrounds and approaches it is possible to share knowledge and take a different approach to teaching archeology.

With permission from PastHorizons.

Attacks on Sufi Shrines


Damage is seen at the burnt out Saida Manoubia shrine in the governorate of Manouba, west of the capital, in TunisAs reported by several news agencies and the National Public Radio (NPR-U.S.), over the last several months, Islamists in Tunisia have attacked almost 40 Sufi shrines and greatly damaged and/or destroyed them.  Previously, Islamists had destroyed several Sufi tombs in the city of Timbuktu in Mali as reported by the New York Times as well as here on WCHV website.  In fact, earlier this year, in February 2013, the U.S. State Department called on Tunisian leaders to implement a plan to protect the country’s religious and historic sites, denouncing a wave of recent attacks on Sufi shrines.


The Sufis are a relatively small sect of Islam that historically, has remained apolitical. They live and have spread over a vast geographic area that stretches from western Africa to South East Asia.  Sufis are best known for their embrace of mysticism and spirit of tolerance and their practices are seen as idolatry to Muslims who practice a more rigid and puritanical form of Islam.

Sufis as a group are not playing leading roles in any of the recent upheavals in the Arab world, but their shrines have become targets of many attacks.  Many Sufis gather at these shrines for prayer and meditation. In Libya last summer, a Sufi grave site in Tripoli was bulldozed, leading to the resignation of Libya’s interior minister.  But periodic attacks have been carried out elsewhere, including Pakistan, where dozens have been killed while visiting shrines as reported by NPR.

New concerns for the ancient city of Pompeii


Pompeii_Garden_of_the_Fugitives_If you are a world traveler and have made a list of World Cultural Heritage sites to visit, you have undoubtedly included a visit to the ancient city of Pompeii on that list. However, new concerns for those who love Pompeii and also for Italian government regarding the up-keeping and preservation of Pompeii have risen. Last month, a former restorer of Pompeii, Marcello Fiori was arrested on corruption charges and there are also five other people under investigation.

Italy declared a state of emergency at Pompeii in 2008 putting it under special administration until July 2010 after many historians and archeologists complained about the poor upkeep of the site. The result of the changes was to hire Mr. Fiori and a number of other personnel changes. At that time, The UNESCO mission found many major issues and concerns and concluded that even though a management plan had drawn up, it was not used and rather focusing on the areas of concerns and preservation, funds were diverted to other purposes. Last months, Italian investigators charged Mr. Fiori and the director of restoration, Luigi D’Amora, for awarding irregular contracts to a company called Caccavo which had charged the government and the commission very inflated prices for their work.

In the last five years UNESCO has identified new problems and as it was reported in the Art Newspaper, there are major concerns about lack of maintenance including several areas of deterioration, collapse of columns, inappropriate restoration ­methods and a general lack of qualified staff.” The fact that restoration projects are outsourced and the quality of the work of the contractors is not being assessed is another major concern. In addition, it has been known for a long time that an efficient drainage system is lacking, ­leading to water infiltration and excessive moisture that gradually degrades the structural condition of the buildings as well as their decor.

In 2010, UNESCO sent a mission supervised by Christopher Young, the head of world heritage and international policy at English Heritage.  He was assisted by two Paris-based specialists representing the International Council on Monuments and Sites: Jean-Pierre Adam, a professor at the Ecole du Louvre, and Alix Barbet, the director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. Their report, which has had virtually no international press coverage, was submitted to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in Paris in June 2011. It covers Pompeii and the nearby sites of Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata, on the ­outskirts of Naples.

The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD killed Pompeii’s inhabitants but preserved their buildings. The city was covered with ash, and it was only after its rediscovery in 1748 that excavations began. In 1997, UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site. Pompeii attracted more than 2.3 million visitors in 2010.

Threats to Archaeological Sites in Egypt


Temple of Amun

In March 2013, a visit to Cairo by UNESCO Director General, Irina Bokova, highlighted major concerns about the new threats to archeological sites in Egypt.  It has become very clear that over the last six months many of Egypt’s national heritage sites, especially Dahshur in Giza and Tel Al-Amarna in Minya have been vandalized. 

During this trip, various projects that have been funded and supported by UNESCO were discussed and new action plans are being created.  These new projects include the construction of the National Museum for Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in the Fustat area in Old Cairo and the Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project (HCRP). In addition, there have been talks about establishing a regional center for World Heritage in Cairo focusing on Africa, which according to the officials will help African countries to protect their archeological sites listed on the World Heritage List as well as providing training for African archeologists and curators.

The Egyptian officials said that UNESCO did not threaten to remove Egypt’s sites from the World Heritage List but have listed many concerns about these sites.  These officials also stated that the government has now issued over fifty four urgent declarations.

Celebrating World Heritage Day on April 18th



It has been 30 years since the Executive Committee and the General Conference of UNESCO approved to name April 18th, the World Heritage Day. The proposal was made by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) to celebrate and promote World Heritage sites.



It is generally believed that the World Heritage sites are shared wealth by all citizens of the world and they have to be preserved and protected from destruction. This special day offers a global opportunity to raise public awareness and educate the public on the related issues.

To promote the universal concept of World Heritage, ICOMOS has suggested some ideas on how to celebrate World Heritage Day, some of these include:

  • Visits to monuments and sites, and restoration works, possibly with free admission
  • Articles in newspapers and magazines, as well as television and radio broadcasts
  • Inviting local and foreign experts and personalities for conferences and interviews
  • Organizing discussions in cultural-centers, city halls, and other public spaces
  • Exhibitions (photos, paintings, etc)
  • Publication of books, post-cards, stamps, posters
  • Awarding prizes to organizations or persons who have made an outstanding contribution to the conservation and promotion of cultural heritage or produced an excellent publication on the subject.
  • Inaugurate a recently restored monument
  • Special awareness raising activities amongst school children and youth
  • Promotion of ‘twinning’ opportunities between organizations, defining areas for co-operation; exchange of speakers; organization of meetings and seminars, or the editing of joint publications.