ICCROM’s original headquarters on via Cavour, Rome.
It was in the aftermath of the Second World War that the proposal was made to create an intergovernmental centre for the study and improvement of methods of restoration. The proposal was adopted at the 9th Session of the UNESCO General Conference held in New Delhi, in 1956.
Following an agreement with the Italian government, the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property was established in Rome in 1959. Dr. H.J. Plenderleith, who for many years had been Keeper of the Research Laboratory at the British Museum in London, was appointed its first Director. By the end of his mandate in 1971, 55 states had already become members (the number today is over 110).
In close co-operation with UNESCO, the Centre participated in international campaigns, and organized scientific missions to assist Member States.
The long title of the Centre led to its being referred to in the early years as “The Rome Centre” or “The International Centre for Conservation”. In 1978, the abbreviation ICCROM was devised and has been used ever since.
The Centre immediately identified leading experts and specialized institutions in the conservation and restoration of different types of cultural property, and created a worldwide network of connections. Several organizations were given the status of Associate Members. In close co-operation with UNESCO, the Centre participated in international campaigns, and organized scientific missions to assist Member States. Early activities included the preservation of ancient tombs in the Nile Valley, restoration of mural paintings in the churches of Moldavia, development of the national conservation research centre in India, and protecting cultural heritage following floods or earthquakes in Guatemala, Italy and Montenegro. At the same time, the Centre established an international library and documentation centre, which has become an indispensable resource of reference for research and training.
ICCROM mission to Romania to conserve the exterior paintings of a Moldavian church near the border, 1973. © ICCROM
ICCROM has always devoted particular attention to interdisciplinary collaboration in conservation, involving scientists, conservators, restorers, archaeologists, art historians, curators, architects, engineers and city planners. Exploring conservation issues in research meetings and seminars led to publications, guidelines and international training programmes. The Centre organized its first courses in the conservation of historic towns and buildings in collaboration with the University of Rome in the early 1960s. There followed other regular annual courses: on the conservation of mural paintings (organized jointly with the Istituto Centrale del Restauro in Rome (starting in 1968), on the scientific principles of conservation of objects and materials (1974), and on the preventive conservation of museum collections (1975).
Being a small-scale intergovernmental organization, ICCROM has been able to react swiftly to the requests and needs of its members.
Since the 1980s, regular Rome-based activities have increasingly been complemented by long-term international and regional programmes. Together, these form a worldwide platform, combining technical co-operation with research, training, provision of information, exchanges of personnel, and raising awareness about heritage conservation. The development of long-term (i.e. of 7-10 years duration) programmes in collaboration with several partner organizations has increasingly emphasized the sustainable management of heritage resources and the strengthening of institutions in Member States to this end. The topics of the regular short courses and the long-term programmes have ranged from the conservation of museum, library and archive collections to historic structures in stone, brick, wood or earthen architecture, archaeological sites, historic urban areas and cultural landscapes.
Being a small-scale intergovernmental organization, ICCROM has been able to react swiftly to the requests and needs of its members. Its intergovernmental status and constantly updated network of specialized conservation institutions and experts enable it to collaborate closely with organizations such as UNESCO (Headquarters and Regional Offices) and its World Heritage Committee, to which it is an Advisory Body; and with non-governmental organizations such as ICOMOS, ICOM, ICA and IIC, as well as numerous scientific institutes and universities in the Member States.