The International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) was created in the aftermath of the Second World War in response to widespread destruction and the urgent need to reconstruct cultural property. In 1956, a proposal was adopted at the 9th Session of the UNESCO General Conference in New Delhi to create an intergovernmental centre to study and improve restoration methods, and so ICCROM was born.
Following an agreement with the Italian government, the Centre was established in Rome in 1959. Dr. H.J. Plenderleith, the long-time Keeper of the Research Laboratory at the British Museum in London, was appointed its first Director. The Centre immediately created a worldwide network of experts and specialized institutions for conserving and restoring different types of cultural heritage. 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.
In the early 1960s, the Centre organized its first courses in the conservation of historic towns and buildings in collaboration with the University of Rome. 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). The Centre also established an international library and documentation centre, which has become an indispensable resource for research and training.
By the end of Plenderleith’s mandate in 1971, 55 states had become members. That number is now 135. And in 1978, the long title of the Centre was abbreviated to ICCROM, which has been used ever since.
Over the years, ICCROM has become respected for promoting an interdisciplinary approach to conservation, engaging the expertise of scientists, conservators, restorers, archaeologists, art historians, curators, architects, engineers and city planners. Exploring conservation in research meetings and seminars has led to flagship publications, new guidelines and international training programmes. Since the 1980s, regular Rome-based activities have been complemented by long-term international and regional programmes. Together, these form a worldwide platform, combining technical co-operation with research, training, information sharing, personnel exchange and awareness-raising about heritage conservation.
ICCROM’s mandate is as important today as it was at founding. Long-term programmes generally lasting seven to ten years, carried out in collaboration with partner organizations, have increasingly emphasized pressing challenges such as strengthening institutions in Member States for sustainable management of heritage resources. Regular courses and workshops have expanded in focus, now including topics ranging 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.