Post-conflict reconstruction of historic cities, Louvre-Lens Museum, 20 – 21 January 2017


A special symposium on post-conflict reconstruction of historic cities, organized by ICCROM, the Louvre-Lens Museum and the Institut du monde arabe in Tourcoing, was held in Lens, France on 20 – 21 January 2017.

Over the course of the two-day symposium, experts gathered to discuss the various actions of international organizations for post-conflict reconstruction of historic cities.  They presented the state of theoretical developments in this field, and discussed several case studies in Europe and the Middle East in order to draw potentially relevant lessons for the future.

At the end of the first day, the participants evaluated the legal, social, economic and political impact of reconstruction actions, while the second day focused on the role and activities of donors and development agencies in the financing of post-conflict reconstruction projects.

At the end of the symposium, the Assembly was able to draw conclusions and indicate points for reflection as well as concrete short-term measures to be undertaken.

Palmyra, Temple of Bel © DR
Palmyra, Temple of Bel © DR

As the theme of the symposium was the post-conflict reconstruction of historic cities, discussions focused on armed conflicts, whether internal or international, and on the concept of historic cities as an urban and homogeneous whole. The symposium found that post-conflict reconstruction should not be limited to one or more isolated historical monuments or archaeological sites, such as Palmyra or the Krak des Chevaliers. Such sites do not require the same measures or precautions, nor do they raise the same challenges from the social, urban and economic point of view as the post-conflict reconstruction of an entire historic city such as Aleppo.

An important first step in post-conflict reconstruction is to arrive at a global overview of the current situation through a preliminary assessment and questioning of instruments and tools, including legal ones, which have been unsuccessfully applied to date. The objective is to guarantee that the reconstruction project can be carried out sustainably, with specific and targeted plans for each phase before, during and after the stage of reconstruction.

The presentations, observations and comments expressed during the brief discussion periods led to several conclusions:

  • The post-conflict reconstruction of historic cities spans three phases: pre-conflict (prevention), during the conflict (protection) and post-conflict (maintenance, sustainability, reappropriation).
  • The post-conflict reconstruction of historic cities must be the subject of effective cooperation at all levels.
  • Cultural heritage must be placed in its social, economic, political and environmental context, as per the principles of integrated heritage management.
  • Haste must be avoided and the necessary time taken for reflection, consultation, evaluation and weighting of interests.
  • Any commitment to a peace process must include the protection of cultural heritage in its agenda.
  • Development assistance should no longer be limited to traditional areas of development cooperation, and should gradually encompass the field of cultural heritage protection.

Aleppo, the Omeyyad Mosque, 2013 ©UNESCO / Ron Van Oers
Aleppo, the Omeyyad Mosque, 2013 ©UNESCO / Ron Van Oers

At the end of the symposium, a number of short-term actions were agreed upon, including developing effective documentation tools for fieldwork. The papers arising from the symposium will be published, and recommendations arising from the discussions will be drafted and shared with donors and development agencies.

Among the major international organizations that took part in the symposium were AKTC (Aga Khan Trust for Culture), ALECSO (Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization), ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), IRCICA (Research Center for Islamic History, Art and Culture), OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), and the World Bank.