26 January 2005 – The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today began work on a blueprint for safeguarding the cultural heritage of the Old City of Jerusalem.
“More than any other place in the world, Jerusalem embodies the hope and dream of dialogue between cultures, civilizations and spiritual traditions, a dialogue through which mutual understanding between peoples may flourish,” UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura told the first sesssion of Committee of Experts on the Cultural Heritage of the Old City of Jerusalem.
“Deep at the heart of UNESCO’s mission lies the commitment to create the conditions for genuine dialogue based upon respect for shared values and the dignity of each civilization and culture,” he added.
Mr. Matsuura said the Committee of 12 internationally renowned architects, archaeologists, curators, restorers, architectural historians and structural engineers with professional knowledge of the Old City of Jerusalem presented “an outstanding combination of historic, artistic and spiritual values.”
In keeping with a resolution of UNESCO’s General Conference of 2003, the experts are expected to advise Mr. Matsuura on the elaboration of a comprehensive plan of action to safeguard the city’s cultural heritage and provide him with guidelines and proposals for its implementation.
UNESCO sent a high-level mission to Jerusalem in March 2004 to assess the state of conservation of the Old City. The process now underway marks a new turn for UNESCO, which hitherto had to limit its interventions to selected initiatives on specific monuments and monitoring missions.
The Old City was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1981 and safeguarding its cultural heritage has been on the agenda of UNESCO’s governing bodies since 1967.
“The stakes are considerable not only for the cultural heritage of the Old City but also for advancing the cause of dialogue among peoples and civilizations,” Mr. Matsuura said. “It is my sincere hope that UNESCO will be able to reaffirm that the cultural heritage of the Old City of Jerusalem is indeed a shared value and that its safeguarding is a cause around which the parties concerned are willing to cooperate, with the full support of the international community.”