World Heritage Site

for World Heritage Travellers

Forum: Start | Profile | Search |         Website: Start | The List | Community |
General discussions about WHS Forum / General discussions about WHS /  

The Ancient Plovdiv

Author elsslots
#1 | Posted: 7 May 2009 09:49 
A question was sent to me regarding the tentative site Ancient Plovdiv (withdrawn in 2006), maybe someone on this forum has more info about it.

Rossitza (USA):
Please provide information about the withdrawing of the Ancient Plovdiv from the UNESCO List. The Bulgarian scientists don't know anything about it.

Author Solivagant
#2 | Posted: 8 May 2009 06:22 | Edited by: Solivagant 
There is no doubt that Plovdiv's attempt to gain inscription was withdrawn by Bulgaria at the World Heritage Committee (WHC) held in Vilnius in 2006. See Decision 30 COM 8B.20 on page 140 of this document

Plovdiv has a very long history of attempts at gaining inscription through to the present day and provides an interesting vignette illustrating the ups and downs of former communist block WHS experience and changes in the interpretation and operation of the inscription process since 1979. If you are interested in these matters please read on!

Bulgaria was an early and in some respects, disproportionately, "significant player" in the World Heritage scheme. It is interesting to speculate why this might have been. It was by no means normal among Communist countries – USSR didn't even bother to ratify the convention until 1988 just before its demise and the DDR which in other respects was so "όber-propaganist" in any matters which might demonstrate its "glory" only followed on its coat tails the same year. Poland was another "early joiner" but Hungary didn't accede until 1987, Romania until 1990 and Czechoslovakia didn't get its first site until 1993. In Bulgaria's case was it a few dedicated individuals for whom the scheme represented a chance for international contact whilst the government, unlike its communist neighbours, did see some propaganda benefit in gaining inscriptions? Anyone with knowledge about these years - please let us know!

So it was that Bulgaria obtained 4 inscriptions in the scheme's first year (1979). Interestingly it was a member of the WHC too! No scruples, a la Netherlands, in those days about not being on the WHC which inscribes your own sites! 3 more years of WHC membership was followed by a "year off" in 1983 in which it gained "reward for services rendered" in the form of another 4 inscriptions at the Florence WHC.

But at the same time, shock horror, Plovdiv was rejected! The WHC minutes state "The Committee also decided not to include the Ancient City of Plovdiv nominated by Bulgaria on the World Heritage List. The Committee considered that it was difficult at this stage to include urban sites on the list for their vernacular architecture and that the problems concerning the types of towns characteristic of the different regions of the World would first have to be clarified." The Bureau meeting held in Paris in June 83 hadn't been quite as dogmatic – its minutes state "The nomination file should be revised and completed by a list of urban and rural ensembles of specific types of Bulgarian architecture".

But why was the WHC so exercised about this "Vernacular Architecture" matter or was it just looking for a reason not to inscribe as many as 5 Bulgarian sites? That same year Nessebar was inscribed, among other reasons, because "The Turkish domination which coincided with a definite decline of Nessebar did not diminuate the monurrental heritage which was enriched from the 19th century by numerous houses in the "Plovdiv style". This vernacular architecture guarantees the cohesion of an urban fabric of high quality." So, whilst Plovdiv was being rejected for its vernacular architecture, Nessebar was being inscribed (partly) because of its "Plovdivian style"!! Unfathomable are the ways of the WHC!

One might have expected that Plovdiv would have re-emerged the following year or soon thereafter having sorted out these "minor inconveniences" put in its way by the WHC! And indeed Bulgaria continued to play a significant role in the WHC throughout the 1980s – but only obtained 1 more inscription. In 1975 an international conference held in Plovdiv by ICOMOS had led to the creation of the International Committee on Vernacular Architecture (CIAV) – with its permanent seat in Plovdiv! Bulgaria was clearly a prime mover in all this – presumably because of the energies of the lady appointed President of the Committee - a Dr Rachelle Anguelova. You can view numerous ICOMOS documents on Vernacular Architecture together with the history of the committee (including an indication of the level of financial support given to it by the Bulgarian government until 1992) on this site

Given that Bulgaria was sitting in such a prime position on "matters vernacular" within ICOMOS it is even more surprising that Plovdiv didn't gain inscription – I can only put it down to the fact that Dr Angualova was expecting TOO much of her own city –otherwise she surely could have railroaded it through given her energies in other matters! In the mean time numerous other vernacular sites gained inscription e.g Holloko in 1987 and no more was ever heard (that I can discover) of the "difficulties" in inscribing urban vernacular architecture"! Again does anyone have any information about why Bulgaria failed to progress Plovdiv soon thereafter and how the ICOMOS/UNESCO "view" of vernacular architecture developed?

In 1989/90 of course communist Eastern Europe disappeared and its countries faced completely new challenges and the previous values used to assign resources to cultural sites were no longer present. But ICOMOS Bulgaria appears to have continued and it even held the General Assembly in 1997 – though Dr Anguelova's name no longer figures whether because of the passage of time or for other reasons I know not. The next we hear of Plovdiv as a potential WHS is around 1999 when it obtains help from ICOMOS Japan to help conserve its vernacular buildings which appear by then to be suffering bad neglect. However a planned start for the project in 2003 is delayed until 2005 (Partly because of "UNESCO's administrative stagnation"!!!) and scheduled "completion" was delayed until 2007. I have not been able to discover whether it has even yet been completed. Anyone interested in a history of the project can look at
It is interesting that gaining inscription is seen as being part of the solution for improvement of the condition of the site – rather than improvement being solely a prerequisite. Up until now there has been little evidence of ICOMOS assessments of nominations taking this approach – though the WHC has shown itself more prepared to "take a flyer" to bring sites into the fold before they are fully compliant.

Meanwhile in Sep 2004 Bulgaria added to its Tentative List and Plovdiv was included. We can't now tell if Plovdiv had been on the previous list submitted in 1984 and whether the 2004 submission was just an "update" but it appears probable that, following its rejection in 1983, it was excluded from the 1984 list.

We then have the amazing situation of Bulgaria putting forward Plovdiv in 2006 only to "withdraw" the nomination at the last minute – presumably in the face of critical comments from ICOMOS (which of course we can't see as they don't get published). But why on earth had it made the nomination? Had it assumed that the restorative project would have been finished by 2006? Mr Ishii's lecture (link above) of August 2005 above showed quite clearly that the project wouldn't be complete by then. Perhaps Bulgaria hoped that ICOMOS would give it an easy ride in anticipation of project completion?

But Bulgaria certainly hasn't given up! The following report dated April 2009 indicates that Plovdiv is again actively discussing gaining inscription. But note
a. Reference to the bad condition of buildings – even following the ICOMOS Japan project and the 2006 withdrawal.
b. The comment that, if it is rejected, it can't apply again for another 11 years. Where did they get that idea from? I have never heard it before ld_heritage.html

(see second post for completion)

Author Solivagant
#3 | Posted: 8 May 2009 06:32 | Edited by: Solivagant 
(Part 2)

So perhaps we will see Plovdiv submitted again in the next couple of years - but its non inscription so far hasn't prevented claims being made that it is already inscribed!! It is not unknown for towns and cities around the world to jump the gun on inscription or use the placing of a site on the T List to claim that it is "Under UNESCO protection" or similar and this is a nice example! See the following sites

In Plovdiv's case another "publicity complexity" is that, in 1979, it was awarded some kind of "Gold Medal" for its architecture (Dr Anguelova being active again?). This is often stated to have been given by UNESCO but, Web searches I have carried out, return no prime record of such an award by UNESCO. The sites which mention it just seem to be copying each other and slightly changing the wording! E.g
The most authoritative reference for what actually was awarded is this one by ICOMOS which refers to a EUROPEAN medal (and no mention of UNESCO) df

So will/should Plovdiv make it? We visited it in 2000 and weren't aware of its WHS aspirations - I only started using the T List to inform our travels the following year. We found its old areas interesting but did not say to ourselves "this must be WHS material". However there are many European historic centers already inscribed which I would assess as being of no greater OUV. As regards comparative sites – well there are a now a number of inscribed sites which include Balkan Ottoman vernacular architecture. No doubt an expert will point out stylistic "uniquenesses" in Plovdiv but, in its 2005 evaluation of Berat, ICOMOS states "Compared to other important centres in the region, such as Ohrid, Kotor and Plovdiv, Berat is considered by the State party as an original example for its vernacular architecture and as a historic example contributing to interethnic dialogue". The World and the WHS list has moved on a lot since 1983 – note the politically correct comment about interethnic dialogue – in years to come this will seem very much "of its time"!

Whether Plovdiv will succeed depends very much on where UNESCO sees the list going from here - If "medium quality" European towns continue to gain inscription it is as good as some and better than many. Whether or not it gains inscription anyone visiting Bulgaria should certainly "take it in". Perhaps it missed its best chance back in 1983 by which time, in all honesty, Bulgaria had already , by being an "early adopter", managed to get a number of rather mediocre (in world terms) sites inscribed. On the other hand their inscription was probably more motivated by genuine interest in historic sites - now the motivation by the city council at least is overtly to stimulate cultural tourism – and look at the money involved! Yet inscriptions still come about by the work of a relatively small number of dedicated and hard working individuals – think of the role of Mr Ishii back in 1996! I for one will be keeping an interested eye open for Google Alerts etc about Plovdiv's potential inscription.

Author elsslots
#4 | Posted: 8 May 2009 13:27 
which of course we can't see as they don't get published)

To add a short addendum to Solivagant's fabulous history on this subject: the withdrawal of Plovdiv in 2006 probably was provoked by the recommendation of rejection by ICOMOS earlier that year. Reason: interesting, but not exceptional enough and doesn't meet the test of authenticity

I found the document here: See this list of documents, and scroll all the way down to WHC.06 /30.COM /INF.8B1 (the ICOMOS documentation).

Author Solivagant
#5 | Posted: 8 May 2009 20:02 
Thanks for finding this Els - funny coincidence as I was asking on this forum the other day if ICOMOS/IUCN rejection reports got published anywhere since of course they can't finish up under the "inscribed site" as is the case with successful nominations. As far as I can see they started including the full set of IUCN/ICOMOS reports with the WHC papers as from the Kyoto 22nd session in 1998. These reports are certainly more informative than the WHC minutes.

General discussions about WHS Forum / General discussions about WHS /
 The Ancient Plovdiv

Your Reply Click this icon to move up to the quoted message

Only registered users are allowed to post here. Please, enter your username/password details upon posting a message, or register first. Forum Powered by Chat Forum Software miniBB ®