© Yahya Arhab/Picture alliance/dpa

Post-conflict recovery of urban cultural heritage

A Toolkit for Practitioners

What is Included in this Toolkit

This toolkit covers four main themes: documentation, damage assessment, legal framework conditions and planning. Each theme focuses on the key tasks required to protect and recover elements of urban cultural heritage during and after armed conflict. For each of these tasks the toolkit presents and describes a number of tools, methods and instruments, and provides practical examples of how they can be applied.

The examples generally refer to the challenge of recovering destroyed heritage in historic city centres in the Middle East. Since there is almost no practical experience of post-conflict urban heritage recovery in the Middle East, the Toolkit references different examples from within and outside of the Middle East. These cases, documented in a wealth of material from past projects, illustrate ways in which the challenges of restoration can be addressed.

But reference is also made to examples and lessons learned in other contexts and regions, such as the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s and Germany after World War II.

About this Toolkit

Using the toolkit

The themes, tasks and tools presented by the toolkit do not define a sequential or programmatic approach, but instead present a menu of options. The options can be selected and combined according to users’ specific interests and needs.
The tasks and tools relate to the key challenges that arise at different stages of the recovery process. Although most challenges cannot be addressed until armed conflict has ceased, some preparatory tasks can be undertaken beforehand.

The toolkit also contains further references and resources. These are intended for users who wish to obtain more detailed information on the individual examples, or on specific technical tools and methods.



Good and timely documentation is one of the most effective means of facilitating the recovery and restoration of urban cultural heritage. If well documented, even totally destroyed individual buildings, ensembles of buildings and entire neighbourhoods can be reconstructed a long time after they were destroyed.

Recording pre-conflict conditions can also be crucial for maintaining the collective memory of a city or place as a living environment. Even in difficult or hostile political conditions, documentation can be used to rally and mobilise support for recovering lost heritage.

© Carol Guzy/picture alliance/ZUMAPRESS.com

Damage Assessment

It is important continuously to assess the damage being caused to the urban cultural heritage while hostilities are still in progress. Although calls for the termination of armed conflict generally focus on civilian victims and the destruction of basic social and technical infrastructure, the monitoring and publicising of damage to cultural heritage can also play a key role in this context.

Once hostile activity has ceased, the damage to, and destruction of, buildings and physical infrastructure have to be assessed in order to define the needs, options and costs for reconstruction. This survey of physical damage has to be complemented by an assessment of the toll of war on the economy, political and social institutions, and social cohesion.

Damage Assessment
Collage © GIZ

Legal Framework

The legal framework for reconstructing urban cultural heritage after a conflict is defined by international and national law. International law in this context primarily concerns the commitments and obligations of state parties as signatories to international conventions and declarations. In connection with the reconstruction of historic cities, such obligations chiefly relate to the protection and recovery of the urban cultural heritage. But they also cover the housing, land and other property rights of refugees and internally displaced persons. Effective means of enforcing compliance are seldom available, however, especially in the absence of either a political resolution of the conflict or the political will to accept these responsibilities.

National law generally provides a more readily enforceable legal framework, in particular if the rule of law has been re-established after the end of a conflict. In the early days, however, many countries lack the necessary political stability, and a return to peace and the rule of law often remains a distant prospect.

Legal Framework
© Franziska Laue


The task of reconstructing historic old cities after a conflict is generally a long-term undertaking. First, the parties involved need to agree on how to recover and rebuild the cultural heritage. They also have to define the individual priorities and stages, and decide on the allocation of resources.

In the interests of healing the deep wounds arising from conflict, this planning process must involve not only experts, planners and political decision-makers, but also civil society organisations alongside local residents and businesses.