Urban Conservation in International Charters

From the Athens Charter to the Historic Urban Landscape Recommendation


This paper will present an analytical review of doctrinal texts that have been key for the shaping of integrated urban conservation practice internationally: from the Athens Charter to the Historic Urban Landscape Convention.

The 1931 Athens Charter for the Restoration of Historic Monuments was published at the same time when the Congres Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne was summing up its controversial urbanist ideology in its own Charte d'Athènes of 1933. Whilst the Athens Charter focused on technical aspects of monument restoration, the preceding debate showed a raising interest in historic urban areas.  CIAM’s Charter too, despite including a section regarding historic urban areas, limited its recommendations to the protection of individual monuments or ensembles. 

Substantial research of historic centres in European countries preceded the first national legislations and international charters targeted specifically at urban areas in 1960s and 70s. Notably, the 1964 Venice International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites finally extended the concepts of restoration and rehabilitation of monuments to protected areas such as historical city centres, recommending expanded heritage protection legislation worldwide. European national legislations followed suit. In 1975, the European Architectural Heritage Year had seen also the first charter promoting the conservation of the historic built environment as a whole.

However, by the end of the 20th century, despite a good number of further doctrinal texts being adopted internationally, and the publication of numerous books, articles and reports touching on the problematic of urban conservation, the paucity of theoretical and conceptual advance of this field remained evident. The delay in giving a sound theoretical structure to the field of urban conservation has been, quite understandably, due to the complexity of the urban environment and the ensuing difficulty of separating out the effects of different variables at work within it.

Charters over the past three decades call for an integration of planning and urban conservation based on an appraisal of the historic urban fabric and its community, an approach which should eventually provide a more sustainable urban development. This means understanding and evaluating the significance of place, on one hand, and drawing out management implications for protecting this significance and identifying opportunities for change, on the other. The 2011 Historic Urban Landscape Recommendation goes some way to internationalise the theory and practice that has been developed so far predominantly within the European context.

There are many issues that have been raised through charters over the last hundred years, and many still need a proper theoretical framework that can allow them to be used in practice widely, beyond the places with strong heritage conservation traditions and legislations.


Urban; heritage; conservation; international; European; charters

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Published : 2021-12-29

Stoica, R.-I. (2021). Urban Conservation in International Charters. Protection of Cultural Heritage, (12), 71-78. https://doi.org/10.35784/odk.2789

Ruxandra-Iulia Stoica  r.stoica@ed.ac.uk
The University of Edinburgh  United Kingdom