- Is there a need for a charter on . . . The wise use of charters and conventions?
world heritage, heritage conventions, heritage charters, historic preservation, the Venice Charter, UNESCO, ICOMOS
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The Venice Charter of 1964, in only sixteen articles, adopts general principles for preservation and restoration, but the preamble also proposes a framework for future international cooperation. On one hand, given the “unity of human values,” “ancient monuments” are considered as “common heritage” with a “common responsibility” to safeguard them for future generations and to “hand them on in the full richness for their authenticity.” On the other hand, “the principles guiding the preservation and restoration of ancient buildings should be agreed and be laid down on an international basis, with each country being responsible for implementing them within the framework of its own culture and traditions.” The preamble prepares the ground for the World Heritage Convention of 1972, and to numerous international and national documents, including the Nara Document on Authenticity of 1994.
International debates have led to deepening and expanding the notion of “heritage” far beyond the “ancient monuments” of the Venice Charter. The concept of preservation has also received a new definition. Today, the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO considers heritage as a social ensemble of many different, complex, and interdependent manifestations, reflecting the culture of a human community. Preservation represents an insistence on harmony, over time, between a social group and its environment, whether natural or man-made, while the protection of this lifestyle is perceived as a major aspect of sustainable human development. The questions progressed from “How to preserve?” to “Why?” and then “For whom to preserve?”
This evolution is the result of the adoption of charters and conventions, which in turn have given an impetus to further intellectual developments. However, in the course of the last few years, there has been a considerable increase in such documents, and there are now dozens of them, developing into hundreds of published pages. In fact, to a large extent, it is because of the extension of the concept of heritage that new texts have been elaborated. What sometimes appears to be a proliferation is also a reflection of new more complex and varied realities.
The option chosen by ICOM (the International Council on Museums) to keep one “Code of Ethics,” with periodic but infrequent revisions, is appropriate for museum management. In its field, ICOMOS has decided not to update the 1964 Venice Charter, considered as an founding document, and has opted instead to adopt complementary charters dealing with specific types of heritage and new themes. This approach has led to the [End Page 463] drawing up of new texts of unequal value, superimposed over already existing ones, which intensifies the impression of proliferation.
These norms, which are intended to be universal in scope, make it possible to advance from at least three points of view: in practice, in doctrine, and in the dialogue between cultures. Today, however, questions are being raised as to the reality of these contributions. There is a growing unease over these charters and conventions, the relevance and authority of which are being sometimes contested.
In many cases, these norms are not respected, either through ignorance or even out of a deliberate choice. Diverging interpretations can also be observed, with professionals opting for contradictory interventions in the name of the same principles. For instance, the different ways anastylosis is realized illustrate various, even opposite interpretations, from the strict assembly of original parts, to the extended addition of new elements. When extra work is indispensable, very different approaches are adopted, as in the distinction from the architectural composition and in the interpretation of the “contemporary stamp” recommended by the Venice Charter.
In terms of doctrine, many people criticize these charters and conventions for seeking a common denominator and for being too general in most cases. Their proliferation appears to undermine their credibility. Some compare these texts and raise questions about their coherence, believing that their juxtaposition...