Theme 2003: Underwater Cultural Heritage

Memo to the Presidents of ICOMOS National Committees and International Scientific Committees

Subject :International Day for Monuments and Sites (18 April 2003)
Suggested theme : Underwater Cultural Heritage – Stories under water

Declared in 1982 by the General Conference of UNESCO, the International Day for Monuments and Sites offers an opportunity to raise public awareness on the diversity of cultural heritage and the efforts that are required to protect and conserve it. It equally allows to draw attention to culture heritage's vulnerability and its need for continuous care. Every year, ICOMOS suggests a particular highlighted theme to its national and international committees.

In Zaragoza, Spain, last December, the ICOMOS Executive Committee agreed on the theme Underwater Cultural Heritage for the 18 April 2003. The theme was considered particularly appropriate in view of a growing international co-operation in this field and as 2003 has been declared the International Year for Water by the United Nations.

Whether it be shipwrecks, cities or other submerged archaeological sites or technical structures installed underwater, the underwater heritage is present in a great variety of expressions and contexts, in seas, in lakes, in rivers or even in reservoirs. Underwater heritage, like other sectors of cultural heritage, is threatened all over the world. The possibility of, often unjustified, phenomenal gains and the secrecy offered by working underwater, frequently with colossal technical means, exert a strong attraction. Appropriate legislation is often absent or, if it exists, badly applied or not enforced. Against this menace, many countries are totally helpless, devoid of technical and financial means but especially local expertise. Too frequently there is a lack of national awareness on the value of this heritage and above all on the importance for citizens to retain its full ownership. In this regard, in 1996, ICOMOS ratified an International Charter on the Protection and Management of Underwater Cultural Heritage that inspired the preparation of the UNESCO Convention for the protection of Underwater Heritage adopted in November 2001. The ICOMOS International Scientific Committee for the Underwater Cultural Heritage (ICUCH) greatly contributed to this UNESCO accomplishment with much appreciated energy and competence.

In 2003, the International Day for Monuments and Sites, offers an opportunity to expose the existence of this heritage to the public, to underline the efforts invested for its protection, but also to encourage training and underline that this heritage is still under threat, notably due to the lack of knowledge and the pillage that it undergoes.

ICOMOS invites all its National Committees to organise events - public conferences, exhibitions, workshops, meetings between professionals and the young, for example - to advertise this heritage, to promote the principles of the international charter and to encourage countries to ratify the International Convention. In order to do so, ICOMOS invites its committees to collaborate with national institutions, with universities, with the UNESCO National Commissions and with their local and national media. Finally we request that you inform the ICOMOS Secretariat on the activities that you will undertake as well as the media coverage that these will receive (articles, radio and television interviews, Internet presence, etc.). ICUCH will make texts available, targeting on the crucial points that will have to be brought to light throughout the preparatory weeks of this event on the 18 April.

For more information on this theme, on the International Charter, on the International Scientific Committee on Underwater Cultural Heritage or the Convention, visit our web-site: or contact the Secretariat : secretariat[at]

Good memories of water

Dinu Bumbaru - Secretary General