International Charters

In 1931, the 1st International Congress of Architects and Technicians adopted the Athens Charter, which was the start of an international movement for the preservation and restoration of ancient buildings. This Charter defined the basic principles of conservation for the first time. The International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites followed in 1964 and the scope of the Athens Charter was enlarged. This Charter came to be popularly known as the Venice Charter. Subsequently a number of International Charters were passed by ICOMOS. India is a signatory to some of these Charters. ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments & Sites is an international organisation linked to UNESCO. Some of the important Charters are the Burra Charter, 1981 for the Conservation of Places of Cultural Significance (updated in 2013), the Charter for Historic Gardens, (Florence Charter) 1982, and the Charter for the Conservation of Historic Towns and Areas, 1987. Various other documents and Charters have been adopted and these have formed the basis of an international understanding on the principles of conservation. The US Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation for Historic Buildings in 1983 gives detailed recommendations for the do’s and don’ts of conservation.


The Burra Charter is one of the most comprehensive documents on the philosophy of conservation. The Burra Charter was written by the ICOMOS Committee of Australia in order to make the principles embodied in the Venice Charter relevant for conservation in Australia. This resulted in the compilation of a document, which can be used as a guide for most situations in the world. This Charter was adopted by the ICOMOS in 1982. It was updated in 2013.

Principles & Logic of Conservation as per the Burra Charter

There are places worth keeping because they enrich our lives – by helping us understand the past; by contributing to the richness of the present environment; and because we expect them to be of value to future generations. The cultural significance of a place is embodied in its fabric, its setting and its contents; in the associated documents; and in people’s memory and association with the place. The cultural significance of a place, and other issues affecting its future, are best understood by a methodical process of collecting and analysing information before making decisions. Keeping accurate records about decisions and changes to the place helps in its care, management and interpretation.

These aims arise from the principles :
  • To care for the culturally significant fabric and other significant attributes
  • To care for the place’s setting
  • To provide an appropriate use.
  • To provide security
  • To use available expertise
  • To understand the place and its cultural significance before making any decisions about its fabric.
  • To make records of the fabric and of the decisions and actions
  • To interpret the place in a manner appropriate for its cultural significance.
Definitions of terms in the Burra Charter
  • Conservation means all the processes of looking after a place so as to retain its cultural significance. It includes maintenance and may according to circumstance includepreservation, restoration, reconstruction and adaptation and will commonly be a combination of more than one of these.
  • Place means site, area, building or other works together with pertinent contents and surroundings.
  • Cultural significance means aesthetic, historic, scientific or social value for past, present or future generations.
  • Fabric means all the physical material of the place.
  • Compatible use means a use which involves no change to the culturally significant fabric, Reconstruction means returning a place as nearly as possible to a known earlier state and is distinguished by the introduction of materials (new or old) into the fabric.
  • Adaptation means modifying a place to suit proposed compatible uses Compatible use means a use, which involves no change to the culturally significant fabric, changes, which are substantially reversible, or changes which require a minimal impact.