Rescuing cultural heritage from earthquake devastation: UNDP and Europa Nostra support Türkiye’s recovery

May 9, 2024

UNDP’s “Save the Legacy” campaign launches in Brussels, advocating restoration of cultural heritage sites vital to local identity and livelihoods across vast earthquake zone

Brussels, 8 May 2024 – A high-level briefing hosted yesterday in Brussels by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Permanent Delegation of Türkiye to the European Union and Europa Nostra, the Brussels-based umbrella association for cultural heritage organizations in Europe, urged continued international assistance in restoring vital cultural heritage sites damaged in the devastating earthquakes in February 2023 that left 53,537 dead and destroyed 313,000 buildings and left 3.3 million people homeless in 11 provinces that are home to 15.6 million people across southern Türkiye. 

The vast disaster caused incalculable damage to the region's unique cultural heritage, including art and structures bequeathed by 13 different civilizations over thousands of years. 3,752 of the region's 8,444 historical structures were damaged, with experts estimating the cost of restoration at over US$2 billion. 

“Restoring cultural heritage is a critical priority in our earthquake recovery efforts,” said Louisa Vinton, UNDP Resident Representative. “It's not just about rebuilding monuments; it's about preserving the soul of a region, the essence of its identity, and the livelihoods of its people. Through collective efforts and international solidarity, we can help restore the region’s cultural legacy and the resilience of its people.”

The briefing featured the Brussels launch of UNDP's global campaign, "Save the Legacy," which aims to engage individuals, charities, companies and governments in restoring Türkiye's unique cultural mosaic. The campaign features six sites chosen at the advice of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism that represent the full geographic and historical scope of the affected area: the Hatay Archaeology Museum, the Sarımiye Mosque, and Mar Yuhanna Greek Orthodox Church—all in Hatay—as well as Gaziantep Castle, the Ottoman-era bazaar in Kahramanmaraş and the ancient city of Arsameia in Adıyaman.

Europa Nostra, the European voice of civil society committed to safeguarding and promoting cultural and natural heritage, recently included two sites in Hatay province on its 2024 list of the seven most endangered heritage sites in Europe: the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Georgios in Altınözü, also in Hatay, and the Iron Gate of Antioch, an ancient 18-metre-high stone structure that towers above Antakya.

“We are thankful for the kind support of our international partners, especially the EU as we endeavor to rebuild and preserve Türkiye's cultural heritage, which is also a European common heritage, in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes,” said Ambassador Faruk Kaymakcı, the Permanent Delegate of Türkiye to the European Union. “This collaborative effort exemplifies the solidarity and shared commitment to cultural preservation that transcends borders.”

"By joining forces, we amplify our collective impact and reaffirm our dedication to protecting cultural heritage that reflects our history and is a resource for our future,” stated Piet Jaspaert, Europa Nostra Vice President. “Together with Türkiye we stand united in our commitment to preserve and valorise a diverse, cultural and European heritage."

The briefing provided expert insight into the region’s uniquely rich diversity and the importance of restoring both tangible and intangible heritage. It served as a platform to mobilize resources and solidarity in support of Türkiye's earthquake recovery and cultural heritage restoration endeavors.

While funding for the restoration of certain landmark structures in the region has been secured, either through government or community resources, the financial need far exceeds the currently available funds. This is why UNDP has initiated this campaign to appeal for international solidarity in the face of disaster. To date, more than US$5 million has been committed towards the campaign target of US$15 million. 

Since the first days after the disaster, UNDP has collaborated with the MoCT to address this challenge. Initially, UNDP provided customized containers to archaeology museums to safeguard at-risk collections and accommodate ministry staff involved in recovery efforts. Subsequently, UNDP facilitated expert assessment missions and supplied drones, cameras, tablets and specialized software to assist in cataloguing the damage. UNDP now looks ahead to the physical reconstruction of targeted monuments. 

For more information

Faik Uyanık, Head of Communications for Türkiye,