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Mismanagement Threatens Iran’s Heritage Sites

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Experts are warning that mismanagement could threaten ancient Iranian heritage after the Deputy Minister of Iran’s Cultural Heritage expressed concern about a lack of funds for maintaining critical sites.

“Last year, the financial resources allocated to the preservation and restoration of historical sites were 900,000 Tomans ($200) and monuments 13 million Tomans ($3,000),” Ali Darabi said on Tuesday. “The fact that all this historical greatness and cultural heritage should be preserved and restored with this minimal budget is beyond me.”

With 27 sites, Iran ranks among the top 10 countries with the most cultural heritage sites in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. As a baseline, a report from 2023 in Euronews shows an €800 million budget for preserving cultural heritage in Italy. A similar budget for Germany in 2020 was €647 million.

Immediately following these remarks, media reports and expert opinions warned of the long-standing mismanagement that has threatened the survival of historical monuments. In particular, the poor condition of Persepolis, the 2500-year-old epicenter of the Achaemenid Empire, was highlighted.

Specialists warned that this UNESCO World Heritage Site faces a crisis of lichen fungus invasion. While a combination of acid rain and the region’s climate is responsible for the growth of the lichen, experts have criticized the National Heritage Department for failing to protect the site.

Persepolis monuments are increasingly being damaged by the growth of lichens

Maziar Kazemi, former head of the conservation department at Persepolis, told Iran International: “Lichens are one of the natural factors that contributed to the destruction of the Achaemenid sites of the past. Parts of the area with more humidity and less direct sunlight always suffer from this problem.”

Tackling these issues requires permanent budgets so specialists can conduct continuous research and investigation. They also need to be able to collaborate with international groups.”

He said sites such as Persepolis, which are considered pre-Islamic monuments, have “never received adequate budget allocations”. He also noted the challenges of facilitating the visa issuance process and bilateral cooperation with international teams.”

According to Kazemi, an Italian expert team had carried out a joint project to treat lichens some time ago, but the project was abandoned.

“The Ministry of Cultural Heritage’s trickle-down budgets and the strictness of entry and exit of foreign expert teams will not allow continuous monitoring of natural damages such as lichen,” Kazemi emphasized.

Experts have also warned that lichens were damaging Iranian cuneiform inscriptions, particularly in Biston, a historical complex located 30 kilometers northeast of Kermanshah city, southwest of Iran.

The Sivand dam is also blamed for increasing humidity around Pasargad and Persepolis. Before it was built in 2007, UNESCO warned about the dangers of the dam to historical monuments.