Preservation of Historical and Cultural Treasures

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Preservation of Historical and Cultural Treasures


a system of international, state, and public measures to preserve and protect man’s cultural heritage.

Preservation work includes the protection of manuscripts, historical documents, architectural landmarks, fine art, decorative and applied art, and archaeological finds and sites. Such treasures are of national and international importance. Preservation work entails four major areas. (1) Research, that is, the study, classification, cataloging, and listing of objects. (2) The preparation and implementation of legislative acts. Such acts include the designation of an object as a historical or cultural monument; the prohibition of injury to and the destruction, alteration, or export of monuments; and the introduction of systematic procedures for registering, preserving, and restoring artistic and historical treasures. (3) Conservation and restoration work. (4) Education of the public about historical and cultural treasures.

The preservation of historical and cultural treasures became widespread during the Renaissance, at which time there was great interest in ancient art and in collecting. During the French Revolution, the Convention passed decrees that, for the first time, proclaimed historical and cultural treasures to be the property of all the people. Private collections were nationalized, hence the decree establishing the Louvre Museum in 1791. In 1795 a state office for the preservation of national treasures was organized.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries were marked by a heightened national self-awareness among the peoples in many European states. Historical and cultural treasures were placed under state maintenance. In 1834 the Greek government passed a law forbidding the export of artistic treasures. State offices of inspection were set up (France, 1830; Prussia, 1843), statutes were issued (France in, 1887, amended in 1962; Italy, 1902 and 1909, amended in 1939; Poland, 1918 and 1928), and laws concerning the preservation of cultural property were passed. Projects have been undertaken for classification, cataloging, conservation, and restoration of historical and cultural treasures.

During World War II, the fascists inflicted barbaric damage on cities and monuments. In the late 1940’s and the 1950’s, preservation work was begun. Statutes on preservation were issued in Poland (1945, renewed in 1962), Japan (1950), Egypt (1951), the German Democratic Republic (1952, renewed in 1962), Czechoslovakia (1958), and Yugoslavia (1959). Enormous projects to rebuild and restore objects and landmarks that had suffered during the war were carried out.

On the initiative of UNESCO at the Hague Conference of 1954, the International Convention and Protocol On the Protection of Cultural Treasures in the Event of Armed Conflict was adopted. Problems concerning the preservation of historical and cultural documents are handled by the International Council of Museums (1946), the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (1959), and the International Council of Monuments and Sites (1965).

In Russia measures for preserving individual old monuments were first adopted in 1722 by Peter I. In accordance with decrees issued in 1838 and 1839, a state office was established to maintain cultural property. Monuments were registered and cataloged. Great contributions in organizing preservation work were made by the Imperial Archaeological Commission (1850) and the Moscow Archaeological Society (1864). Shortly after the Great October Socialist Revolution, the Soviet government adopted measures for the preservation of artistic and cultural property.

More than 15 decrees, issued on the initiative of V. I. Lenin between 1918 and 1924, serve as the basis of the Soviet system for preserving monuments. In 1922, preservation work came under the jurisdiction of the People’s Commissariat of Education of the RSFSR. Its administration was transferred in 1932 to the Committee for the Preservation of Monuments, which was under the jurisdiction of the All-Union Central Executive Committee, and in 1936 to the Committee of Art Affairs, which was under the jurisdiction of the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR. In the late 1940’s and the early 1950’s, the administration of preservation work was transferred to the ministries of culture of the USSR and of the Union and autonomous republics, to the academies of sciences of the USSR and the Union republics, and to the municipal and republic-level offices of Gosstroi (State Committee for Construction).

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, large-scale projects were carried out in the USSR to restore monuments that had been destroyed by the fascists. Monuments were restored in numerous cities, including Leningrad, Novgorod, Pskov, and Kiev. A great deal of assistance has been rendered to the state by societies for the preservation of historical and cultural treasures. Those treasures recognized in the USSR to be the property of all the people are preserved by the government and are used extensively in the communist upbringing of workers.


Okhrana pamiatnikov istorii i kul’tury (collected documents). Moscow, 1973.
Riegel, A. Der moderne Denkmalkultus. Vienna-Leipzig, 1903.
Denkmalschutz und Denkmalpflege im 19 Jahrhundert. Strasburg, 1905.
Léon, P. La Vie des monuments français. Paris, 1951.
Noblecourt, A. Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. [Paris, 1958.]
Zehn Jahre Denkmalpflege in der DDR. Leipzig, 1959.
Denkmalpflege in unserer Zeit. Berlin, 1963.
Zachwatowicz, J. Ochrona zabytków w Polsce. Warsaw, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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