In International Law texts we cannot find a global definition of “museum”, just like there is no general definition of cultural property universally valid, every definition is applicable only “to the purpose of the convention” in which it is inserted in order to define the conventional scope.
Some Recommendations adopted by the UNESCO General Conference deal with “museum”.
Recommendations are not binding per se, usually they contain declarations of principles and guidelines that the States Parties to the Organization are invited (not compelled) to follow, by adopting, in the form of a national law or in some other way, measures designed to give effect in the territories under their jurisdiction to the norms and principles embodied in the recommendation.

As for the definition of “museum” see for instance Artt. 1 and 13 of the Recommendation concerning the Most Effective Means of Rendering Museums Accessible to Everyone, 14 December 1960:

  • Art. 1. For the purposes of this Recommendation, the term ‘museum’ shall be taken to mean any permanent establishment administered in the general interest for the purpose of preserving, studying, enhancing by various means and, in particular, exhibiting to the public for its delectation and instruction, groups of objects and specimens of cultural value: artistic, historical, scientific and technological collections, botanical and zoological gardens and aquariums.
  • Art. 13. Museums should serve as intellectual and cultural centres in their own localities. They should therefore contribute to the intellectual and cultural life of the community, which in turn should be given the opportunity of taking part in the activities and development of the museums. This should apply in particular to museums situated in small towns and villages and whose importance is often out of proportion to their size.
The idea of a “museum-system” seems to be in line with what is stated in the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Safeguarding and Contemporary Role of Historic Areas, 26 November 1976), in particular in Art. 2:
  • Art. 2, para. 3 “Every historic area and its surroundings should be considered in their totality as a coherent whole whose balance and specific nature depend on the fusion of the parts of which it is composed and which include human activities as much as the buildings, the spatial organization and the surroundings. All valid elements, including human activities, however modest, thus have a significance in relation to the whole which must not be disregarded.
  • para. 4. Historic areas and their surroundings should be actively protected, against damage of all kinds, particularly that resulting from unsuitable use, unnecessary additions and misguided or insensitive changes such as will impair their authenticity, and from damage due to any form of pollution. Any restoration work undertaken should be based on scientific principles. Similarly, great at tention should be paid to the harmony and aesthetic feeling produced by the linking or the contrasting of the various parts which make up the groups of buildings and which give to each group its particular character.
  • para. 5. In the conditions of modern urbanization, which leads to a considerable increase in the scale and density of buildings, apart from the danger of direct destruction of historic areas, there is a real danger that newly developed areas can ruin the environment and character of adjoining historic areas. Architects and town-planners should be careful to ensure that views from and to monuments and historic areas are not spoilt and that historic areas are integrated harmoniously into contemporary life.
  • para. 6. At a time when there is a danger that a growing universality of building techniques and architectural forms may create a uniform environment throughout the world, the preservation of historic areas can make an outstanding contribution to maintaining and developing the cultural and social values of each nation. This can contribute to the architectural enrichment of the cultural heritage of the world.
See also UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Safeguarding of Beauty and Character of Landscapes and Sites of 11 December 1962, Artt. 1 and 5
  • Art. 1: <<1. For the purpose of this recommendation, the safeguarding of the beauty and character of landscapes and sites is taken to mean the preservation and, where possible, the restoration of the aspect of natural, rural and urban landscapes and sites, whether natural or man-made, which have a cultural or aesthetic interest or form typical natural surroundings.>>
  • Art. 5: Protection should not be limited to natural landscapes and sites, but should also extend to landscapes and sites whose formation is due wholly or in part to the work of man. Thus, special provisions should be made to ensure the safeguarding of certain urban landscapes and sites which are, in general, the most threatened, especially by building operations and land speculation. Special protection should be accorded to the approaches to monuments.
  • Art. 6: Measures taken for the safeguarding of landscapes and sites should be both preventive and corrective.
Moreover, the well-known 1972 UNESCO Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage includes “sites” – defined as: << works of man or the combined works of nature and of man, and areas including archaeological sites which are of outstanding universal value from the historical, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological points of view >> among the cultural property that need to be preserved as part of the world heritage of mankind as a whole.

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