This State of Conservation Report is based on information collected by the World Heritage Centre and by the experts during the missions conducted in the past two years in the framework of the initiative of the Director-General of UNESCO (the Action Plan for the safeguarding of the cultural heritage of the old city of Jerusalem) as well as information provided by local institutions and organisations. At the 28th session of the Committee (Suzhou, 2004), the World Heritage Centre presented a report on the state of conservation of the Old City of Jerusalem based on previous reports by the Special Advisers to the Director-General of UNESCO for Jerusalem, and on the report to the Executive Board of UNESCO (170 EX/10 Rev) of the mission carried out in February-March 2004 by the Director of the World Heritage Centre, the Director-General of ICCROM and the President of ICOMOS (Document WHC-04/28.COM/15A). Additional missions by the World Heritage Centre and experts were undertaken in September and December 2005, in March and June 2006, within the framework of the elaboration of the Action Plan for the safeguarding of the cultural heritage of the Old City of Jerusalem.
A) State of Conservation of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls
The Old City of Jerusalem is situated in an area known for its seismic activities. Major earthquakes have in the past damaged important monuments such as the Holy Sepulchre (the Chapel of the Sepulchre of Christ is still waiting for the reparation of the damages suffered during the 1927 quake) or the al-Aqsa Mosque. Smaller quakes are frequent, the last having been registered on 11 February 2004 with 4.9 to 5.3 on the Richter scale. While seismic risks for the inhabitants and the monuments exist, no risk prevention plan has been so far established.
Planning and Governance
Owing to the current political situation, the Old City of Jerusalem lacks a coherent institutional and planning coordination framework, which would ensure the appropriate management and conservation of its cultural heritage.
Since 1967, the Old City of Jerusalem is de facto administered by the Israeli authorities. Therefore, all new constructions and conservation projects are in principle subject to the administrative jurisdiction of the Municipality. However, although the Israeli Antiquities Authority requires a permit for any building activity within the Old City, in reality, most building activities within the Old City, especially small interventions, are presently carried out without any permit. The Municipality of Jerusalem has prepared a Master Plan for the City, which includes a Detailed Plan for the Conservation of the Old City at a scale 1:1250. This document, prepared with the support of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, is currently under discussion. An overall study for the Revitalisation of the Old City of Jerusalem has been prepared in 2004 by the Welfare Association, a NGO involved in social projects in the Old City.
Among the Palestinian institutions, the main actor is the Islamic Waqf, the largest single owner in the Old City, which is responsible for the maintenance and conservation of al-Haram ash-Sharîf, as well as for the safeguarding of all other properties of the “endowment”, i.e. all Islamic monuments and other estate properties (over 1,500) in the Old City. Within the Christian communities, the main entities involved are the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Custody of the Terra Sancta (Franciscans), the Armenian Patriarchate and the Coptic Patriarchate.
Alteration of the urban and social fabric
The population density in the Old City has reached very high levels, especially in the past decade. Today, this relatively small area is subject to extraordinary pressures, due to population increase as well as security measures affecting the circulation of people and materials and the accessibility to holy sites, while the traditional links and exchanges with the communities of the hinterland have been severed by the construction of the wall.
A combined result of overcrowding and the lack of an effective management and conservation system within the Old City is the uncontrolled spreading of building activities, resulting in the continuous alteration of the urban fabric. Additions on the rooftops and the densification of existing buildings, which in recent years have completely changed the traditional urban landscape of the Old City, are the most common of these various types of alteration. The lack of maintenance, owing to ownership issues, administrative problems in obtaining the necessary permits and lack of financial resources are among the factors affecting the state of conservation of the urban fabric of the Old City.
Some new projects are presently under consideration. In particular, the project to build a new residential area on the site of the current parking lot on the southern edge of the Jewish Quarter within the walls, near Bâb an-Nabî Dâ’ûd (also called Zion Gate), is under discussion. This project aims to build an underground parking lot above the archaeological layers (estimated to be at about 6 metres under the present surface level), with access external to the Walls. According to information collected during the late mission by the World Heritage Centre (June 2006), a trial archaeological excavation in this area may be started in the near future.
Another development project being considered is a new Israeli settlement close to the North-East corner of the Old City, in the area called “Burj al-Laqlaq”, in the Muslim Quarter. The proposed project has been recommended by the Local Planning Commission, but has not been presented to the District Planning Commission for approval, nor has been approved by the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Archaeological excavations are presently underway in the location of the proposed project. This project has raised controversy for its nature and because it affects one of the few remaining open spaces of the Old City. In 2005 the Director-General of UNESCO has asked the Israeli Authorities to withdraw the proposal.
In the plaza facing the Western Wall, a new project is currently under implementation. Archaeological excavations were conducted in the area in the past year, and the plan for the construction of an educational building to the west of the plaza is currently in the last stages of approval, pending the completion of the archaeological evaluations.
In the Jewish Quarter, the Hurva Synagogue, originally built in the 1860s and destroyed after 1948, is presently being rebuilt in its original form.
Impact of archaeological research on the conservation of cultural heritage
Since 1967, an extensive investigation of the archaeological subsoil in the Old City has been undertaken by the Israeli authorities, leading to several excavation campaigns over the past 39 years, in contradiction with the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of Armed conflict and the 1956 UNESCO Recommendation on international principles applicable to archaeological excavations.
Inside the Old City, excavations are taking place under a series of buildings, in the vicinity of the Hammam Al-Ain, under the former Ohel Yizhak Synagogue. According to the latest information received (mission by the World Heritage Centre, June 2006), the excavations are currently suspended due to lack of funds, while the reconstruction of the synagogue destroyed in the 1936 riots is continuing.
Further to the collapse, in February 2004, of the northern side of the embankment supporting the entrance ramp to al-Haram ash-Sharîf, a provisional structure has been established. Possible solutions for the public entrance ramp are currently being evaluated by the Israeli Antiquities Authority. This project could be associated to archaeological excavations and has not yet been finalised. The Islamic Waqf expressed its preoccupation for these excavations as they affect a very sensitive area between the Western wall and the already excavated surroundings of the South-West corner of the al-Haram ash-Sharîf.
Deterioration of monuments
Besides their cultural and artistic value, the Jerusalem monuments have overwhelming religious and symbolic significance to millions of people. The lack of maintenance is one of the main problems affecting the state of conservation of monuments of the Old City of Jerusalem. Many monuments are in a very bad state of conservation and require urgent intervention. Very often, controversies around property ownership between the different communities cause serious delays or blockages of needed interventions. The most evident case is the situation of the Birkat Hammam el-Batrak (also known as Pool of Hezekiah), a seasonal pool located in the centre of the Old City, completely surrounded by houses and with only one access, that has been turned into a garbage dump. As the ownership of the access to the Pool is contested between different communities, no work is allowed to clean the area and remove a serious health hazard.
Another problem is the inability to conduct conservation works in the Muslim quarter according to a planned schedule, owing to unforeseeable changes in administrative and security measures. The restoration works at the Madrasa al-Ashrafîya inside the al-Haram ash-Sharîf, for example, have suffered great delays owing to the difficulty to get through the necessary building materials and workers, due to the strict access and security measures implemented by the Israeli authorities.
Impacts on the visual integrity
In the immediate surroundings of the Old City, the following projects are presently being implemented or under discussion:
(i)the reorganisation of the traffic infrastructure around the Walls, comprising a new system of roads and tunnels (completed) and the “Jerusalem light rail” which will connect West Jerusalem to the Old City and to the Israeli settlements north and south of the town. This project can have a beneficial effect in reducing traffic, but for its proximity to the Walls, affects visually the immediate surroundings of the Old City;
(ii) the completion of the Mamilla project, after over a decade of inaction due to legal disputes between the developer and the Authorities;
(iii) the construction of the Mount Zion Hotel, approved over three years ago, which will affect the area above Wadi Jahannin (also known as Hinnom Valley). Detailed plans for this building are under preparation.
(iv) the construction by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre of the “Centre for Human Dignity” on the location of an abandoned Muslim cemetery (presently called “Independence Park”) at some five to eight hundred meters from the Old City; this construction may impact on the urban landscape;
(v) The construction of a Cable car from Bâb an-Nabî Dâ’ûd (also known as Zion Gate) to the old Railway station. According to information received, this is a very preliminary suggestion still under discussion.
As the site of the Old City of Jerusalem does not have a buffer zone, legal protection of the immediate surroundings is limited. The creation of a buffer zone would certainly be necessary from a technical viewpoint, but it has proven difficult for political and legal reasons.
The Master Plans currently being processed by the Israeli authorities have identified a buffer zone that includes the visual space of the Old City. In addition, there are two detailed Plans for the areas to the north of the Old City between the west and the east central areas. Whereas there are guidelines to ensure a stepped height limit, higher buildings are being approved beyond these guidelines up to 24 stories on the far ridge towards the west entrance of the city. In the central area to the north of the Bab al-Amud (also known as Damascus Gate) and Bab al-Sahera (also known as Herod’s Gate), additional floors will be allowed. A Plan is under preparation for the areas that will aim at preserving the areas between the Old City and Wadi al-Qilt at Silwân (also known as Kidron Valley) and Wadi Jahannin (also known as Hinnom Valley).
Traffic, access and circulation
Except for the new infrastructures being planned outside of the Old City, no new traffic infrastructure has been built. Traffic inside the Old City is regulated and restricted, but it is quite heavy during peak hours and days despite regulations in place. In consideration of the peculiar structure of the site, vehicular circulation should be excluded from the Old City as much as possible and parking should not be allowed except temporarily for utilitarian reasons.
B) The Action Plan for the safeguarding of the cultural heritage of Jerusalem
Further to decision 170 EX/3.6.1. adopted by the Executive Board in October 2004, and based on the guidelines set and proposals made by the international Committee of experts at its January 2005 meeting, the Secretariat has started elaborating the Action Plan. Thanks to the generous financial contribution from the Government of Italy, as well as assistance provided from the government of Spain, and with the agreement of the concerned parties, the following activities have been initiated by the World Heritage Centre and are currently being finalised:
1. Needs Map for the Conservation of Historic Monuments and Sites
This component of the Plan will identify all the historic monuments and sites of the Old City, their state of conservation, use, typology, ownership and heritage value, and generate a basic information tool to prepare conservation and possible adaptive re-use projects. In this first phase, it is planned to identify monuments and sites, transfer the data on a GIS, and carry out the survey of a limited number of monuments/sites.
2. Project Profiles
A number of conservation and restoration project sheets (between 15 and 20) will be elaborated among those identified during the preparation of the Needs Map, in order to prepare the implementation of the 2nd phase of the Action Plan. The project profiles will identify specific areas or buildings, their state of conservation, their current and potential use, and the main restoration and conservation measures to be undertaken. The project sheets will contain a preliminary project description accompanied by a budget estimate of the interventions.
At the end of this phase, a booklet will be designed and published in order for it to be submitted to potential donors for funding. This booklet, which could be made available also on-line, will be the first fund-raising tool to mobilise international support to carry out the conservation of the cultural heritage of the Old City of Jerusalem.
3. Improvement of Housing
This project aims at the improvement of the quality of the housing stock and of the living conditions of the inhabitants preserving the ordinary architectural elements of the urban fabric as an essential component of the World Heritage Site of Jerusalem. Different activities are planned:
a) Elaboration of a Manual for Housing maintenance and rehabilitation; a technical handbook for professionals and craftsmen:
The Manual will be a practical and operational rehabilitation tool, designed to bring simple and illustrated answers to concrete problems through technical files.
b) Training courses to disseminate the Manual:
The training of local experts and craftsmen is an essential step to disseminate the Manual. Moreover, the involvement of the communities living in the area is a prerequisite for their participation in future maintenance.
4. Development of micro credit schemes
In parallel with the preparation of the Manual, a feasibility study has been undertaken to develop a housing renovation and conservation micro-credit system for the residents of the Old City of Jerusalem. It should also aim at identifying possible financing sources.
5. Revitalising cultural life
In accordance with the guidelines defined by the International Committee of Experts, which stressed in the Action Plan the need for awareness programmes for the local population - focusing on women and youth – and for capacity-building of local professionals in heritage conservation and management, a number of cultural activities have been identified, which could take place in renovated houses or premises, and will be discussed during the second meeting of the Committee of Experts in September 2006. These include training activities to support craftsmanship.
The second meeting of the International Committee of Experts will be convened on 4 and 5 September 2006, in order to examine the progress made in the preparation of the Action Plan.