While consolidation, cleaning and restoration efforts following the 4 March 2004 fire at the Chilandar Monastery move forwards and road development on the Mount Athos peninsula has finished, the lack of an overall management plan, covering both the natural and cultural values of the property, remains a cause of concern.
The State Party submitted a brief report on 16 January 2006, describing the progress of consolidation, cleaning and restoration efforts at the Chilandar Monastery, especially its buildings and paintings. Furthermore, the State Party reports that the Ministry of Culture is realising a number of activities to reduce the risk to the property from natural disasters, including seismic activities.
According to the report, all road developments at the property are finished and no new road development is planned. The report further states that timber extraction at the property is guided by both the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Agricultural Affairs and follows traditional methods that respect the natural beauty of the area. According to the report, the ongoing timber extraction in the chestnut forest surrounding the monasteries helps to reduce the risk of forest fires. Finally, the Centre for the Preservation of the Holy Mount (Mount Athos) Heritage (KEDAK) is in the process of undertaking a special environmental study, in order to put in place measures to protect the forest ecosystem.
Considering that Mount Athos is also a Natura 2000 site, the responsible Ministry for Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works is encouraged to play a more active role in the future, especially in relation to developing the very much needed overall management plan for the property. Such a management plan would also help to address issues such as road development, timber extraction and risk preparedness.
The joint UNESCO/ICOMOS/IUCN monitoring mission took place from 30 January to 4 February 2006, after submission by the State Party’s state of conservation report. It’s primary objectives were to assess the impacts of ongoing restoration efforts on the World Heritage values of Mount Athos; to assess any threats including road development and timber extraction to the chestnut forest surrounding the monasteries; to assess the progress being made in the requested risk preparedness study; and to discuss the development of an overall management strategy for the World Heritage property.
The full report of the mission is available on-line at the following Web address: http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2006.
In conclusion, the mission noted that: the World Heritage values of the property were not at risk from the various operations reviewed and discussed, and that the long established monastic community and the national authorities deserved to be commended for their continuing efforts to bring the highest standards of conservation care to a living historic property of great religious importance and heritage value, in a management environment which has always accorded the 20 monastic establishments comprising the property considerable independence.
The mission also noted that the request of the Committee at its 29th session to the State Party to “undertake a risk preparedness study, including seismic preparedness, of all 20 monasteries on the Holy Mount, in order to systematically reduce the likelihood of fire elsewhere, and possibility of other threats, and to explore the development of an overall management strategy for the World Heritage property, which would address both natural and cultural values, and provide for a common framework for action among the 20 monasteries on the property” was not yet carried out.
In responding to this failure to meet the Committee’s expectations, the mission report stressed that the development of strategies which would involve co-operation of all 20 monasteries needed to take into account the ways of working of the long established traditional protection system in place on the Holy Mount for over 1000 years, and that such initiatives needed to be developed through and with the co-operation of the Holy Community, the overall management and co-ordination instrument at Mount Athos.
The mission stressed that the highest priority for improvement of conservation of the World Heritage property is the preparation, approval and implementation of an integrated and multi-disciplinary management plan for the entire area of Mt. Athos, which should cover the following issues:
- Evaluation of the current situation, taking into account the co-existence of nature and spirituality / culture in Mt. Athos since the end of the first millennium, and the legitimate needs of the Monastic Brotherhoods;
- Circulation and transportation network of Mt. Athos;
- Integrated management of the natural environment;
- Sustainable management of the forests;
- Protection of the property within a cultural landscape perspective;
- Resolution of the problem of solid and liquid wastes;
- Improving management of risks, especially of fires and earthquakes, as well as eventual impacts from climate change;
- The importance of developing a consistent approach to conservation decision-making from monastery to monastery.
Due to the administrative autonomy of the Monasteries, it would be better if such a study would consider all these aspects initially at the level of the entire peninsula working with the Holy Community, but then treat in greater detail proposals for the specific area of each Monastery, and incorporate these within the overall management plan.
The study described above should also give consideration to treatment of Mount Athos as a cultural landscape in development of any future management plan/ strategy and a possible re-nomination of the property as cultural landscape. In addition, the mission noted that:
- The Ministry of the Environment, Planning and Public Works whose responsibilities for the property are mentioned in the Periodic Report, did not participate in the mission;
- Similarly the full participation of the Forest Service in improving management of the site needs to be assured;
- Concerning risk preparedness, the mission report recognized the important work undertaken by the Ministry of Culture to facilitate care of important archival material in a number of monasteries and to thus provide models of recommended care for all monasteries, the continuing vulnerability of many of the priceless collections in the monasteries and emphasized the priority importance of implementing a long term risk preparedness awareness building and training programme among those responsible in all monasteries, perhaps in co-operation with ICCROM.
A comparison with the contents of the Special Environmental Study – currently in its final phase – indicates that the Study might cover most of the points mentioned above, with the exception perhaps of risk management, and of developing a consistent approach to conservation decision-making. An evaluation of the study should be undertaken to determine whether it would satisfy the requirements of the Operational Guidelines for a management plan. In any event, it appears that the Study at minimum will provide an excellent and comprehensive base for the preparation of a long term management plan for the World Heritage property.
In addition, the Ministry of Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works should be encouraged to assign high priority to Mt. Athos (in accordance with Law 1650/1986 and Community Directive 92/43/WWC). This Ministry should play a key role in the assessment, approval and implementation of the Mt. Athos management plan.
A number of specific additional recommendations were also proposed to the Holy Community, to the State Party, and to the World Heritage Centre.