At its 29th session in 2005, the World Heritage Committee expressed its concern over the major building projects undertaken on the site of Volubilis and the scope and volume of the new buildings, as well as the visual impact of these developments on the surrounding landscape. It therefore urged the State Party to consider the modification of the project in accordance with the recommendations of the expert mission and to submit a revised version to the World Heritage Centre and to ICOMOS for study, accompanied by a management programme for the new installations in accordance with the management plan for the entire property. The State Party was requested to define a buffer zone to ensure the protection of the area around the archaeological site and to take into account the surrounding landscape in its entirety, in particular the agricultural plain to the west of the property, which is inseparable from its historical origins. A report on progress made with the project was requested for examination by the Committee at its 30th session.
The State Party addressed a letter to the World Heritage Centre in January 2006, altogether with a presentation brochure on the project consisting of plans and sketches, very similar to the previous one. It is announced that the Minister of Culture has set up an expert committee to be responsible for the implementation of the World Heritage Committee’s decision, which was instructed to undertake the following changes to the original project:
a) The area for presentation has been reduced from 500m2 to 420m2, to be used as the site for a museum or interpretation centre;
b) Most of the existing entrance will be retained;
c) The height of the administrative buildings will be reduced so as not to affect the picturesque view of the site;
d) The residential buildings for researchers will be retained because of their significance in the understanding of the site;
e) The design of the stage for the Volubilis Festival and other presentations will not seek to evoke classical models;
f) Tree plantings will reproduce those already in existence on the site (olive trees, cypress, palm trees, mulberry trees, and eucalyptus).
It is reported that the work will be carried out in seven stages starting with the demolition of old structures and terracing, which is nearly completed; the building of the reception area; the ticket office, toilets, cloakroom, cafeteria; then the administration premises, the laboratory and archaeological storerooms. At a later stage, the housing for researchers and conservator as well as exterior works is foreseen.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS do not consider that reducing the surface of the museum/interpretation room from 500m2 to 420 would make much difference to its visual impact. The issues raised by the expert mission of 2005 are still not addressed: “The construction of the right wing of the proposed building poses major problems concerning the physical and visual impact on the property. The space foreseen for the exhibition room appears both too small for a proper site museum, and too large for a simple room for the introduction of archaeological remains that do not appear to warrant a building of such importance. The very concept of a site museum should be reconsidered in the light of a detailed analysis of the objects intended for display.”
As regards the theatre, although it has been displaced further to the north, it remains semi-circular and it does not appear on the drawings that “it will not seek to evoke classical models”. The recommendation of the expert mission of 2005, stating that “The construction of a theatre or a fixed stage within the premises must be strictly avoided, all the more so as such a structure would only be used one week per year during the festival. In the event of a simple treatment of the area with temporary tiered seating, a semicircular form that would evoke an ancient theatre in a place where it did not exist and in a site where no structure of this kind has been identified should be avoided” has not been taken into consideration.
The graphic documents provided do not allow full comprehension of some parts of the project, in particular the area located between the museum and the administrative buildings, where a coffee-shop and large terrace are foreseen. Additional cross-sections should have been submitted as well as other perspective views from various angles. Some of the information that appears on the site plan is not reflected in the level-plans. It is therefore difficult to have a precise view of the actual project compared to the original one.