A joint UNESCO/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission was sent to Teotihuacan following a multitude of newspaper articles and letters from concerned organizations and individuals during the second half of 2004, which related to the construction of a supermarket in the vicinity of the World Heritage property, and in particular to allegations made by various parties ranging from destruction of significant archaeological finds without an archaeologist present, to allowing the developers of the Wal-Mart to ignore steps in the permit process. The mission’s objective was to verify these accusations and to assess the store’s impact on the World Heritage property. It consisted of Professor Giorgio Lombardi, conservation architect from Italy, and Mr. Michael Romero Taylor, archaeologist from the USA, who visited the property from 28 November to 4 December 2004.
The Wal-Mart is located 2.4 kilometers to the southwest of the Pyramid of the Sun, the most prominent architectural feature at Teotihuacan. The Zona de Monumentos Arquelogicos de Teotihuacan, the archaeological zone established in 1988 by presidential decree, comprises three areas:
Zone A is the core of the architectural monuments, including the pyramids. All of this land is owned by the federal government and administered by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH).
Zone B surrounds Zone A and comprises mixed federal and private land holdings. No new construction is allowed in Zone B by private land owners. Zone B contains significant archaeological remains, including the domestic archaeological property of La Ventilla recently excavated and now owned by INAH. La Ventilla is destined to be opened to the public within the next few years.
Zone C (otherwise known as the “area de proteccion general”) includes areas adjacent and to the west and southwest of Zone B and is made up of the historic town of San Juan de Teotihuacan, with a considerable amount of open land, much of which is used for cultivation. New construction is allowed in Zone C, subject to architectural and salvage archaeological requirements as directed by INAH. The Wal-Mart is located in Zone C, within a few meters of the boundary with Zone B.
Based on the property visit, a review of documentary evidence and on a questioning of professionals directly involved, e.g. archaeologists, the mission reached the following conclusions.
The construction of the Wal-Mart in Zone C of the Teotihuacan archaeological property does not affect the fabric of the World Heritage property. However, the visual integrity of the property with its setting can be compromised affecting its associated symbolic values. The archaeological stipulations prescribed by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) prior to the store’s construction adequately mitigated impacts to the immediate area where ground disturbing activity took place. No significant archaeological remains were destroyed during the construction of the Wal-Mart. The archaeological investigations that were conducted were done so using proper techniques as per the accepted norms. From the records investigated, the UNESCO/ICOMOS mission determined that archaeologists were on duty during the surface disturbing activities for the store’s construction.
The stipulations mandated by INAH regarding the physical appearance of the store also adequately mitigated the visual impacts that the store has on the surrounding neighborhood, and to the archaeological property of Teotihuacan. These stipulations, stated in a letter from INAH dated 28 May 2004, included (but are not limited to): planting of vegetation to better hide the new building; colors dictated for the building to blend into to the surrounding neighborhood; restricting the size (volume and height ) of the building, so as to not overpower the adjacent historic center of San Juan de Teotihuacan, (which has grown from 15,000 inhabitants in 1984 to 56,000 today). From the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, the Wal-Mart is visible in the landscape, but not noticeably distracting. Visibility of the Wal-Mart from the Pyramid varies, and is affected by the time of day, humidity in the air and the amount of pollutants in the atmosphere.
However, indirect impacts from the construction of the Wal-Mart, and from anticipated new developments in the area, need to be better assessed and planned, so that the cumulative effects of such developments (i.e. to the cultural landscape, to archaeological deposits, etc., which are important characters in defining the significance of the archaeological property) do not adversely effect the integrity of the archaeological property of Teotihuacan.
In order to address, plan and implementactions to preserve and protect the World Heritage property, and to address the needs of the surrounding communities as they relate to the property, an integrated Archaeological Site Management Plan needs to be developed. A plan titled Programa de Manejo, Zona de Monumentos Archeologicos de Teotihuacan, produced by INAH in November 2004, is considered by the UNESCO/ICOMOS mission to be only a start, a rough draft for a long-term Management Plan. It is recommended that a plan be developed and implemented that fully involves community participation including private individuals, businesses, organizations, and local and state government agencies. It should have a timeline when specific actions will be implemented, who will be responsible, and how the actions will be implemented. It is recommended that a commission be established comprised of representatives of each of the above stated entities to guide the process for developing and implementing the plan, as well as for providing recommendations on specific requests for new construction and development.
As a final evaluation, the UNESCO/ICOMOS mission concluded that from a technical-administrative point of view the Wal-Mart case appeared consistent; however, it has certainly had a negative impact on the symbolic value of Teotihuacán. In view of this consideration, the mission invited a reflection on the relationship between the symbolic value of all World Heritage properties and the development of the territory in which they are located; which, in other words, calls for the crucial question on how to ensure the conservation of the property, respect its symbolic aspect, while at the same time be responsive to the inhabitants’ requirements. As such, the mission strongly reiterated the need for a comprehensive Management Plan for the archaeological property and surrounding area of Teotihuacán, in order to regulate future actions.