On 1 February 2012, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property. The report gives a brief overview on the current status of site management, including the development of a local master plan and the beginning of construction of the Church Museum. With the report, the State Party also submitted a draft Retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value. It further submitted two maps, aimed at indicating the property’s and buffer zone’s boundaries. Unfortunately, the maps lack the required format and level of detail to be fully indicative. On 23 March 2012, the State Party submitted the architectural drawings of the four-storey museum building designed by an Italian architect following a request for information by the World Heritage Centre.
a) Construction of the Orthodox Church Museum
The State Party report states that the construction of the Orthodox Church Museum has commenced and has reached first floor level. The museum is next to both the old and new St Mary of Aksum church buildings within the boundaries of the property, as described in the Nomination file.
Although the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that a museum at Aksum would be an asset for the property, they note that despite the monitoring mission in 2010, which concluded that a museum building in this location could have an adverse impact on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property, work has progressed without detailed plans being submitted for review, as requested by the World Heritage Committee at the 34th session (Brasilia, 2010). The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies have now reviewed the details submitted by the State Party on 23 March 2012, and consider that the size, scale and design of the building are incompatible with the sensitive surrounding where previous excavations showed foundations of ancient structures, and would have a negative impact on the OUV of the property. The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that it is essential that the construction is halted immediately and a comprehensive assessment undertaken by means of a high level reactive monitoring mission before any further construction activity takes place.
b) Urban regulations and tourism master plan
The State Party provided information that a master plan for Aksum, which included a future land use and development plan besides aspects related to tourism, had been developed in 2010 by the regional government of Tigray, under the lead of the Culture and Tourism Agency. Following the State Party’s perception, this plan helped in placing all development activities within a larger sustainable framework. The master plan also includes references to standardized site interpretation, such as touring routes and visitor facilities.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies welcome the development of a master plan and consider that this first strategic tool may provide a possible framework to establish the required formal cooperation with all governance agencies concerned. It is essential however, that a land use and development plan also becomes a legal reference for planning permissions.
c) Site management
The State Party reports that the establishment of the site office for management, expected in 2010, had been delayed but would be established shortly. The first task of the new office will then be the development of a site Management Plan.
d) Legal protection
Preparations to gain additional legal protection for the property have been continued and following the initial presentation to parliament, the State Party now foresees a protective regulation to be endorsed by the Council of Ministers. The State Party notes, however, that the general legal protection granted by the Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage Proclamation No 209/2000 is sufficient to ensure the long-term protection of the property.
e) Rising water / seepage in the Tomb of Brick Arches
The State Party considers that the rising water level in the Tomb of the Brick Arches still requires a permanent solution and envisages further technical studies to be conducted with support of national universities. To finance such investigation it seeks technical assistance. The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that further studies are essential and recommend that the Committee may wish to once again reiterate its invitation to submit an International Assistance request.
f) Consolidation of Stele 3
According to the State Party, the Stele 3 was destabilized during the reinstallation of Stele 2, and it therefore considers it part of the responsibility of the reinstallation project to ensure the stabilization of Stele 3. The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies note that a consolidation project has been developed, and funding will need to be raised for its implementation. Until the necessary funding is in place, the temporary consolidation structure needs to remain in place.