1.         Aksum (Ethiopia) (C 15)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1980

Criteria  (i)(iv)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/15/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1996-1996)
Total amount approved: USD 2,000
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/15/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount provided to the property: USD 5.07 million by the Italian Funds in Trust for the “Aksum Archaeological Site Improvement Project: Preparatory studies for the reinstallation of the Obelisk and capacity building for archaeological conservation - Phase 1”, "Reinstallation of the Obelisk - Phase 2” and “Consolidation of Stele 3”.

Previous monitoring missions

2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009: missions of the World Heritage Centre and experts for the implementation of the Obelisk project; 2010: World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS monitoring mission

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

a) Insufficient delimitation of this serial property;

b) Lack of conservation and Management Plans;

c) Lack of appropriate urban planning and building regulations;

d) Urban encroachment and inappropriate new developments;

e) Rising water level / seepage;

f) Structural instability of Stele 3.

Illustrative material  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/15/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2012

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.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies recommend that the Committee regret that the construction of the Orthodox Church Museum has started without prior submission of the plans to the World Heritage Centre as requested by the Committee at its 34th session and in line with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines. They note that the location and scale of the museum under construction will have a negative impact on the OUV of the property. The construction should be halted immediately to allow for a comprehensive assessment by a high level reactive monitoring mission before any further construction activity takes place, and seek appropriate solutions to ensure the OUV of the property is fully preserved. The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies further recommend that the Committee encourage the State Party to finalize their efforts in establishing a site management office, developing a Management Plan and integrating a sustainable land-use plan and protection status in all local planning procedures. They further recommend to the Committee to reiterate its invitation to the State Party to submit an International Assistance request for investigation of causes and potential solutions for the rising water / seepage in the Tomb of the Brick Arches.

Decision Adopted: 36 COM 7B.41

The World Heritage Committee,

1.   Having examined Document WHC-12/36.COM/7B,

2.   Recalling Decision 34 COM 7B.45 adopted at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010),

3.   Acknowledges the information provided by the State Party, in particular the efforts made towards the delimitation of boundaries of the property and of a suggested buffer zone, as well as the submission of a draft retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value;

4.   Expresses its concern that the construction of the Orthodox Church Museum has started on the property without prior submission of information on this construction to the World Heritage Centre in line with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines and as requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010);

5.   Also expresses its strong concern that this Orthodox Church Museum construction will have a negative impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property;

6.   Reiterates its request to the State Party to establish more structured management arrangements at the property, including a Management Plan, and to provide the World Heritage Centre, for review by the Advisory Bodies, with maps showing the precise boundaries of the property and the buffer zone;

7.   Also reiterates its request to the State Party to undertake investigations on the causes of the rising water table and renews its invitation to the State Party to submit a request for International Assistance to:

a)  Conduct the study on the causes of the rising water,

b)  Support the Stele 3 consolidation project;

8.   Requests the State Party to invite a World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS high level reactive monitoring mission to assess the Orthodox Church Museum project before any further construction activity takes place;

9.   Also requests the State Party to halt the Orthodox Church Museum construction until the World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS mission and the assessment are completed;

10. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2013, a detailed report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 37th session in 2013, with a view to considering, if the Orthodox Church Museum construction is not halted until the project is comprehensively assessed by a high level reactive monitoring mission, and until appropriate solutions to ensure that the Outstanding Universal Value of the property is fully preserved have been identified and agreed upon, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.