At its 34th session the Committee requested the State Party to halt work on a monumental, stone-clad, reinforced concrete reconstruction of Bagrati Cathedral that had been startedwithoutits approval and decided to inscribe the property on the World Heritage List in Danger. At the 35th session, the Committee noted that work on reconstructing the Cathedral according to the monumental scheme had been halted.
The Committee also took note that according to the international conservation architect appointed as a consultant for the Bagrati Cathedral that the incomplete structural condition of the Bagrati Cathedral was not sustainable, that it might not be feasible to reverse what has been recently built as the interventions are almost irreversible, and that a lightweight roof could be mounted on the existing concrete columns.
The Committee requested the State Party to produce a Rehabilitation Strategy that could allow the building to be brought back into use, while reversing the maximum amount of recent work and incorporating fragments of the original building where they form part of the walls.
The Rehabilitation Strategy was to be presented to the Committee for approval before a detailed rehabilitation project was submitted, and before any further work on the Cathedral was undertaken.
As also requested by the Committee at its 35th session, a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission visited the property from 22 to 28 April 2012 to discuss the Rehabilitation Strategy and to consider the overall state of conservation of the property.
At the time of drafting this report, only a preliminary mission report has been received. However, the report shows that a monumental re-building of the Cathedral using modern materials was well underway at the time of the mission.
The State Party submitted a State of Conservation Report on 31 January 2012. The report did not mention the fact that re-building work was well under way. The report addressed progress made with the drafting of the Rehabilitation Strategy for Bagrati Cathedral, with conservation work at Gelati monastery, and with drafting a retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value. Further documents relating to the re-building of the Cathedral were submitted on 15 May 2012, after the mission had taken place. They included a revised Rehabilitation Strategy, details of the engineering work carried out, and a partial report on archaeological investigations, but no detailed plans of the re-building project.
a) Rehabilitation Strategy for Bagrati Cathedral
The State Party submitted a first draft of a Rehabilitation Strategy in January 2012. This was drafted following a round table discussion organised at the request of the State Party at the World Heritage Centre on 9 November 2011 and attended by representatives of the State Party, the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM.
This meeting agreed that the purpose of the Rehabilitation Strategy was to set out a rationale for a project to allow the Cathedral to be brought back into use.
It was agreed that as the conservation history of Bagrati Cathedral is complex, and as recent interventions have to an extent limited certain options, the Rehabilitation Strategy needed to set out the necessary evidence to justify any rebuilding approach that was being suggested.
The meeting discussed a possible alternative approach to the monumental concrete option which could be based on a combinationof reinforcement of the original parts of the fabric that had already been implemented (and agreed as being non-reversible), rebuilding using the four hundred or so stone blocks on site, where detailed evidence exists in the central and eastern part, and the insertion of modern construction in the west where evidence is lacking. The roof would be supported by lightweight steelwork and the whole construction would respect detailed archaeological research and allow for conservation of the original fabric. This approach would havethe advantageof reversibilityof the new construction.
The first draft of the Rehabilitation Strategy submitted by the State Party in January 2012 set out an approach based on recreating the eastern and central part of the Cathedral for which evidence exists, and completing the building with new structures at the western end where there is no evidence or little original material remains.
The draft Strategy was reviewed by ICOMOS who considered that in some places there was a need for further information and analysis in order to provide a clearer understanding as to the extent of the interventions to the fabric so far, the technical and conservation issues that these create. In general terms, ICOMOS considered that Strategy needed to be clearer on what could be reversed and what could not be reversed and how much of the existing recent work was needed from a structural point of view, what would be modified, and how new strengthening would be addressed. ICOMOS also considered that there was a certain amount of overlap between the strategy and the resulting project which needed to be resolved in the document. ICOMOS stressed that no approval had been given for the re-building project – as inferred in the draft strategy.
It was agreed that the reactive monitoring mission should discuss these comments with the State Party, so that a revised Rehabilitation Strategy could be submitted to the Committee at its forthcoming session.
This aim has however been overtaken by the resumption of work on the Cathedral which appears to have started after the last session of the Committee.
A second draft of the Rehabilitation Strategy was submitted by the State Party on 15 May 2012. However, as by this time reconstruction work was well under way, the purpose of the strategy as a document that could inform a reconstruction project is no longer relevant. The document has become a justification for work already carried out. In it the State Party concludes that the impact on the Outstanding Universal Value is negligible.
b) Stabilisation works of the Bagrati Cathedral
Although the State Party report states that some urgent stabilization works were undertaken to the west wall necessary for further supporting structures that might be needed for the rehabilitation strategy, as explained in a letter to the World Heritage Centre of 27 September 2011 to which the World Heritage Centre responded in the affirmative on 5 October 2011, the mission observed a very different situation.
Work on re-building the Cathedral was seen to be progressing non-stop to achieve a full reconstruction of the building, using stone-clad reinforced cement in the central and eastern parts, together with modern interventions in the western part, mostly along the lines of the original monumental project combined with the plans drawn up by the international conservation architect. A cast concrete cupola had already been partially raised up. The State Party confirmed to the mission that the inauguration of the Cathedral is being planned for September 2012.
The idea of restoring those parts of the building where evidence exists, on the basis of careful documentation and research, and conservation of the original fabric, has been abandoned.
c) Structural additions:
The mission was provided with information on the major structural interventions undertaken so far, and these have been confirmed in further information received from the State Party. These are:
- Completion of consolidation work on interior and exterior foundations of the load bearing walls;
- Creation of four central concrete pillars on the bases of the original ones;
- Installation of underground reinforced concrete beams, connecting the four pillars with the underground foundation of the exterior walls, which according to Georgian engineers, are placed under the archaeological level;
- Covering of the interior surface of the church walls with stone cladding, on a reinforced base – a totally irreversible process.
Although these works were stated to be necessary for the stability of the church in an earthquake zone, in reality these drastic interventions actually allowed the realisation of the first phase of the reconstruction project, in providing the necessary stability to allow for the proposed concrete cupola and the new roof.
The mission observed the following work being undertaken:
- Western part:
In this end of the church, where inadequate original material and evidence exists for a full reconstruction, reinforced concrete beams have been installed in order to support the new stone and metal roof.
- North-west corner:
A metal construction has been prepared (with iron inserts into the original fabric), to support the new staircase and a lift that will lead to a first floor museum.
- Central part:
A reinforced concrete dome has been installed, theoretically supported by the four central concrete pillars together with concrete arches to supplement the concrete pillars, although the latter are still under construction. All the new (interior and exterior) surfaces are stone-clad. The only non-clad surface is in the area of the proposed museum. The gaps in the interior of the fabric are grouted with cement.
- Northern and southern wings:
Raised over the historical porticos with their famous stone reliefs, are reinforced concrete constructions, with iron supports for the metal roof covering.
- Eastern end:
This is being completed by continuing the reconstruction work of the 1950’s. It is being roofed over in a similar way to the rest of the building.
The mission observed that the current work has not been based on conservation of the existing fabric, some of which was acknowledged as being in an extremely fragile state during the previous mission in 2010, has not respected the archaeological layers, is not reversible.
Furthermore all these interventions have completely ignored the evidence brought to light by recent archaeological research. This identified the precise place of almost 400 of the original building stones that survived on the site. Of these, only two or three have been placed in their original position as examples.
In the Mission’s view the necessary stabilisation of the Cathedral could have been achieved in other less drastic ways and should have been submitted as part of the rehabilitation strategy for discussion.
The second draft of the Rehabilitation Strategy submitted by the State Party attempts to justify the reconstruction now being undertaken and states that the reconstructionwill respectand rescueallthe originalmaterial thatexisted at the timeof inscription. However, the mission noted that only two of the four hundred fallen blocks were being re-used. The covering of the original fabric under a contemporary stone cladding on a reinforced concrete base will irreversibly damage the authenticityof the original structure, and also eliminate anyhistorical evidenceof thepastinterventions thatare partof the historyof the church.
In order to support the new reinforcedconcrete dome, excavations have been made in the central partof the church, to install additional sub-foundations for the parametric walls and large reinforced concrete beams havedestroyed muchof the archaeologicallayers, including, it appears, important discoveries of tombs inside the church, as reported in the media.
The overall approach was not considered by the mission to respect the aim to rehabilitate the church in a way that respected its fabric, archaeological layers and overall its Outstanding Universal Value, as had been envisaged by the Committee.
The second draft of the Rehabilitation Strategy states that at the time of inscription the monument was not totally in a ruined condition with parts reconstructed. This was accepted at the time of inscription but it is no justification for a monumental re-building that is being carried out without prior approval either as a strategy or in terms of detail by the Committee.
A detailed appraisal of this second draft Rehabilitation Strategy will be undertaken by ICOMOS and submitted to the State Party.
e) Topological and Archaeological Surveys around Bagrati Cathedral
The State Party report provides details of work undertaken to increase knowledge of the wider archaeological area around the Cathedral. In addition to topographic and cadastral surveys of the site carried out in early 2011, a non-intrusive archaeological survey of the entire Bagrati Cathedral part of the property was undertaken in November-December 2011. The results of this survey revealed a high density of archaeological layers in the survey area, including evidence of fortifications and royal residences.
The mission considered that the resulting data is highly important for understanding the significance of the context of the property. Such evidence could have been used as the basis of a Master Plan for the property and its setting to allow understanding of the way the area has evolved.
f) Gelati Monastery conservation work
The State Party reports that conservation works were continued within the framework of the Gelati Monastery Conservation Master Plan. The mission assessed the on-going works, which focused in 2011 on the Rehabilitation of the palace of Bishop Gabriel.
Through a cooperation agreement between the Restoration Faculty at the State Academy of Fine Arts (NACHPG) and Lugano University, and with the financial support of the Swiss National Science Foundation, international conservation specialists were involved in the stone and wall painting conservation programme during 2010-2011. Within the framework of a complex programme for the systematic conservation and restoration of the interior wall-paintings and mosaics in Gelati Monastery churches. As a result of this co-operation the following works were undertaken:
- Assessment of condition of mural paintings in the St. Marine chapel of the main church of Gelati;
- Stone condition assessment of the St. George church of Gelati and risk mapping;
- Conservation of carved stone frame around the entrance door of the St. George church of Gelati.
With the support of the NACHPG, it is planned to continue the involvement of these international specialists and with their associated students in future stone and wall painting conservation work.
The mission noted that the State Party has made significant progress in implementing the requested corrective measures regarding this component of the property.
A clear institutional coordination mechanism, ensuring that the conservation of the Gelati Monastery receives priority consideration within relevant governmental decision-making processes, has been established. A complex programme for the structural conservation and restoration of the churches in Gelati Monastery is being implemented.
The Gelati Monasterymaster plan presented in 2010 gives adequate answers to problems relating to the needs of the monastic community, and of the visitors to the monastic complex. The mission confirms that there is a proper organization of the functions inside the monastery grounds, taking into consideration the fact that the property is a living monument. As already mentioned by the 2010 mission, there is also provision in case of a rising number of the monks, for them to be established in a nearby place, outside of the monastery grounds. The master plan dissociates the visitors’ facilities from the monks’ life, proposing that the new visitors’ buildings be erected outside the monastery grounds, while the visitors would follow an organized route inside the monastic complex.
g) Retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value
The draft retrospective statement of Outstanding Universal Value submitted by the State Party is still under review by the Advisory Bodies.