In its Decision 32 COM 7B.73, adopted at its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008), concerning the Nara Palace site (Heijo-kyo site), one of the eight sites forming the property, the World Heritage Committee recommended further development and establishment of appropriate groundwater monitoring systems and risk mitigation plans in order to prevent any unwanted fluctuation of groundwater level which might have been caused by the construction and/or use of a proposed expressway. It also recommended that the State Party take appropriate measures not to damage the buried archaeological relics when praparing the detailed designs for the commemorative events foreseen in 2010. The World Heritage Committee further requested that the State Party confirm whether or not any new reconstruction is being planned at the property, as well as clarifying if any change in the legal and institutional framework of the property was envisaged and elaborating possible implications for management and conservation of the property.
The World Heritage Centre received, on 2 February 2009, a report from the State Party outlining progress as follows:
a) The Yamato-Kita Road highway
The Yamato-Kita Road Groundwater Monitoring Study Committee held its 4th meeting on 1 August 2008. It analyzed the results of studies on the soil at the site and discussed measures for the preservation of the mokkan (buried ancient wooden writing tablets). This included ways to maintain the groundwater levels stable in case of any unexpected contingency. This Committee is expected to develop a “basic plan” for the monitoring of groundwater and risk mitigation, in view of the establishment of a more comprehensive plan. The State Party did not provide any timeframe for the completion of these two plans.
b) Commemorative Events for the 1300th Anniversary of Nara Heijo-kyo Palace in 2010
The Commemorative Events of the 1300th Anniversary of Nara Heijo-kyo Capital will be held throughout the year 2010, primarily on the Nara Palace site. The events are being prepared and will be run by the “Association for Commemorative Events of the 1300th Anniversary of Nara Heijo-kyo Capital”, formed by the Nara Prefectural government and other local organizations. On 10 September 2008, the Association applied for permission to the Agency for Cultural Affairs in Japan (ACA), in compliance with the Cultural Properties Protection Law to set up event-related temporary structures within the Nara Place site. As reported in the previous state of conservation report submitted for the 32nd session, the overall events plan had been significantly scaled-down in January 2008 from the original plan. After careful review, ACA judged that the plan would not have any negative impact on the archaeological remains, and that the landscape impact of the temporary structures would be minor and not permanent. Permission was thus granted on 21 November 2008.
c) Decision to make the Nara Palace site a “National Government Park”
The State Party report notes that the Government of Japan approved, on 28 October 2008, a cabinet resolution to develop the entire Nara Palace site, with the exception of a few adjacent residential areas, as a “National Government Park”. Such parks are urban parks maintained and administered by the national government, based on the provisions of the Urban Parks Law, under the responsibility of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT). The report does not elaborate on the reasons why this decision was taken. It clarifies, however, that the management of the Nara Palace site will continue to be based on the Japanese Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties under a new framework involving MLIT, ACA and the Nara Prefecture, which remains, from the legal point of view, the site-managing authority.
On 1 December 2008, MLIT approved a “Basic Plan for the Asuka-Nara Palace Site Historical National Government Park” (hereafter “the Basic Plan”). This Basic Plan was drafted taking into account the fundamental policies and specific contents articulated by ACA in its “Basic Scheme for the Preservation and Development of the Nara Palace Site” (hereafter “Basic Scheme”) which had been adopted in 1978.
The State Partyreports that the Basic Plan includes the reconstruction of full-scale replicas of some of the ancient buildings and structures within the Palace, such as the earthen-walled corridors, the south gate, and the east and west towers in the vicinity of the First Imperial Audience Hall (currently under reconstruction). This will be based, according to the State Party report, on “the result of the sufficient investigation and survey” and conducted under the close scrutiny of ACA.
The reconstruction of the above structures was not mentioned in the nomination file (1998), while the then on-going reconstruction of the Suzaku gate, Toin-teien area (Eastern Palace Garden area) and Daigokuden (Imperial Audience Hall) were. It appears, however, that the reconstruction of the Imperial Audience Hall Compound was already envisaged in a 1993 version of the Basic Scheme. The Basic Plan also foresees the relocation of the existing roads, railway and research facilities to outside the newly established Nara Palace Special Historic Site “National Government Park”.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies, whilst noting the progress made on the development of monitoring and risk mitigation measures for possible groundwater fluctuation and other risks with regard to the highway construction and its future use, point out the need for a concrete timetable for realization of these measures. Regarding the temporary structures to be built for the 1300th Anniversary commemorative events, it is noted that these will be light in weight, sensitively designed and will not involve any foundation or excavation of trenches. Nevertheless, a timetable for their removal after the festivities needs to be formulated.
With regard to the State Party’s intention to reconstruct full-scale replicas of some buildings and structures within the Nara Palace site, the rationale for this large scale project has not been established. The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies recall that this would have to be done in consultation with the World Heritage Committee and “only on the basis of complete and detailed documentation and to no extent on conjecture”, as stated in Paragraph 86 of the Operational Guidelines, and respect the all provisions of the Operational Guidelines pertaining to authenticity and integrity. The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that before any such reconstruction project commences, a full justification of the rationale for the reconstruction, including the detailed evidence on which it is based, should be submitted to the World Heritage Centre for evaluation by the Advisory Bodies.
With regard to the new administrative and institutional framework for the management of the Heijo Palace site, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that it would be important to see how this change impacts on the overall management system for the entire inscribed serial property, i.e. in which ways the conservation policies at each of the eight sites forming the listed property are harmonised and coordinated so as to ensure that Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage property is maintained and presented. In light of these changes, it may be appropriate for the State Party to give consideration to the establishment ofan overall coordinating framework for the management of this serial property.
In the framework of the forthcoming periodic reporting exercise for the Asia Pacific region, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies will provide assistance to the State Party in the preparation of a Statement of Outstanding Universal Value for the property.