Decision : 38 COM 8B.34
Caves of Maresha and Bet Guvrin in the Judean Lowlands as a Microcosm of the Land of the Caves (Israel)
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Documents WHC-14/38.COM/8B and WHC-14/38.COM/INF.8B1,
- Inscribes the Caves of Maresha and Bet Guvrin in the Judean Lowlands as a Microcosm of the Land of the Caves, Israel, on the World Heritage List on the basis of criterion (v);
- Adopts the following Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:
The presence in the Judean Lowlands of thick and homogeneous chalk sub-strata enabled numerous caves to be excavated and managed by Man. The property includes a very complete selection of chambers and man-made subterranean networks, of different forms and for different activities. They are situated underneath the ancient twin cities of Maresha and Bet Guvrin, and in the surrounding areas, constituting a “city under a city”. They bear witness to a succession of historic periods of excavation and use, over a period of 2,000 years. Initially the excavations were quarries, but they were later converted for various agricultural and local craft industry purposes, including oil presses, columbaria, stables, underground cisterns and channels, baths, tombs and places of worship, and hiding places during troubled times, etc. With their density, diversified activities, use over two millennia and the quality of their state of preservation, the complexes attain an Outstanding Universal Value.
Criterion (v): The underground archaeological site of Maresha–Bet Guvrin is an eminent example of traditional use of chalk subsurface strata, with the development of man-made caves and networks conducive to multiple economic, social and symbolic purposes, from the Iron Age to the Crusades.
The integrity of the property is expressed in the first place by the diversity of the excavations and their arrangements, intended for a variety of economic, social, funerary and symbolic purposes. It is also expressed by the exceptional density of the subterranean structures which are found beneath the ancient twin cities of Maresha and Bet Guvrin. The integrity of the property also concerns its relations with the outside and the preservation of a landscape of ancient ruins in a well-preserved environment of Mediterranean vegetation.
The underground structures of Maresha–Bet Guvrin are authentic. They have been well-preserved, firstly because of the quality of their architectural design at the time of their excavation, then by their maintenance over a long period of use, and finally by a prolonged period of abandonment, filling up naturally over time, which has contributed to their preservation. This authenticity is however relatively fragile, with the risk of infiltrations of water leading to possible collapse of the vaults. It will furthermore be necessary to pursue a policy of low-key restoration, avoiding possible over-interpretation with reconstruction, and ensuring that the necessary technical consolidations are carried out in a way which respects the authenticity perceived by the visitor.
Protection and management requirements
The management system of the Maresha-Bet Guvrin National Archaeological Park has been in place now for many years and functions efficiently. It is supervised by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) and benefits from the Authority’s system of protection, which also covers most of the buffer zone. The regulations concerning this zone are completed by a National Forestry Plan and directives on the limitation of size and height of possible surrounding constructions. The conservation of cultural elements is guaranteed by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), and benefits from specialist assistance for highly technical issues such as the monitoring of the rocks forming the walls and vaults of the threatened caves. The tourism development project is based on a long-standing tradition and is well managed.
- Recommends that the State Party give consideration to the following:
- Paying particular attention to the conservation of the authenticity with regard to the ongoing and projected restoration and development work; the exterior reconstructions must be minimal,
- Submitting the ‘Villas Hill’ development project, if confirmed, to the World Heritage Committee for examination, in accordance with paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines,
- Reinforcing the monitoring system for the physical parameters (temperature and humidity) within the man-made caves and the monitoring of the rocks and land in places where they are tending to deteriorate.