Palestine: Land of olives and vines. Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir

Date of Submission: 25/05/2012
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Palestine to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Bethlehem Governate
Coordinates: N31 42 59.17 E35 9 2.29
Ref.: 5748
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


This nomination refers to the concept of "cultural landscape" as a whole, including within the property the open landscape, characterized by extensive terracing, water springs, ancient irrigation systems, archaeological sites and an historic core. Buffer zone is surrounding the proposed World Heritage property except those areas adjacent to the Armistice Line. The property is nominated as belonging to the second category of cultural landscapes, notably the organically evolved landscape. According to the classification of the land units identified during the elaboration of the "Battir Cultural Landscape Conservation and Management Plan", the different parts of the property fall into both sub-categories:

- Relic (or fossil) landscape

- Continuing landscape

The Jerusalem Southern Terraced Landscape is the first site of a key serial feature within the larger Palestinian Central Highlands cultural landscape, which characterizes the Central West Bank. The Central Highlands, with an area of nearly 3,500 square kilometres stretching from Nablus in the north to Hebron in the south, is defined as one of the five Palestinian "agro­ecological zones" by its location, rainfall and altitude. The zone is mountainous, rising up to 1,000 meters above sea level. It is mostly hilly and rocky, and soils are often shallow. Average annual rainfall is about 400 millimetres. Out of the total cultivated area, 95% is rain-fed 60% under olives, grapes, almonds, and fruit trees, and 35% under field crops, mainly winter cereals and grain legumes. The remaining 5% of the cultivated land is irrigated and used mainly for vegetables.

Within the property are kilometers of hand-built terrace walls, necessary to hold the shallow soils on steep, stony slopes; vegetables once grew on these terraces, now they provide the slopes for row of olives. Olives also grow in groves. This visually spectacular landscape also contains many other elements: a prehistoric hilltop, fortifications, roman graves, villages of ancient origin, fields of many different type and date, irrigation system and the features that made the landscape work for people struggling to gain a livelihood from it. Old tracks, contemporary with the fields, wind between them; among the fields and terraces are stone-houses, watchtowers, clearance cairns (rujoum) and steps and ramps between the terraces. Overall, these things form a cultural landscape of considerable scientific interest and beauty. Especially is this so in a Palestinian context where extents of such quality landscape have become quite rare under the pressures of modem development.

Geographic features

The nominated area is located in the central West Bank, circa 7 kilometres southwest of Jerusalem, west of the top of the ridge of the mountain range that runs north to south along the Mediterranean coast. It stretches from Beit Jala, west of Bethlehem (approximately 900 meters above sea level) to the Armistice Line, (approximately 500 meters above sea level), which divides Israel from the West Bank. Despite its relatively small size, the West Bank is characterized as having great variation in topography as well as ecological and climate diversity. All these factors contributed to the creation of a varied cultural landscape and high biodiversity, as reflected in four agro-ecological zones: Central Highlands, Semi-costal zone, Eastern slopes, the Jordan Valley, in addition to the Coastal zone, which characterize the Gaza Strip.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Olive trees and vineyards are characteristic, and deeply symbolic, features in the Palestinian cultural landscape. While both of course grow elsewhere, separately and together they are highly representative of the identity and character of the Palestinian landscape throughout history and of the ways that people have worked the land. Hand-built terraces represent good examples of adapting to nature and making productive steep and uneven terrain. They are very clear testimonies of the continuous history of human settlement in the region over the past four thousands years. Furthermore, both plants feature strongly, in narrative and metaphor, in the Quran, in the Bible and in the teaching of Jesus in particular. The olive is of course a symbol of peace and would, therefore, be a particularly apposite tree to include in a nomination from Palestine.

Criterion (ii): The Jerusalem Southern Terraced Landscape exhibits an important interchange of human values over several millennia (circa 3000 B.0 to present) in the Central Highlands of Palestine, represented by the continuous inhabitation of the land and its cultivation systems which determined the characterization of this cultural landscape. The ancient but still in use hand-built terraces, which vary in morphology and typology, testifies of the human work, adaptation and creativity.

Criterion (iii): The cultural landscape of the Jerusalem Southern Terraces bears an exceptional testimony to the traditional agricultural knowledge and practices - still living ­that have shaped over thousands of years the agricultural landscape of Palestine. The nominated property shows a particularly preserved area within the region that symbolizes the peasant culture of Palestine and its authentic way of living.

Criterion (iv): The traditional systems of irrigated terraces within the nominated property are an outstanding example of technological ensemble, which today constitute an integral part of the cultural landscape. These methods illustrate significant stages in human history as the ancient system of canalizations, still in use, dates back to Roman times. These terraces are part of a wider system of dry-stone terraces that spreads over the entire territory of the nominated property, and encompass vernacular architectures, historic roads, caves and water springs, archaeological sites and features, old plantations of olives and other fruit trees, and other cultural and natural heritage.

Criterion (v): The Jerusalem Southern Terraces are an outstanding example of traditional land-use, which is representative of a millenary culture and human interaction with the environment. This human-made landscape has become vulnerable under the impact of socio-cultural and geo-political transformations that may determine irreversible damage. The agricultural practices that lie at the basis of this living landscape embody one of the oldest farming methods known to humankind and constitute an important source of livelihood for the local communities.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The property owns an ascertained "authenticity", as the continuity in creating and maintaining this landscape, that continuously evolved since at least three millennia to present times, is an evidence that clearly emerged through field research. The little degree of alteration ­"integrity" - of the physical structures of the territory (the terrace walls as well as the watchtowers and other architectural features) testifies of a suspension in the transformation of the elements of the land that characterize this landscape.

Comparison with other similar properties

The cultural landscape of the Jerusalem Southern Terraces may be compared with other terraced landscape of the Mediterranean Region, such as "Cinque Terre" along the Tyrrhenian Coast in Liguria (Italy). Another site characterized by terracing, although presenting a different typology and geographical feature, is the "Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras" in the Philippines.

In both World Heritage sites, in Italy and the Philippines, terracing is a prominent feature, exactly as is the protagonist of the Jerusalem Southern Terraced Landscape. A common trait of terraced landscapes is the risk factors to which they are exposed, which determine their fragility as creation of humankind deserving special attention and care.