1.         Royal Palaces of Abomey (Benin) (C 323bis)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1985

Criteria  (iii)(iv)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger    1985-2007

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/323/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1985-1997)
Total amount approved: USD 113,000
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/323/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount granted to the property: USD 400,000 by the Government of Japan in 1998; USD 50,000 in 2005 by the Riksantikvaren (Norwegian Cultural Heritage Directorate).

Previous monitoring missions

2004 and 2007: Joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS missions; 2006: World Heritage Centre / CRAterre-ENSAG / Getty Conservation Institute monitoring mission.

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

a) Absence of a national legislative mechanism for the protection of cultural heritage;

b) Major deterioration of almost 50% of the earthen structural components;

c) Lack of presentation and interpretation at the site.

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/323/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2012

The State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation on 17 February 2012. The report provides an overview of the current situation at the property. In addition, several media reports were received by the World Heritage Centre regarding the fire at the Houégbadja Palace that occurred on 19 January 2012.

a) Management of the property

The State Party indicates that although there is a clear policy for the safeguarding and conservation of the property, the required considerable investments are not necessarily the best solutions to achieve efficient conservation. Therefore, new discussions have started to define a policy to align conservation goals with the functionality of the property and the important contribution to the development of the Abomey village. Work has started on improving the productivity of the artisan village within the site to enhance promotion and dissemination of derived products with the aim of increasing its central role as an important area for economic activities, cultural industries and tourism. As for the financial strategy, revenues from the site are used for minor maintenance works and interpretation. The Ministry of Culture has allocated additional material resources and equipment for maintenance and conservation. It is expected that sales from souvenirs will also contribute to financing conservation work.

With regard to the management council for the property, the report indicates that it continues to operate as the decision-making entity in terms of defining the activities programme, budget and reporting. To strengthen awareness raising, a communication plan has been developed and is pending finalization for approval by the council. Notwithstanding, efforts have already been implemented to increase promotion of the property at different levels. Local communities have continued to be involved both in conservation endeavors, to enhance transmission of know-how regarding earthen architecture, as well as commemorative events.

b) Current state of conservation

The report indicates that the reconstruction of the remaining walls, in accordance with the Management Plan, will ensure the integrity of the site and avoid further water damage. As for preventive conservation, daily inspections are carried out for the 184 components of the property, including inspections at the buffer zone to ensure its protection. Additional work has continued in the implementation of the general priority objectives set out in the Management Plan. This has entailed interventions and increased capacity building to ensure that maintenance needs are duly covered in the long term.

The report highlights interventions at the Houégbadja Palace, with funds from the German Embassy in Benin, as well as at Adjalala, the Honnuwa d’Agadja, and the Roi Akaba Palace.

An increase in visitation is reported although no further information was provided on whether this will entail additional measures for visitor management.

Additional information was also received at the end of March 2012 indicating that the State Party has started digging trenches to bury an electrical system, which will provide new illumination for the Singbodji Square. This project is conducted in partnership with the City of Albi, France.

c) Fire incidents

On 19 January 2012, a fire occurred at the Houégbadja Palace. It appears that the straw roofs on seven of the ten structures were completely burnt and the bas-reliefs were reported to have sustained slight damage, particularly at the base. On 28 February 2012, the World Heritage Centre sent a letter to the State Party requesting a detailed report on the incident including its impact on the property and measures on fire prevention taken. At the time of the drafting of this report, the requested information has not been received from the State Party.

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

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies note that the fire is the second one to occur in three years. They further note that although no reconstruction policy document has been prepared, as requested at the 34th session of the World Heritage Committee (Brasilia, 2010), reconstruction work has been carried out on the areas affected by the fire of 2009. They also note that no progress has been made with regards to a fire prevention strategy and that the current Management Plan expired at the end of 2011.

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies note that incidents such as the fire in early 2012 put in question the efficiency of the maintenance and monitoring practices and hence recommend that the Committee expresses its concern. They also wish to highlight that reconstruction work has been undertaken in the past in the absence of an overall reconstruction policy being approved by the Committee. The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that before any new work is undertaken to mitigate the impacts of the most recent fire, an overall reconstruction policy needs to be approved, as well as a detailed reconstruction project plan for the fire damaged buildings and a disaster risk preparedness strategy for the property. They further consider that this should be undertaken within the framework of a revised Management Plan. 

Decision Adopted: 36 COM 7B.40

The World Heritage Committee,

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

2.   Recalling Decision 34 COM 7B.43, adopted at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010),

3.   Acknowledges the information provided by the State Party in regard to the state of conservation of the property and urges it to continue its efforts in the sustained implementation of conservation and management measures;

4.   Expresses its concern at the damage caused to the Houégbadja Palace by the fire in January 2012 and the lack of any mention of the fire and its impact in the State Party report;

5.   Considers that the lack of adequate prevention and maintenance measures and response plans appears to have contributed to the fires in 2009 and 2012;

6.   Requests the State Party to develop a comprehensive disaster risk Management Plan and submit it to the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies for review by 1 February 2013;

7.   Also urges the State Party to develop a reconstruction policy document as requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session and to halt all reconstruction work until such a policy and a detailed reconstruction project plan for the fire damaged buildings have been approved by the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies;

8.   Further urges the State Party to update the Management Plan as a framework for the reconstruction policy and disaster risk Management Plan;

9.   Also requests the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM reactive monitoring mission to assess the state of conservation of the property and to assist in defining ways to address the development of a reconstruction policy, a detailed reconstruction project plan for the fire damaged buildings, a disaster risk Management Plan and an updated Management Plan;

10.  Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2013, an updated 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.