1.         Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela (Ethiopia) (C 18)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1978

Criteria  (i)(ii)(iii)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/18/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1980-1996)
Total amount approved: USD 88,300
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/18/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

1995: 2 European Union funded experts missions; April-May 1997: World Heritage Centre / CRCCH mission 

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Need for restoration and rehabilitation of the monuments

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/18/

Information presented to the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee in 1997

The Bureau took note of the information provided. 

Action Required

After having been informed that an expert would present a detailed report to the Committee, it recommended that the Committee adopt the following decision:

"The Committee
1. thanks the Ethiopian authorities for having requested the European Union to inform the World Heritage Centre of the International Competition foreseen for the erection of five shelters in Lalibela;
2. notes the results of the meeting held on 30 September at UNESCO between the European Union, the World Heritage Centre and UNESCO's Division of Cultural Heritage;
3. recommends that the Competition File be reviewed to integrate the points of view of the World Heritage Centre consultant and ICOMOS with a view to preserving the World Heritage value of the site;
4. endorses the conservation programme prepared by the UNESCO-WHC consultant;
5) underlines the importance of an integrated preservation and long-term management plan on a site endangered by new environmental contingencies and requests the World Heritage Centre to organise a mission to Lalibela before the end of January 1998, to review the situation with the Ethiopian authorities and the European Union, in order to
(a) ensure a long-term protection of the monuments within the context of the ecosystem;
(b) integrate the problems of the growth of Lalibela and,
(c) to draw up a plan of action of the approved conservation programme which should be requested by the Ethiopian authorities under the European Union 'Programme to support initiatives in the conservation field (PSIC)'".

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 1997

Background

The Committee, at its nineteenth session took note of a project for the "Restoration and Preservation of the Churches of Lalibela" funded by the European Union and formulated in the framework of the "International Campaign for the Conservation and Preservation of the Monuments of Ethiopia" and implemented by the Division of Cultural Heritage of UNESCO.

The Committee, at its twentieth session noted the work between all the national and international partners engaged in the activities of conservation and preservation of the site and considered that the Centre for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (CRCCH) should assume the co-ordination. It requested the Ethiopian authorities to keep the World Heritage Centre informed of the actions taken before 15 September 1997 so that this information could be examined by the Committee at its twenty-first session.

In December 1996, the Committee also approved a Technical Assistance request from Ethiopia, which enabled the World Heritage Centre, in co-operation with CRCCH, to organise a mission (29 April-4 May 1997) to Lalibela in order to:

(i) advise the Ethiopian authorities on the restoration programme;

(ii) evaluate the work already carried out; and

(iii) advise on the construction of the shelters to be constructed for the protection of the Churches under the project funded by the European Union.

In September 1997, the World Heritage Centre received the “Competition File for International Design: Shelters for five Churches in Lalibela” foreseen within the European Union Project which was sent by Mr. G. Morozzo della Rocca, Bureau d’Architecture A.C.EL s.p.r.l., Belgium, who requested the Centre to provide comments. The document was sent to Prof. Laureano (World Heritage Consultant) and ICOMOS for comments.

 

Diagnosis

The World Heritage Centre's consultant noted that although the existing shelters protect the top of the monuments from the infiltration of the rain water from above as well as from the sun, they do not provide the full protection and, may indeed, themselves cause other problems which contribute to the decay of the churches. They prevent the normal drying process and create a shady environment which allows birds to refuge and contributes to growth of vegetation which, subsequently, penetrates the walls of the monuments. It is obvious that the current shelters are inadequate, they should be substituted with a solution that is more effective, of a better quality and easy to remove. However, the shelters are not a definite solution but only a temporary answer which must be eliminated as the restoration work goes ahead, as only the latter will be able to solve the problem of rainwater in a way that is architecturally suitable.

 

Plan of Action

The World Heritage consultant proposed a programme in his report which ensures the maintenance and the long term management of the site, with the following objectives:

(i) to use suitable techniques of restoration using local workforce and materials;

(ii) to evaluate on site, the need for technologically more advanced procedures and training for their use;

(iii) to organise a long term management of the site which takes the territorial problems into account.

The proposed plan of action presents a methodology of intervention which is suited to the specific characteristics of the site and which could resolve its current problems such as:

(i) the need to operate immediately in order to avoid a general covering of the Churches;

(ii) the need for stages in the study which do not postpone the start of work, and which are connected with the work;

(iii) the possibility of being able to modify the work according to the results that are gradually obtained;

(iv) the possibility of establishing a close collaboration between external experts and the local workforce;

(v) the need for an integrated and global approach. Should the restoration work start, the cost of establishing an in situ laboratory, the cost of recruiting international experts and local staff is estimated at US$ 436,200 for a year.

Comments on the “Competition File for International Design: Shelters for five Churches in Lalibela” prepared for the European Union:

Professor Laureano in his written statement “Regarding the competition for the shelters” stated that “Several critical considerations need to be made:

1) the concentration of attention on the shelters (the importance of the competition and the size of the budget) creates the impression that the vertical protection from the rain is the best way to safeguard the site;

2) the length of time that the shelters will stay in place without any maintenance, a period calculated as being at least 20 years, confirms the idea that the shelters must not be simple structures intended only for the restoration work, but that they must represent a definite solution;

3) therefore, there is a risk that the architects may be orientated towards projects that are very significant in terms of scenery and technological complexity, but such work runs the risk of diminishing the importance of the monuments themselves”.

ICOMOS World Heritage Co-ordinator statement was the following:

“ICOMOS finds itself in full agreement with Professor Laureano’s comments. It does not believe that the erection of new cover structures or shelters represents the best solution of the problems of conservation at Lalibela. (...) Emphatically, as Professor Laureano points out, they are no more than a temporary solution at Lalibela”. ICOMOS therefore recommends that further serious consideration should be given to the desirability of the competition project by the Ethiopian authorities. It is felt that the 2 million ECUs from the European Union would be much better spent in the development and implementation of “an overall approach to the preservation of the site” as recommended by Prof. Laureano (page 7 of his report), which would obviate in the years to come emergency action with no more than short-term benefits of the kind proposed in the Competition File. This overall approach should involve the application in the first instance of traditional techniques in conservation and restoration interventions, the clearing and re-integration of the traditional methods of disposing of water, and the implementation of a properly conceived system of ongoing maintenance and conservation. This approach must also include an important element for the training of personnel and the development of an overall management plan for the whole site”.

Meeting with a representative of the European Union:

On 30 September a meeting was held at UNESCO with representatives of the European Union and the consultant’s firm which had prepared the "Competition File”. It was agreed that:

i) the terms of reference of the Competition File will be revised,

ii) that the pre-selection process would be delayed, and would start only after the present session of the World Heritage Committee.

It was also proposed that:

i) The project funded by the European Union will also include activities geared towards the socio-economic development of the surrounding villages.

ii) Professor Laureano (World Heritage Centre Consultant) co-ordinates the conservation studies in the European Union Project,

iii) a joint mission to Ethiopia by UNESCO and the European Union be organized in January 1998 to discuss with the Ethiopian authorities the modalities of implementation of an integrated project which will ensure the preservation of the rock-hewn churches and their environment.

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

N/A

Decision Adopted: 21 COM VII.C.46/50

VII.46 Rock-hewn Churches of Lalibela (Ethiopia)

At the request of the Chairperson, the consultant who visited the site in April-May 1997, provided a synthetic report on the situation at this site, which is the object of an international safeguarding campaign. Recalling the principal characteristics of the Rock-hewn Churches of Lalibela which should be considered with an overall approach, he emphasized the importance given to their preservation and informed the Committee that the European Commission is prepared to release important funds for the construction of temporary shelters to protect the five churches from degradation due to heavy rains. In this respect, he underlined the need to find temporary solutions which safeguard the integrity of this monolithic ensemble in the framework of an integrated overall conservation plan. Furthermore, as this site is the object of increased tourism development, a long-term management plan will also have to be foreseen. The Director of the Division of Cultural Heritage expressed UNESCO's appreciation for the contributions from the European Commission which shall initiate hydro-geological, geophysical, geological and structural studies, and from Finland (FINIDA) for Lalibela. He also recalled the interest of the Observer of Germany, former Chairperson of the Committee and former Ambassador to Ethiopia, in this site. Mr Winkelmann confirmed the continuing interest of the Committee with regard to the conservation and enhancement of the whole site which deserves also full attention from both the local population and international opinion. He emphasized the temporary character of the shelters which shall be constructed, and supported the conservation plan which would be in accordance with traditional techniques.

The Committee

1) thanked the Ethiopian authorities for having requested the European Union to inform the World Heritage Centre of the International Competition foreseen for the erection of five shelters in Lalibela;

2) noted the results of the meeting held on 30 September 1997 at UNESCO between the European Union, the World Heritage Centre and UNESCO's Division of Cultural Heritage;

3) recommended that the Competition File be reviewed to integrate the points of view of the World Heritage Centre consultant and ICOMOS with a view to preserving the World Heritage value of the site;

4) endorsed the conservation programme prepared by the UNESCO-WHC consultant;

5) underlined the importance of an integrated preservation and long-term management plan on a site endangered by new environmental contingencies and requested the World Heritage Centre to organise a mission to Lalibela before the end of January 1998, to review the situation with the Ethiopian authorities and the European Union, in order to: (a) ensure a long-term protection of the monuments within the context of the ecosystem; (b) integrate the problems of the growth of Lalibela and, (c) draw up a plan of action of the approved conservation programme which should be requested by the Ethiopian authorities under the European Union 'Programme to support initiatives in the conservation field (PSIC).