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Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem

Palestine
Factors affecting the property in 2017*
  • Housing
  • Impacts of tourism / visitor / recreation
  • Management activities
  • Management systems/ management plan
  • Water (rain/water table)
  • Other Threats:

    Degradation of the architectural complex of the Church of the Nativity

Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
  • Degradation of the architectural complex of the Church of the Nativity
  • Development pressure
  • Tourism pressure
  • Housing
  • Impacts of tourism / visitor / recreation
  • Management activities
  • Management systems/ management plan
  • Water (rain/water table)
Threats for which the property was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger
  • Degradation of the architectural complex of the Church of the Nativity
  • Development pressure
  • Tourism pressure
Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger
Corrective Measures for the property
Timeframe for the implementation of the corrective measures

In progress

UNESCO Extra-Budgetary Funds until 2017

Total amount granted: USD 723,000 from Italy (Emergency Action Plan 1997-1998; Conservation and Management Plan  2006-2010).

International Assistance: requests for the property until 2017
Requests approved: 1 (from 2016-2016)
Total amount approved : 30,000 USD
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2017

A joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Advisory mission visited the property in September 2016 (mission report available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1433/documents). Subsequently, the State Party submitted a state of conservation report (available at the same address) on 30 January 2017. Progress on conservation issues related to the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR) and issues addressed by the Committee at its previous sessions is presented in those reports as follows:

  • Progress with restoration of the roof of the Church of the Nativity: The repair of the roof trusses and the replacement of the roof coverings and rainwater disposal goods were completed in April 2016. At the request of the State Party, the mission took place before the scaffolding was removed in order to allow access to inspect this work.  Restoration work of other priority areas including the narthex, external stone façades, internal wall plastering, and wall mosaics interventions were completed in 2015 and 2016 and the overall work is due to be completed in 2019, subject to funding. Of the four corrective measures, three have been completed - a full investigative survey of the historic timbers and lead work of the roof, identifying the age and historical significance of the various component parts; detailed project specification for the roof repairs, and undertaking and documenting the roof repair project, including stabilising the vaults of the Narthex.  The Conservation Plan has however not yet been completed.  A draft of a Conservation Plan based on a table of contents suggested by the ICOMOS Advisory mission has been compiled by the Presidential Committee for the Restoration of the Church of the Nativity. Following the successful approval of an International assistance request to support the preparation of a Management and Conservation Plan, a contract has been made with Ramallah UNESCO Office for its implementation;
  • Other projects: The Advisory mission discussed two proposed major projects for a Manger Square Tunnel and Manger Square Village, a commercial outlet with associated car park and recommended that both projects should be halted until a traffic management plan and a sustainable urban mobility plan, have been put in place, and solid justifications for their need have been made, following which an assessment of their potential impact should also be undertaken. The State Party confirms that it welcomes the Advisory mission’s recommendations and will act accordingly.
Analysis and Conclusion by World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies in 2017

The Advisory mission confirmed that work on the conservation of the roof of the Church of the Nativity and of the narthex has now been completed with high technical standards – and the church is now in sound condition as regards the primary factors leading to its decay.

Although the report gives a good record of the works that have been undertaken, there is nevertheless still a need to bring this data together as a single synthetic document for the future, to set out the historical and physical evidence on which conservation work was based, the justifications for the decisions made, and the precise work undertaken to minimise interventions to the historic fabric, especially the very earliest fabric.

There appears to have been some lack of liaison between the documentation side of the project and those deciding on how repair should be carried out. In spite of surveys and dendrochronological analysis, the mission was unable to obtain a clear answer to the fundamental question as to whether the form and some parts of the fabric of the present roof are of 6th century date, or whether they reflect one of the later periods of rebuilding.  Given the extreme importance of the church in relation to the early history of Christianity, a clear understanding of how its fabric relates to this history is crucial. The retrospective statement of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) states that: “This church [the original one] is overlaid by the present Church of the Nativity, essentially of the mid-6th century AD (Justinian), though with later alterations. It is the oldest Christian church in daily use”. It is clearly necessary to be able to understand, as precisely as possible, which parts are from the 6th century and which reflect later alterations.

A Conservation Plan, as requested by the Committee, is needed to bring together this data, to document precisely what was carried out and why  and to set out the evidence on which the decisions were based to ensure minimal intervention in the historic fabric and to allow an understanding of where new material has been introduced. The Plan should also and set out the over-arching conservation policies for all those working on the building, to guide past and future interventions, in relation to the attributes of OUV.

The rationale and documentation for more recent work on mosaics, plaster, and architraves should be submitted to the World Heritage Centre.

The mission also considered that the absence of a Management Plan for the property needs to be addressed as a priority, as a great deal of work has already been done to improve paving and signage, and repair buildings flanking the road, but this has not been undertaken within any agreed framework.

A Management Plan needs to be prepared to set out clearly the management system and to define policies/strategies for development and all other facets of management such as interpretation, access, tourism, traffic management, risk preparedness, etc. It is noted that an International Assistance of USD 30 000 has been recently granted to the State Party to prepare this Management Plan.

Two proposed large projects for a Manger Square Tunnel and Manger Square Village outlet could have the potential to impact adversely and irreversibly on the property. They need further research and justification in relation traffic management and urban mobility, as well as independent Heritage Impact Assessments (HIAs), before a detailed assessment can be made.  It is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to halt further progress on these projects and compile necessary supporting documents and submit these with plans to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies before any irreversible decisions have been made, in line with para 172 of the Operational Guidelines.

On 21-22 March 2017, a Workshop on the management of Cultural Heritage in Palestine was held in Amman, organized by UNESCO Office in Ramallah and attended by two ICOMOS experts. Discussions were held on the management challenges of the property in terms of threats and pressures from inappropriate development, the need to revitalize the social and commercial fabric of the historic core of Bethlehem, and the need to strengthen the current management structure. The property is already starting to respond to these challenges through the development of new management strategies.

In conclusion, it is commendable that the main thrust of the DSOCR has been reached in terms of the church roof now being conserved, and as three of the four corrective measures being achieved. However, the fourth corrective measure, development of a Conservation Plan, is yet in the planning process and major projects are being envisaged within the property prior to the completion of the conservation plan, and of the property’s management plan. Therefore, it is recommended that the property be kept on the List of World Heritage in Danger until the fourth corrective measure is successfully completed.  

Decisions adopted by the Committee in 2017
41 COM 7A.42
Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (Palestine) (C 1433)

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/17/41.COM/7A,
  2. Recalling Decision 40 COM 7A.14, adopted at its 40th session (Istanbul/UNESCO, 2016);
  3. Commends the State Party on the successful completion of the conservation works of the roof and of the narthex of the Church of the Nativity and notes that the church is now in sound condition in relation to the primary factors leading to its decay;
  4. Also notes that three of the four corrective measures have been completed and that the remaining one, the development of a Conservation Plan, is being planned;
  5. Requests the State Party to complete the Conservation Plan and submit it to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies, along with details of recent work on mosaics, plaster, architraves, stone pillar, etc.;
  6. Also requests the State Party to submit a resume and analysis of all evidence relating to the age of the roof fabric in order that there is a clear understanding as to whether any material survives from the 6th century AD and if not what of the dates of the surviving fabric in relation with the conservation works undertaken;
  7. Further requests the State Party to complete the development of a Management Plan and also submit it to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies;
  8. Notes with concern that the proposed projects for a Manger Square Tunnel and a Manger Square Village commercial outlet and car park could have the potential to impact adversely on the property; and requests furthermore the State Party to halt further work on these projects and compile the necessary justification and independent Heritage Impact Assessments and submit these to the World Heritage Centre, for review by the Advisory Bodies, in line with the requirements of Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, before any irreversible commitments are made;
  9. Finally requests that the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2018, 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 42nd session in 2018;
  10. Decides to retain the Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (Palestine) on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
41 COM 8C.2
Update of the List of World Heritage in Danger (Retained Properties)

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined the state of conservation reports of properties inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger (WHC/17/41.COM/7A, WHC/17/41.COM/7A.Add and WHC/17/41.COM/7A.Add.2),
  2. Decides to retain the following properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger:
    • Afghanistan, Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley (Decision 41 COM 7A.54)
    • Afghanistan, Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam (Decision 41 COM 7A.55)
    • Belize, Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (Decision 41 COM 7A.2)
    • Bolivia (Plurinational State of), City of Potosí (Decision 41 COM 7A.23)
    • Central African Republic, Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park (Decision 41 COM 7A.4)
    • Chile, Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works (Decision 41 COM 7A.24)
    • Côte d'Ivoire / Guinea, Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve (Decision 41 COM 7A.6)
    • Democratic Republic of the Congo, Garamba National Park (Decision 41 COM 7A.7)
    • Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kahuzi-Biega National Park (Decision 41 COM 7A.8)
    • Democratic Republic of the Congo, Okapi Wildlife Reserve (Decision 41 COM 7A.9)
    • Democratic Republic of the Congo, Salonga National Park (Decision 41 COM 7A.10)
    • Democratic Republic of the Congo, Virunga National Park (Decision 41 COM 7A.11)
    • Egypt, Abu Mena (Decision 41 COM 7A.32)
    • Honduras, Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve (Decision 41 COM 7A.3)
    • Indonesia, Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (Decision 41 COM 7A.18)
    • Iraq, Ashur (Qal'at Sherqat) (Decision 41 COM 7A.33)
    • Iraq, Hatra (Decision 41 COM 7A.34)
    • Iraq, Samarra Archaeological City (Decision 41 COM 7A.35)
    • Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls (site proposed by Jordan) (Decision 41 COM 7A.36)
    • Libya, Archaeological Site of Cyrene (Decision 41 COM 7A.37)
    • Libya, Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna (Decision 41 COM 7A.38)
    • Libya, Archaeological Site of Sabratha (Decision 41 COM 7A.39)
    • Libya, Old Town of Ghadamès (Decision 41 COM 7A.40)
    • Libya, Rock-Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus (Decision 41 COM 7A.41)
    • Madagascar, Rainforests of the Atsinanana (Decision 41 COM 7A.14)
    • Mali, Old Towns of Djenné (Decision 41 COM 7A.28)
    • Mali, Timbuktu (Decision 41 COM 7A.29)
    • Mali, Tomb of Askia (Decision 41 COM 7A.30)
    • Micronesia (Federated States of), Nan Madol: Ceremonial Centre of Eastern Micronesia (Decision 41 COM 7A.56)
    • Niger, Aïr and Ténéré Natural Reserves (Decision 41 COM 7A.15)
    • Palestine, Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (Decision 41 COM 7A.42)
    • Palestine, Palestine: Land of Olives and Vines – Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir (Decision 41 COM 7A.43)
    • Panama, Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo (Decision 41 COM 7A.25)
    • Peru, Chan Chan Archaelogical Zone (Decision 41 COM 7A.26)
    • Senegal, Niokolo-Koba National Park (Decision 41 COM 7A.16)
    • Serbia, Medieval Monuments in Kosovo (Decision 41 COM 7A.21)
    • Solomon Islands, East Rennell (Decision 41 COM 7A.19)
    • Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient City of Aleppo (Decision 41 COM 7A.44)
    • Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient City of Bosra (Decision 41 COM 7A.45)
    • Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient City of Damascus (Decision 41 COM 7A.46)
    • Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient Villages of Northern Syria (Decision 41 COM 7A.47)
    • Syrian Arab Republic, Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din (Decision 41 COM 7A.48)
    • Syrian Arab Republic, Site of Palmyra (Decision 41 COM 7A.49)
    • Uganda, Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi (Decision 41 COM 7A.31)
    • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City (Decision 41 COM 7A.22)
    • United Republic of Tanzania, Selous Game Reserve (Decision 41 COM 7A.17)
    • United States of America, Everglades National Park (Decision 41 COM 7A.1)
    • Uzbekistan, Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz (Decision 41 COM 7A.57)
    • Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Coro and its Port (Decision 41 COM 7A.27)
    • Yemen, Historic Town of Zabid (Decision 41 COM 7A.51)
    • Yemen, Old City of Sana’a (Decision 41 COM 7A.52)
    • Yemen, Old Walled City of Shibam (Decision 41 COM 7A.53)
      Draft Decision: 41 COM 7A.42

      The World Heritage Committee,

      1. Having examined Document WHC/17/41.COM/7A,
      2. Recalling Decision 40 COM 74.14, adopted at its 40th session (Istanbul/UNESCO, 2016);
      3. Commends the State Party on the successful completion of the conservation works of the roof and of the narthex of the Church of the Nativity and notes that the church is now in sound condition in relation to the primary factors leading to its decay;
      4. Also notes that three of the four corrective measures have been completed and that the remaining one, the development of a Conservation Plan, is being planned;
      5. Requests the State Party to complete the Conservation Plan and submit it to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies, along with details of recent work on mosaics, plaster, architraves, stone pillar, etc.;
      6. Also requests the State Party to submit a resume and analysis of all evidence relating to the age of the roof fabric in order that there is a clear understanding as to whether any material survives from the 6th century AD and if not what of the dates of the surviving fabric in relation with the conservation works undertaken;
      7. Further requests the State Party to complete the development of a Management Plan and also submit it to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies;
      8. Notes with concern that the proposed projects for a Manger Square Tunnel and a Manger Square Village commercial outlet and car park could have the potential to impact adversely on the property; and requests furthermore the State Party to halt further work on these projects and compile the necessary justification and independent Heritage Impact Assessments and submit these to the World Heritage Centre, for review by the Advisory Bodies, in line with the requirements of Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, before any irreversible commitments are made;
      9. Finally requests that the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2018, 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 42nd session in 2018;
      10. Decides to retain the Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (Palestine) on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
      Report year: 2017
      Palestine
      Date of Inscription: 2012
      Category: Cultural
      Criteria: (iv)(vi)
      Danger List (dates): 2012-2019
      Documents examined by the Committee
      SOC Report by the State Party
      Report (2017) .pdf
      arrow_circle_right 41COM (2017)
      Exports

      * : The threats indicated are listed in alphabetical order; their order does not constitute a classification according to the importance of their impact on the property.
      Furthermore, they are presented irrespective of the type of threat faced by the property, i.e. with specific and proven imminent danger (“ascertained danger”) or with threats which could have deleterious effects on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (“potential danger”).

      ** : All mission reports are not always available electronically.


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