1.         Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (Palestine) (C 1433)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  2012

Criteria  (iv)(vi)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger    2012-present

Threats for which the property was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger

Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger

Adopted, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/6244

Corrective measures identified

Adopted, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/6244

Timeframe for the implementation of the corrective measures

In progress

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1433/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 2016-2016)
Total amount approved: USD 30,000
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1433/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

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

Previous monitoring missions

N/A

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1433/

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:

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

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.  

Decision Adopted: 41 COM 7A.42

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.

Decision Adopted: 41 COM 8C.2

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: