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Royal Palaces of Abomey

Benin
Factors affecting the property in 2019*
  • Governance
  • Interpretative and visitation facilities
  • Management systems/ management plan
  • Other Threats:

    Fire at the site

Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
  • Absence of a national legislative mechanism for the protection of cultural heritage (issue resolved)
  • Major deterioration of almost 50% of the earthen structural components (issue resolved)
  • Lack and loss of documentation on the site (issue resolved)
  • Lack of presentation and interpretation at the site
  • Lack of sharing of knowledge between site managers and among authorities
  • Need to distinguish between the site museum and the World Heritage site
  • Lack of effective firefighting measures
  • Need to improve the governance, organization and implementation of mechanisms for monitoring, coordination and involvement of the different parties concerned
  • Need to revise the risk management plan as well as the plan for the management, conservation and enhancement of the property
  • Need to take priority measures for the prevention of fire risks
UNESCO Extra-Budgetary Funds until 2019

Total amount granted: USD 450,000 from the Government of Japan and from the Riksantikvaren (Norwegian Cultural Heritage Directorate); USD 50,365 through funding from the Netherlands

International Assistance: requests for the property until 2019
Requests approved: 6 (from 1985-2014)
Total amount approved : 118,000 USD
Missions to the property until 2019**

May/June 2004: Joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission; February 2006: Joint World Heritage Centre/CRAterre-ENSAG/Getty Conservation Institute mission; February 2007: Joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS mission; December 2012, April 2016: Joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Reactive Monitoring mission; October 2018: ICOMOS Advisory mission

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2019

An ICOMOS Advisory mission, requested by the State Party in a letter dated 11 October 2018, visited the property in October 2018. Subsequently, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation on 31 January 2019. Both the mission and the state of conservation reports are available at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/323/documents/. The State Party outlines the following:

  • The museum zone, covering more than 30% of the property's area, is in a relatively good state of conservation but some buildings are in an advanced state of deterioration (active infestation, lack of maintenance, piles of garbage, clogged pipes);
  • The state of conservation of the remainder of the property is of concern, with degradations related to the fragility of traditional building materials, lack of maintenance, malevolent bushfires, vandalism, lack of rigour during interventions, use of new materials, and new construction techniques or architectural models;
  • The district of Dosseme is no longer occupied by the Dadassi; two inner courtyards and King Houegbadja's palace are overgrown; the roof of the tombstone of the 41 wives of King Glèlè is in ruins;
  • There is significant pressure for new buildings from members of the royal family and from illegal occupation;
  • UNESCO experts advised on updating the Conservation, Management and Development Plan (2007-2011) and managers have begun the drafting process;
  • A special programme has been set up for the preservation and enhancement of cultural heritage, which will provide additional support to the Museum of Abomey.

The Advisory mission considered proposed major tourism projects; in the property and at three sites of the Tentative List: Ganvié, Ouidah and Porto-Novo. Within the property a proposed museum to display the Kingdom of Dahomey and an arena for unmasked voodoo celebrations were considered, both to be sited on the large open Court of the Amazons between the remains of two palaces. The museum buildings would extend to some 4,000sq m. and cover almost all of the Court, with the remainder used as car parks, directly behind the palace of King Glélé.

Analysis and Conclusion by World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies in 2019

The state of conservation of the property continues to be of great concern. The 2018 mission noted very similar conditions to that of the 2016 joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Reactive Monitoring mission: many of the same weaknesses and vulnerabilities appear in the reports by the State Party (from this and previous years). Additionally, despite recent fires, the museum lacks a fire protection system and working fire extinguishers.

Little progress appears to have been made that might be considered commensurate with the scale of the problems. Although measures have been taken to update the Management Plan, and a special programme that has been set up for the preservation and enhancement of cultural heritage, there are no adequate structures or resources to address the multi-faceted problems which are almost impossible for the staff to address. For things to progress, the whole management of the property must be shifted into a new gear, with more resources and better structures to provide the staff with the necessary authority.

Urgent action is needed as the buildings, many with mudbrick walls and thatched roofs, are in grave danger of disappearing and being replaced by modern structures, due to lack of maintenance, or vandalism or  bushfires.

Reflecting an integrated symbolic and political landscape of the Kingdom of Dahomey from the 17th-19th centuries, the property includes the remains of ten palaces that served as residences for the king and his estimated two to eight thousand dependents. The courtyards, as places for display in these palaces, were as important as the buildings. Today, the full meaning of this integrated cultural landscape is hard to comprehend with overgrown courts, dilapidated buildings and insensitive new additions.

Contrasting with the lack of resources for the palaces are the proposals for a new museum inside the property, part of a large investment programme called Bénin révélé, covering 50 projects in nine sectors, one of which is tourism. To take forward this component, a National Agency for the Promotion of Heritage and Tourism Development (ANPT) was created in 2016. The project's tourism element would be funded in the order of 650 million Euros, with support from the World Bank and other external contributors. 

While a museum focused on the Kingdom of Dahomey would be highly desirable and beneficial, the site that is currently proposed would cover most of the large Court of the Amazons located between the main royal palace and the palace of Behanzin, historically an integral part of this political and symbolic urban landscape. This position would be highly damaging in obscuring the historic meaning of spatial arrangements. As well,its proposed use of traditional forms, extended in size but with modern materials such as artificial straw for roofing, could contribute to a false interpretation of the historic palaces.

From the perspective of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), the site and design proposed for the museum are not acceptable. Further investigations are needed to identify a more appropriate site outside the boundaries of the palace complex or, if inside, the scale and scope of the museum would need to be significantly reduced and set to the extreme edge of the Court. The design of the museum would also need to be reconsidered carefully to differentiate it from the architecture of the palaces.

To ensure its sustainable management in the long term, it seems essential that the new museum project, regardless of its location, be understood not as an independent site, but as part of the overall property and with its funding encompassing the rehabilitation and restoration of the property and its buffer zone. Such a strcutre could also allow the management of the property to be put on a firmer footing.

In conclusion, it is considered that time is running out to stabilise and conserve all that should be saved of the ten palaces of the property, which is now under considerable danger of losing its OUV. Consequently, in view of the ascertained danger to the property's OUV, it is therefore recommended that the Committee request the State Party to take urgent action for the implementation of the recommendations of the 2016 and 2018 missions, and that it considers, in the absence of significant progress in the implementation of these recommendations, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger at its next session in 2020, in accordance with Paragraph 179 of the Operational Guidelines.

Decisions adopted by the Committee in 2019
43 COM 7B.103
Royal Palaces of Abomey (Benin) (C 323bis)

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/19/43.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decision 41 COM 7B.66, adopted at its 41st session (Krakow, 2017),
  3. Welcomes the work that has been started to update the current Management Plan (2007-2011), and the setting up of a special programme for the preservation and enhancement of cultural heritage, which will provide additional support to the Museum of Abomey;
  4. Nevertheless expresses extreme concern that the 2018 ICOMOS Advisory mission noted very similar conditions to that of the 2016 joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Reactive Monitoring mission, with a disturbing state of conservation, the degradation of many components, a serious lack of supervision, control and structured action for maintenance, as well as a lack of conservation and site security measures;
  5. Notes that all of these negative factors are confirmed in the report by the State Party, together with details of significant pressures for new buildings from members of the royal family, and from substandard constructions and Illegal occupation;
  6. Considers that it is increasingly difficult to comprehend the full meaning of the property as a reflection of an integrated symbolic and political landscape of the Kingdom of Dahomey during the 17th-19th centuries, given the dilapidated buildings of its ten palaces, insensitive new additions and overgrown rubbish strewn courts;
  7. Also considers that there is considerable urgency for appropriate interventions, given the nature of the buildings, many with mudbrick walls and thatched roofs, as they could be reaching a point where meaningful conservation is no longer possible with the consequent loss of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV);
  8. Also notes the proposal for a major museum focusing on the Kingdom of Dahomey as part of a wider development and investment programme, Bénin révélé, developed with Presidential approval, and covering numerous projects in nine sectors, with national funds and resources negotiated with various partners;
  9. Further considers that a new Museum based on the Kingdom of Dahomey could be highly beneficial for the property and for visitor interpretation;
  10. Recommends that the State Party ensure that the new museum effectively enhances the understanding of the property and the interpretation for visitors in its final implementation;
  11. Also recommends that the location, as well as the forms of the future museum, be chosen with care, so as not to undermine the OUV of the property;
  12. Further recommends that the State Party ensure that the new museum project encompasses conservation of the existing palaces and in particular, that the future revenue generated by the museum can also support conservation and management of the property;
  13. Recommends furthermore that the State Party consider establishing a comprehensive strategy for the sustainable funding of the property’s conservation;
  14. Requests the State Party to submit the final architectural project proposal for the future museum before its implementation to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies;
  15. Also requests the State Party to establish a special fire safety plan for the property and install in the immediate future appropriate fire detection systems in the main buildings, and ensure all fire extinguishers are operable;
  16. Requests furthermore the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2020, a report on the state of conservation of the property and on the steps taken to implement the recommendations above mentioned, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 44th session in 2020.
Draft Decision: 43 COM 7B.103

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/19/43.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decision 41 COM 7B.66, adopted at its 41st session (Krakow, 2017),
  3. Welcomes the work that has been started to update the current Management Plan (2007-2011), and the setting up of a special programme for the preservation and enhancement of cultural heritage, which will provide additional support to the Museum of Abomey;
  4. Nevertheless expresses extreme concern that the 2018 ICOMOS Advisory mission noted very similar conditions to that of the 2016 joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Reactive Monitoring mission, with a disturbing state of conservation, the degradation of many components, a serious lack of supervision, control and structured action for maintenance, as well as a lack of conservation and site security measures;
  5. Notes that all of these negative factors are confirmed in the report by the State Party, together with details of significant pressures for new buildings from members of the royal family, and from substandard constructions and Illegal occupation;
  6. Considers that it is increasingly difficult to comprehend the full meaning of the property as a reflection of an integrated symbolic and political landscape of the Kingdom of Dahomey during the 17th-19th centuries, given the dilapidated buildings of its ten palaces, insensitive new additions and overgrown rubbish strewn courts;
  7. Also considers that there is considerable urgency for appropriate interventions, given the nature of the buildings, many with mudbrick walls and thatched roofs, as they could be reaching a point where meaningful conservation is no longer possible with the consequent loss of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV);
  8. Also notes the proposal for a major museum focusing on the Kingdom of Dahomey as part of a wider investment programme, Bénin révélé, developed with Presidential approval, and covering fifty projects in nine sectors, supported by the World Bank and other external funders;
  9. Further considers that a new Museum based on the Kingdom of Dahomey could be highly beneficial for the property and for visitor interpretation;
  10. Considers furthermore, nevertheless, that the proposed siting of the museum on the Court of the Amazons between two palaces would be unacceptable in terms of adverse impact on the historic spatial arrangements of the symbolic urban landscape of the Royal Palaces, and that the proposed use of traditional forms, extended in size and with artificial straw for roofing, could contribute to a false interpretation of historical architecture, and thus finally considers the current project in its planned location would seriously undermine the OUV of the property;
  11. Recommends that consideration is given to alternative locations, preferably outside the property boundary such as the former IFAN site, or, if inside, that the museum is significantly reduced in scale and placed to the extreme edge of the court, and also recommends that the proposed voodoo arena project should be separated from the museum;
  12. Notes with concern the proposed extreme contrast between a “state of the art museum” and the much degraded property and the fact that the two are quite separate in terms of planning, management and funding;
  13. Urges the State Party to re-consider immediately the basis of the museum project to broaden its remit in order that it may encompass conservation of the existing palaces, to restructure the project so that the management of the museum is integrated with the management of the existing property, and to ensure that funding and revenue from the museum can support conservation and management of the property;
  14. Suggests that such a re-arrangement, with the promise of more resources for the conservation and management of the property, would seem to be the only way to address the irreversible decline of the property that is leading to its loss of OUV;
  15. Requests the State Party to submit further outline plans for the museum, once these recommendations have been explored, together with details of future funding and management arrangements, to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies at the earliest opportunity before any commitments have been made;
  16. Also requests the State Party to install in the immediate future appropriate fire detection systems in the main building, and ensure all fire extinguishers are operable;
  17. Requests furthermore the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2020, a report on the state of conservation of the property and on the steps taken to implement the recommendations above mentioned, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 44th session in 2020, with a view to considering, in the absence of significant progress in the implementation of these recommendations, and in the case of confirmation of the ascertained danger to Outstanding Universal Value, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Report year: 2019
Benin
Date of Inscription: 1985
Category: Cultural
Criteria: (iii)(iv)
Danger List (dates): 1985-2007
Documents examined by the Committee
SOC Report by the State Party
Report (2019) .pdf
arrow_circle_right 43COM (2019)
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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