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 1980-2000)
Total amount approved: USD 93,300
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/18/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount provided to the property: USD 800,000 for the « Conservation Action Plan for Lalibela » -Phase 1 and Phase 2 (Norwegian Funds-in-Trust).

Previous monitoring missions

2004, 2005, 2008, 2009: World Heritage Centre follow-up missions; 2006, 2007, 2008: joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring missions; May 2018: joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Advisory mission

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

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

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2019

In 2008, four protective shelters were erected over five of the rock-hewn churches to protect them from weathering, in particular water infiltration from the roofs. Initially presented as temporary, these shelters, which have been a matter of concern to the World Heritage Committee since the project’s introduction in 2006, now represent a challenging issue affecting the churches and community of Lalibela. Following a request of the State Party on 1 December 2017, a joint UNESCO/ICCROM/ICOMOS Advisory mission was conducted to Lalibela from 20 to 25 May 2018 to monitor progress on the conservation of the property and particularly to advise the State Party on the dismantling of the temporary shelters. The World Heritage Centre then requested the State Party, in a letter dated 14 November 2018, to submit a report on the state of conservation of the property. Received on 29 January 2019, this report is available at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/18/documents/ and addresses the following:

Furthermore, a meeting between ICOMOS, French experts, Ethiopian authorities and the World Heritage Centre was held on 1 March 2019 to discuss about a French cooperation to financially support the renovation work of Lalibela.

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

As pointeout by the 2018 Advisory mission to Lalibela, the four shelters erected in 2008, initially foreseen to be temporary, are now subject of concern for both the churches and the community. In particular, some of the shelter’s pylons are placed close to areas with underground galleries, and the experienced sensations of heavy vibrations and loud noise caused by wind have generated concern regarding the structural integrity of the shelters. The resulting fears of a construction collapse, as expressed by the local community, adversely affect the ecclesiastic life inside and outside of the churches.

The mission therefore stressed the necessity to remove the shelters, after the necessary conservation works to the churches are carried out.

Consequently, while it is appreciated that the State Party submitted the draft Roadmap for the conservation of the site produced by the ECDSWC and the 2014 and 2018 reports on the shelters assessments, the reports of the restoration projects implemented at the Bete Gabriel-Rafael, Beta Golgotha and Mika’el churches, as well as the Terms of Reference of the forthcoming conservation projects on the churches, need to be submitted.

More specifically, the mission recommended that the dismantling of the shelters be based on a framework programme that includes a structural analysis on the safety of the shelter construction, a roof repair and maintenance project of the churches that takes into account the changed microclimate below the shelter, the allocation of adequate funds and resources, and a training and capacity-building programme. This document needs to be submitted before any work takes place.

Moreover, the 2015 Reserved Area regulation also defined a new management structure for Lalibela including, in particular, the establishment of an Advisory Committee aimed at improving the decision-making process at the local level. This structure, however, is not operational yet. As to the established cadastre for the property and its buffer zone, for which maps are expected for 2019, it is worth noting that the boundaries of the property have not been adequately defined yet, nor has a buffer zone been submitted for approval through a request for Minor Boundary Modification, which is detrimental to the planning and management processes.

Consequently, it is recommended that the Committee urge the State Party to ensure the operationalization of the Advisory Committee, to revise the 2014 Management Plan and to submit it along with the cadastre maps and a request for Minor Boundary Modification including the foreseen planning and management provisions.

Furthermore, the increasing urban growth of Lalibela town requires control and the improvement of living conditions near the churches has to be addressed. A joint Vision Statement of all involved stakeholders is required that serves as a guiding principle for the revision of the Structure Plan of Lalibela town and specifically for the establishment of a Local Development Plan for the property and its buffer zone.

The intangible aspects related to the religious practices in the churches are also important to maintain the property’s authenticity. To that effect, it is recommended that the Theological School Project - an initiative from the Church of Lalibela to address tourism management and heritage conservation in Lalibela in a holistic way using income deriving from tourism - be elaborated further to express the interrelation between conservation and the safeguarding of traditional and religious practices adequately. The current proposal requires substantial revision concerning the foreseen location, its functions and its overall size. 

Lastly, it is recommended that the Committee encourage further study and research on Lalibela’s artefacts, wall paintings, architecture and archaeology, including structural aspects and seismic effects on the churches.

Decision Adopted: 43 COM 7B.105

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/19/43.COM/7B,
  2. Recalling Decision 36 COM 7B.42, adopted at its 36th session (Saint Petersburg, 2012),
  3. Commends the State Party for its commitment to address the concerns over the temporary shelters by inviting an Advisory mission in May 2018 to monitor progress on the conservation of the property and particularly to advise the State Party on the dismantling of the temporary shelters and several ongoing projects regarding the property;
  4. Acknowledges the information provided by the State Party regarding the monitoring of the temporary shelters, notably the draft Roadmap for the conservation of the site submitted by the Ethiopian Construction Design and Supervision Works Corporation (ECDSWC) and the 2014 and 2018 reports of the shelters assessments;
  5. Welcomes the close cooperation of the State Party with the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and bilateral teams including the French Government, and the efforts for fundraising;
  6. Requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre the reports of the restoration projects implemented at the Bete Gabriel-Rafael, Beta Golgotha and Mika’el churches, as well as the Terms of Reference of the forthcoming conservation projects on the churches, for review by the Advisory Bodies;
  7. Also requests the State Party to proceed to the dismantling of the shelters, based on a framework programme that includes a structural analysis of the shelter construction, a roof repair and maintenance project of the churches, the allocation of adequate funds and resources, and a training and capacity-building programme;
  8. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre the above mentioned framework programme before any work takes place, for review by the Advisory Bodies;
  9. Urges the State Party to ensure the operationalization of the Advisory Committee, according to the Reserved Area regulation, to revise the 2014 Management Plan, and to submit it, along with the cadastre maps, and with a request for Minor Boundary Modification, including all management and planning provisions for the property;
  10. Recommends that the control and planning of the urban growth, as well as the improvement of living conditions near the churches, be addressed, and, to that effect,
  11. Requests furthermore the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, for review by the Advisory Bodies, a Vision Statement on growth and development, in line with the 2015 Policy for the Integration of a Sustainable Development Perspective into the Processes of the World Heritage Convention, that reflects and respects the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property and serves as a guiding principle for the revised Structure Plan of Lalibela and a Local Development Plan for the property and its buffer zone, issued by the national and regional authorities, which should both be submitted to the World Heritage Centre, for review by the Advisory Bodies;
  12. Requests moreover to the State Party to revise the Theological School Project so as to adequately address the interrelation between conservation and traditional and religious practices;
  13. Encourages the State Party to conduct study and research on artefacts, wall paintings, architecture and archaeology of Lalibela in order to address matters such as the structural integrity of the churches;
  14. Finally requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 December 2020, 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 45th session in 2021.