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Royal Palaces of Abomey

Benin
Factors affecting the property in 2021*
  • 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 in 2007, but significant again in 2020)
  • Major deterioration of almost 50% of the earthen structural components (issue resolved in 2007, but significant again in 2020)
  • Lack and loss of documentation on the site (issue resolved in 2007, but significant again in 2020)
  • 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 2021

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; USD 100,000 in 2021-2022 through UNESCO/Government of Norway cooperation

International Assistance: requests for the property until 2021
Requests approved: 6 (from 1985-2014)
Total amount approved : 118,000 USD
Missions to the property until 2021**

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 2021

On 31 January 2020, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation, and a further report on 22 January 2021, both of which are available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/323/documents/. Additional details were provided in a letter of 28 April 2020. These reports respond to the recommendations of the Committee as follows:

  • As a result of over a dozen years of conservation work, the museum quarter (palaces of Glèlè and Ghézo) is in good state of conservation, apart from some degradations;
  • Although, the majority of the structures in the remaining three quarters of the palace area were reported in 2020 as being in danger and in need of urgent protection to halt degradation, such as the roof of the tomb for the 41 wives of King Glèlè, by 2021 most of these degraded areas were reported by the State Party to have been restored;
  • The previous dilapidation linked to lack of maintenance, inappropriate interventions, the fragility of materials, and to the impact of various animals living onsite is being addressed, with ruins being restored, but the property still remains vulnerable to these threats; a list of actions undertaken in 2020 was submitted;
  • Significant development and illegal occupation, often induced by members of the royal family, still threaten both the property and the buffer zone, a recent example being a new construction directly next to the Dowomè Palace. Dialogue is underway between the various actors to try and find consensual solutions;
  • The Management Plan has been revised for 2020-2024. In November 2019, a new management committee was installed and in order to operationalise this Plan, the State Party integrated comments from World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS. Meanwhile, a Site Manager and a conservator for the Museum were also appointed;
  • 50 million FCFA (appr. USD 91,000) has been granted to the Directorate of cultural heritage to accompany the implementation of the management plan for the year 2021;
  • In order to address the high risk of fire, a fire hydrant has been brought back into service. A group of fire-fighters carry out inspections twice a day at the property, while a fire squad was allocated to the Palaces of Glèlè and Ghézo in March 2019. A fire break of six metres has been re-established around the buildings and will be kept clear of vegetation. A programme to address the issue of household rubbish has been initiated. On 30 January 2020, a project to develop a fire prevention plan began;
  • Separately, the State Party submitted new details of the proposed museum project on 18 November 2020. An ICOMOS Technical Review of this material was submitted to the State Party on 26 January 2021 and a virtual technical meeting was organized on this subject on 2 February 2021.
Analysis and Conclusion by World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies in 2021

The State Party has again acknowledged the vulnerabilities of many of the structures in the 10 palaces, including from inappropriate interventions, and illegal constructions in the property and buffer zone.

However, recovery approaches are now emerging through the implementation of the revised Management Plan, the appointment of two new members of management team, discussions with stakeholders, the beginning of a fire prevention plan, and the continuation and re-funding of planned conservation. All this is to be welcomed but with some caution. No response to the recommendations of the last two missions has been provided, as requested by the Committee, nor to recommendations to install a fire protection system in the main buildings and develop sustainable funding for the property’s conservation.

Although work on restoring degraded areas is to be welcomed, details were not provided on how this work was undertaken or documented or on the evidence upon which it was based. This is particularly necessary for re-building where plans should be submitted for approval in order to ensure authenticity and integrity are respected. The latest report acknowledges that the Palaces remain highly vulnerable given the fragile nature of the materials with which most structures are built, and the impact of previous inappropriate interventions. However well the buildings are conserved, they can easily degrade without regular attention, they are highly susceptible to risks such as fire, and a risk preparedness plan is still awaited.

To address this situation in the long term, the local authorities should be encouraged to develop a clear pathway or Recovery Plan to set out the scope and extent of the problems, based on surveys and research, and then processes and actions needed to address these. Much more than site-by-site interventions to physical structure are needed: recovery also needs to address planning and social issues, and ways to put the property on a sustainable footing and be supported by all stakeholders and authorities and have the involvement of necessary professional expertise. Such a Recovery Plan needs to be developed and implemented as a matter of urgency if the palaces are to keep their integrity and authenticity. The financial assistance through the UNESCO/Government of Norway cooperation could therefore be helpful in this regard.

The revised detailed documents on the museum project show that it has been extended to encompass the restoration and rehabilitation of the palaces, and a programme to support sustainable traditional and heritage training. These new elements are to be welcomed and need to be integrated into the overall Recovery Plan for the property and developed in far greater detail to ensure that reconstruction and modifications to buildings respect the OUV of the property. As for the proposed museum, although the design has been modified with lower roofs and an architectural language that respects local traditions, its size and siting in the court of the Amazons remain problematic. The footprint of the museum occupies half of the court making it unreadable as a large ceremonial open space. If the museum to be installed in the Amazon Court, it needs to be much smaller and less central and overall respect the symbolism of the space as a crucial part of the overall layout of the integrated ensemble of ten palaces. Volumetric studies need to be undertaken and submitted for review, before any further plans are developed.

On the basis of the above, it is recommended that a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Reactive Monitoring mission be carried to the property as soon as possible to consider its state of conservation, the potential threats it is still facing, the implementation of the recommendations made by the previous mission of 2016, and the development of a Recovery Plan and its integration with the Museum project.

Decisions adopted by the Committee in 2021
44 COM 7B.1
Royal Palaces of Abomey (Benin) (C 323bis)

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/21/44.COM/7B,
  2. Recalling Decision 43 COM 7B.103, adopted at its 43rd session (Baku, 2019),
  3. Welcomes the revision of the Management Plan, and the appointment of a new Management Committee, a Site Manager and a conservator for the Museum and commends the State Party for undertaking firm measures against illegal occupation within property;
  4. Notes with satisfaction that work has started on the development of a fire prevention plan, that a fire hydrant has been brought back into service and that fire breaks have been re-established, and reiterates its request to the State Party to install in the immediate future appropriate fire detection systems in the main buildings, and ensure all fire extinguishers are operable;
  5. Notes the efforts of the State Party to initiate conservation work to rehabilitate degraded parts of the property, but expresses concern that no details have been provided to show how this work has been undertaken or justified to ensure that authenticity and integrity have been respected;
  6. Expresses great concern that the continuing vulnerabilities of the palace remain, and requests the State Party to continue its efforts against the illegal development and encroachment of the property;
  7. Also welcomes the revised Management Plan and reinforcement of the management team as positive steps, but considers that they alone are not enough to achieve the fundamental changes needed to safeguard the fabric of the 10 palaces that make up the whole property, and to the governance, planning and other control processes;
  8. Also notes that, if the palaces are to retain their authenticity and integrity, urgent action has to be undertaken, and also requests the State Party to draft a specific Recovery Plan as a matter of urgency, and submit to the World Heritage Centre the outline of such a Recovery Plan for review by the Advisory Bodies (ICOMOS and ICCROM), based on adequate surveys and research, to establish a baseline from which to measure progress, and which includes a phased and feasible programme of restoration and conservation, based on documentation and surveys, and appropriate changes in governance to allow the involvement and support of relevant stakeholders and authorities;
  9. Thanks the Government of the Norway for their financial support to the property;
  10. Reiterates its recommendation to the State Party to consider establishing a comprehensive strategy for the sustainable funding of the property’s conservation;
  11. Further welcomes the extension of the Museum project to encompass the restoration and rehabilitation of the palaces, and a programme to support sustainable traditional and heritage training; and further requests the State Party to ensure that these elements are integrated into the Recovery Plan, and detailed proposals are submitted for review before they are finalised;
  12. Further notes that the designs for the proposed museum have been modified with lower roofs and an architectural language that respects local traditions, requests furthermore the State Party to re-locate the building or make it much smaller and less dominant, so that the Amazon court continues to be intelligible as a large ceremonial open space, and to submit volumetric studies for review before any further detailed plans are developed for the Amazon court, and requests moreover the State Party to carry out Heritage Impact Assessments (HIA) as a pre-requisite for development projects and activities within or around the components of the property in conformity with Paragraph 118bis of the Operational Guidelines before any decisions are made;
  13. Further requests the State Party to continue dialogue with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies in the framework of the timetable for the implementation of the project for the Museum of the Epic of the Amazons and Kings of Dahomey, to allow for a sustained exchange of documentation and to ensure the preservation of the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property;
  14. Requests furthermore the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Reactive Monitoring mission to the property as soon as possible to consider its state of conservation and the potential threats it is facing, to assess the implementation of the recommendations made by the previous mission of 2016, and to formulate, in consultation with the State Party, concrete recommendations, including on the issues to be addressed in the Recovery Plan;
  15. Finally requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre by 1 February 2022, 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.
Draft Decision: 44 COM 7B.1

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/21/44.COM/7B,
  2. Recalling Decision 43 COM 7B.103, adopted at its 43rd session (Baku, 2019),
  3. Welcomes the revision of the Management Plan, and the appointment of a new Management Committee, a Site Manager and a conservator for the Museum and commends the State Party for undertaking firm measures against illegal occupation within property;
  4. Notes with satisfaction that work has started on the development of a fire prevention plan, that a fire hydrant has been brought back into service and that fire breaks have been re-established, and reiterates its request to the State Party to install in the immediate future appropriate fire detection systems in the main buildings, and ensure all fire extinguishers are operable;
  5. Notes the efforts of the State Party to initiate conservation work to rehabilitate degraded parts of the property, but expresses concern that no details have been provided to show how this work has been undertaken or justified to ensure that authenticity and integrity have been respected;
  6. Expresses great concern that the continuing vulnerabilities of the palace remain, and that illegal development and encroachment of the property are still key issues;
  7. Welcomes the revised Management Plan and reinforcement of the management team as positive steps, but considers that they alone are not enough to achieve the fundamental changes needed to safeguard the fabric of the 10 palaces that make up the whole property, and to the governance, planning and other control processes;
  8. Also notes that, if the palaces are to retain their authenticity and integrity, urgent action has to be undertaken, and requests the State Party to draft a specific Recovery Plan as a matter of urgency, and submit to the World Heritage Centre the outline of such a Recovery Plan for review by the Advisory Bodies (ICOMOS and ICCROM), based on adequate surveys and research, to establish a baseline from which to measure progress, and which includes a phased and feasible programme of restoration and conservation, based on documentation and surveys, and appropriate changes in governance to allow the involvement and support of relevant stakeholders and authorities;
  9. Thanks the Government of the Norway for their financial support to the property;
  10. Reiterates its recommendation to the State Party to consider establishing a comprehensive strategy for the sustainable funding of the property’s conservation;
  11. Welcomes the extension of the Museum project to encompass the restoration and rehabilitation of the palaces, and a programme to support sustainable traditional and heritage training; and also requests the State Party to ensure that these elements are integrated into the Recovery Plan, and detailed proposals are submitted for review before they are finalised;
  12. Further notes that the designs for the proposed museum have been modified with lower roofs and an architectural language that respects local traditions, but also considers that its size and siting in the court of the Amazons remain problematic as its footprint occupies half the court making it unreadable as a large ceremonial open space, and further requests the State Party to re-locate the building or make it much smaller and less dominant, and to submit volumetric studies for review before any further detailed plans are developed for the Amazon court;
  13. Requests furthermore the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Reactive Monitoring mission to the property as soon as possible to consider its state of conservation and the potential threats it is facing, to assess the implementation of the recommendations made by the previous mission of 2016, and to formulate, in consultation with the State Party, concrete recommendations, including on the issues to be addressed in the Recovery Plan;
  14. Finally requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 December 2022, 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 46th session in 2023.
Report year: 2021
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 (2020) .pdf
Initialy proposed for examination in 2020
arrow_circle_right 44COM (2021)
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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