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Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela

Ethiopia
Factors affecting the property in 2021*
  • Earthquake
  • Land conversion
  • Legal framework
  • Management activities
  • Management systems/ management plan
  • Relative humidity
  • Water (rain/water table)
  • Other Threats:

    Impact of the four temporary shelters constructed in 2008; Demolition of most of the traditional “tukul” dwellings

Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
  • Absence of a Management Plan for the property (issue resolved)
  • Lack of clearly defined boundaries for the property and the buffer zone
  • Impact of the four temporary shelters constructed in 2008
  • Insufficient urban and architectural regulations
  • Urban development and encroachment around the property
  • Impact of rainwater and humidity
  • Impact of earthquakes
  • Geological and architectural characteristics of the property
  • Demolition of most of the traditional “tukul” dwellings
UNESCO Extra-Budgetary Funds until 2021

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).

International Assistance: requests for the property until 2021
Requests approved: 3 (from 1980-2000)
Total amount approved : 93,300 USD
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2021

On 4 December 2020, the State Party submitted a state of conservation report, which is available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/18/documents/. Further details on the church shelters were submitted on 11 December 2020. Progress in several conservation issues addressed by the Committee at its previous sessions is indicated, as follows:

  • An Ethiopian-French bilateral project is developing a long-term conservation strategy for the churches. Options have been suggested for the shelter design based on the updated norms governing the structural calculation of the existing shelters, requiring anchors into the natural rock;
  • The bilateral projects also encompass a three-year funded partnership agreement (the Sustainable Lalibela Project), securing resources for additional actions on archaeological heritage research, material conservation and capacity building based on previous ICOMOS advice, as well as the intention to promote the enhancement of the property with an open-air museum. The following work has been undertaken:
    • Monitoring report of the results of a one-year cycle of crack monitoring,
    • Installation report on the placement of 16 electronic fissure-meters on the foundations of the existing shelters in 2019,
  • Detailed maps of Group 1 and 2 with identification of voids and tunnels with 3D laser scanning,
  • Development of a dismantling methodology for the existing shelters;
  • Final reports of the 2016/2018 US-funded (US Government’s Ambassadors Fund for the Cultural Preservation) conservation on the uncovered Bete Gabriel Rafael and Bete Golgotha/Mikael churches have been submitted
  • Information is provided on the Council of Ministers of Ethiopia regulation No. 344/2015 of August 2015, which defines the churches and their surroundings as a Reserved Area, operationalizes an Advisory Committee for local site management, and identifies the World Heritage property and buffer zone boundaries with GPS coordinates. Integration of these boundaries into a cadastral system through the Federal Mapping Agency is planned;
  • The Structural Plan regulating the urban growth of Lalibela is currently being revised to direct the urban expansion to lower-lying parts of the town, though further details were not specified.

Information on the bilateral Ethiopian-French collaboration is regularly exchanged with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies for comment and review.

ICOMOS prepared two extensive technical reviews of the above-mentioned material, and meetings were held with representatives of the State Party, the French authorities, the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and others on 2 December 2020, 4 February 2021 and 12 May 2021.

Analysis and Conclusion by World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies in 2021

In 2008, four temporary protective shelters were erected over five of the eleven rock-hewn churches to protect them from weathering and to allow conservation and repairs to be carried out. The Committee agreed reluctantly to their construction and only subject to parameters that included their ultimate dismantling.

The conservation work envisaged when the shelters were erected has not materialized in any adequate form and no monitoring of the condition of the rock was undertaken. Recently, the engineering norms that are relevant to these shelters have been revised to reflect local climatic conditions, with the result that these structures no longer have sufficient structural integrity to meet these norms. The Statement of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) acknowledges that these structures have a visual impact on the integrity of the property. Moreover, the church authorities and the local community have never approved of these structures because of their visual intrusion into holy spaces, but also for the frightening noise resulting from vibration that can interrupt ceremonies and cause panic.

The objectives of the current French-initiated bilateral project are to be welcomed in terms of the long-term protection of the churches and their restoration, and the training and capacity building components and other improvements to the property under the "Sustainable Lalibela Project". A Steering Committee consisting of national and international authority representatives has been established to oversee this project.

The project also addresses the feasibility of improving/replacing the shelters. Based on studies of the mineral structure of the rock into which the churches are carved and its susceptibility to water penetration, the feasibility study recommends complete external protection of all churches by permanent shelter constructions. In order to meet the new engineering norms, such shelters would either need to be bound to the ground by massive counterweights or anchored into the rock. Three options for the design of the shelters are being explored. The Steering Committee concluded that as the anchoring option enables lighter shelter constructions, UNESCO and the Advisory Bodies should be requested to support in principle the use of anchors. Yet, the data so far provided on rock analysis is insufficient to allow a clear understanding of the causes of the cracks within the churches or of how they might have changed over time. The current analysis that has been provided is more of a general analysis of the rock type and does not provide specifics or comparators with other churches. What is also lacking is any detailed analysis of the traditional practices that were in place some fifty years ago for sheltering the roofs of the churches in the rainy season, of any negative impacts of drier conditions under shelters, or of detailed comparisons of weathering between sheltered and unsheltered churches.

The reports from the previous 2016-2018 conservation projects of two churches not covered by shelters suggested a conservation strategy based on a minimal intervention approach using sustainable stone conservation techniques with local craftsmanship to actively pursue regular seasonal maintenance to counterfeit the rain and sun's erosive effects.

Requested to assess whether anchors for new shelters were acceptable or not, ICOMOS considers that this question implies an acceptance of shelters as the preferred solution to address the conservation concerns. On the basis of current knowledge, the Advisory Bodies do not consider that enough data exists to rule out other options or to choose the shelter option. More information is needed on the efficacy of alternative, less-invasive protection approaches to preventing water penetration and its protective contribution to weathering effects before generally ruling such treatment strategies out. All potential options need to be explored as a basis for developing a conservation plan. Moreover, while the shelter option might bring some benefits to the physical fabric, the negative impacts that the shelters would bring to the architecture and symbolism of this extraordinary fragile, holy ensemble of churches, also needs to be considered. The 2018 joint UNESCO/ICOMOS/ICCROM Advisory mission to Lalibela highlighted the importance of ensuring that all interventions are sensitive to the entire property's living heritage and the churches' sacred character.

The information provided by the State Party on the operationalization of the Local Advisory Committee's involvement introduced with the national reserve act to the property (proclamation Nr. 344/2015) is not sufficient to conclude that effective local management of the property has yet been put in place. Furthermore, the report does not provide any information on how the improvement of living conditions near the churches is being addressed in ongoing urban planning processes since no vision statement on a sustainable development perspective for the urban condition of Lalibela has been presented, as requested by the World Heritage Committee.

Decisions adopted by the Committee in 2021
44 COM 7B.118
Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela (Ethiopia) (C 18)

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/21/44.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decision 43 COM 7B.105, adopted at its 43rd session (Baku, 2019),
  3. Acknowledges the information provided on the restoration projects implemented at the Bete Gabriel-Rafael and Beta Golgotha/Mikael churches, particularly the applied minimal intervention approach for roof conservation on these churches not covered by shelters;
  4. Welcomes the overall aims of the Sustainable Lalibela Project being developed as part of a bilateral Ethiopian-French project, particularly the focus on capacity building and formal scientific education in conservation-restoration and archaeological research;
  5. Also welcomes the development of a dismantling methodology for the existing shelters, notes that the existing shelters have successfully protected the churches from further damages but do not meet the new engineering norms and need considerable strengthening of counterweights; and urges the State Party to apply modifications to the existing protective shelters to comply with the revised national construction norms, keeping the temporary character of these shelters until their subsequent dismantling;
  6. Also notes that the rock pathology research undertaken in the framework of the feasibility study of the bilateral Ethiopian-French project is recommending, on the basis of the scoriaceous basaltic composition of the rock into which the churches are carved and its susceptibility to water penetration, the complete external protection of all churches and their immediate surroundings by permanent shelter constructions; and that such shelters would either need to be bound to the ground by massive counter weights or anchored into the rock;
  7. Further notes that three anchor based options for the design of shelters were explored and that, based on the recommendations of the scientific committee and the local community to implement the canopy option which would allow to cover all three groups of churches and ensure a long-term conservation and preservation of the site while restoring the damaged parts, the Steering Committee has adopted the canopy option and requested UNESCO and the Advisory Bodies to support in principle the use of rock anchors for new shelters;
  8. Further welcomes the results of the feasibility study, including the involvement of the local community in the various studies, and the selection of a solution that puts them at the centre;
  9. Requests the State Party, in order to allow final validation of the solution, to provide:
    1. The Final Preliminary Design of the canopy option and the detailed restorations planned,
    2. The results of the environmental and social impact study including the Heritage Impact Assessments,
    3. The reports of the additional studies recommended by the scientific committee (geotechnical, hydrological and other studies deemed necessary),

      which should all be submitted to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies before any decision to realize the solution is taken;
  10. Further welcomes the dialogue that has developed between the State Party, the French authorities and the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies on the emerging bi-lateral project, and encourages the State Party to continue this dialogue to support the development of a conservation plan;
  11. Also requests the State Party to present a people-centred approach to preserving the property, including participatory management in the church structures' conservation-restoration, and acknowledging the active role the churches have as a living heritage for the local communities;
  12. Takes note of the relevant data on the mitigation measures and modifications applied to the existing temporary shelters submitted by the State Party, including the comprehensive study for the conservation of the Group II area that allows for removing the current shelter at Bete Lebanos;
  13. Also urges the State Party to ensure the operationalization of the Local Advisory Committee, according to the Reserved Area regulation, to revise the 2014 Management Plan, and to submit it to the World Heritage Centre, along with the cadaster maps including all management and planning provisions for the property;
  14. 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 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;
  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.118

    The World Heritage Committee,

    1. Having examined Document WHC/21/44.COM/7B.Add,
    2. Recalling Decision 43 COM 7B.105, adopted at its 43rd session (Baku, 2019),
    3. Acknowledges the information provided on the restoration projects implemented at the Bete Gabriel-Rafael and Beta Golgotha/Mikael churches, particularly the successfully applied minimal intervention approach for roof conservation on these churches not covered by shelters;
    4. Welcomes the overall aims of the Sustainable Lalibela Project being developed as part of a bilateral Ethiopian-French project, particularly the focus on capacity building and formal scientific education in conservation-restoration and archaeological research;
    5. Also welcomes the development of a dismantling methodology for the existing shelters, notes that the existing shelters do not meet the new engineering norms and need considerable strengthening of counterweights; and urges the State Party to apply modifications to the existing protective shelters to comply with the revised national construction norms, keeping the temporary character of these shelters until their subsequent dismantling;
    6. Also notes that the bilateral Ethiopian-French project is recommending, on the basis of studies of the mineral structure of the rock into which the churches are carved and its susceptibility to water penetration, the complete external protection of all churches and their immediate surroundings by permanent shelter constructions; and that such shelters would either need to be bound to the ground by massive counter weights or anchored into the rock;
    7. Further notes that three options for the design of shelters are being explored and that the Steering Committee has requested UNESCO and the Advisory Bodies to support in principle the use of rock anchors for new shelters;
    8. Considers that on the basis of current knowledge, not enough data exists to support the shelter option or rule out other options; and that a long-term conservation plan, based on adequate analysis of all potential options, needs to be agreed before decisions are taken on shelters;
    9. Requests the State Party, in order to allow adequate comparisons of all potential options as a basis for developing a conservation plan, to:
      1. Explore the efficacy of alternative, less-invasive protection approaches to preventing water penetration and its protective contribution to weathering effects before generally ruling out such treatment strategies,
      2. Undertake a detailed analysis of traditional practices that were in place some fifty years ago for sheltering the roofs of the churches in the rainy season,
      3. Analyze the negative impacts of drier conditions under shelters,
      4. Provide detailed comparisons of weathering between sheltered and unsheltered churches;
    10. Further welcomes the dialogue that has developed between the State Party, the French authorities and the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies on the emerging bi-lateral project, and encourages the State Party to continue this dialogue to support the development of a conservation plan;
    11. Also requests the State Party to present a people-centered approach to preserving the property, including participatory management in the church structures' conservation-restoration, and acknowledging the active role the churches have as a living heritage for the local communities;
    12. Further requests the State Party to submit all relevant data on the mitigation measures and modifications applied to the existing temporary shelters, including a comprehensive study for the conservation of the Group II area that allows for removing the current shelter at Bete Lebanos;
    13. Also urges the State Party to ensure the operationalization of the Local Advisory Committee, according to the Reserved Area regulation, to revise the 2014 Management Plan, and to submit it to the World Heritage Centre, along with the cadaster maps and with a request for Minor Boundary Modification, including all management and planning provisions for the property;
    14. 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 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;
    15. Requests moreover 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 in 2022.
    Report year: 2021
    Ethiopia
    Date of Inscription: 1978
    Category: Cultural
    Criteria: (i)(ii)(iii)
    Documents examined by the Committee
    SOC Report by the State Party
    Report (2020) .pdf
    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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