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,: World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM reactive monitoring missions; 2007, 2008: World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission;

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

a) No boundaries for the property nor for the buffer zone ;

b) Impact of the four constructed temporary shelters in 2008;

c) Absence of a management plan for the property;

d) Insufficient urban and architectural regulations;

e) Urban development around the property;

f) Impact of rainwater and humidity ;

g) Impact of earthquakes ;

h) Geological and architectural characteristics of the churches.

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

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2010

On 29 January 2010, a report on the state of conservation of Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela was submitted by the State Party. This is the first report submitted for three years. The report addressed issues outlined in the Decision 33 COM 7B.43 of the World Heritage Committee at its 33rd session (Seville, 2009), which in turn referred to decisions of the World Heritage Committee at its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008).

a) Conservation:

Restoration and conservation of the Aba Libanos Church: the drainage problem at this church is a result of problems with the shelter and drainage of the Biet Merqorios church located behind it at a higher level to its north. Temporary arrangements have been made to divert this water away from the Aba Libanos Church.

Restoration and conservation of the Aba Gabriel Rufael church: restoration work comprising the covering of the roof with cement mortar to prevent rainwater ingress was undertaken due to the recent appearance of a long crack running across the eastern wall of the church. Funds were allocated by the Ethiopian Government in 2008/09 to enable investigation by Ethiopian experts of the construction of a temporary shelter for this church.

b) Monitoring of the Shelters:

Following completion of the shelter project in February 2008, the State Party planned to carry out monthly monitoring missions. The current report from the State Party only mentions monitoring in general terms and does not set out its frequency or how it is carried out.

The monitoring of the Aba Libanos Church has revealed no instability at the base of the shelter, nor any adverse impact on the property arising from construction of the shelter. The State Party states that it is convinced of the need for the shelter to protect the church from further deterioration.

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies recall that they had strongly advised not to build this shelter because of a potential land sliding risk that the weight of the shelter could aggravate.

c) Boundaries and Buffer Zones:

The boundaries of the property and the buffer zone have been established following two workshops held by the State Party with technical and financial support from the University of Dublin and from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. After the final approval by the Ethiopian Authorities, the State Party will submit the maps to the World Heritage Committee. 

d) Implementation of the Conservation Action Plan:

The State Party expresses the need for a multi-disciplinary study on the identification and analysis of decay factors and the design and implementation of sustainable solutions that would enable removal of the temporary shelters. Until such a study has been completed, the State Party does not consider that further conservation work should be undertaken, unless for emergency repairs.

e) Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:

The State Party indicates that some progress has been made on the development of the retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value, including the conditions of authenticity and integrity. However it is reported that more time is required due to various questions raised by participants on authenticity and integrity relating to boundary delineation and the possibility of changing or adding criteria.

f) Legal and Regulatory Framework:

Proclamation for the legal and regulatory protection is in progress, (for four World Heritage properties) with parliamentary ratification expected soon. The site is currently protected by Proclamation 209/2000 relating to the Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage.

g) Management:

The State Party states that the development plan for the historic town of Lalibela has been prepared in consultation with the community and other stakeholders and will be implemented under the relevant Government bodies. No further details are given as to whether this plan includes planning regulations concerning the private development around the property that has been highlighted in past reports.

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies recall that in the framework of the Lalibela Conservation Action Plan funded by the Norwegian Government, the World Heritage Centre is supporting the State Party in its efforts to draft a Site Management Plan for the property. A Site Management workshop was organized in December 2009 and resulted in the establishment of a Site Management Committee; another workshop is planned for July 2010. Regular technical assistance is also on-going and will continue until November 2011 with the aim of producing and implementing the Management Plan.

h) Other projects:

The State Party report does not mention progress with the World Monuments Fund project on the conservation of the property, nor whether the World Bank funded tourism development project is being taken forward.

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies recall that in the framework of the Lalibela Conservation Action Plan, the World Heritage Centre and the World Monuments Fund have produced an inter-disciplinary structural, architectural and decay factors study for the conservation of the Gabriel Rufael Church and will undertake conservation and consolidation works that could constitute a pilot project applicable at other parts of the property. The gradual implementation of this work should facilitate the eventual removal of the temporary shelters.

The World Monuments Fund installed a structural monitoring system in the Gabriel Rufael and Aba Libanos Churches, carried out a complete laser scan survey of the property and a comprehensive analysis of its architectural and typological features.

Furthermore, in the framework of the World Heritage Earthen Architecture Programme, the World Heritage Centre will undertake a conservation project funded by Italy in the traditional village of Lalibela, which forms part of the property.

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies are informed that the World Bank project includes conservation and enhancement components at the property and is in contact with the State Party and the World Bank to mitigate any advert effects of their project on the property’s integrity.

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies acknowledge the progress made with basic conservation work, (although are concerned at the use of cement), with monitoring the impact of the shelters and with mapping boundaries. They note that more work is needed to complete the Statement of Outstanding Universal Value and reminds the State Party that adding additional criteria would need a new nomination to be submitted to the World Heritage Committee.

In the light of the growing urban development that is threatening the Outstanding Universal Value and Integrity of the property, there remains an urgent need to accelerate the creation and implementation of the management plan. Such a plan should link the management of the churches to the sustainable development of the wider setting of the property.

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


Decision Adopted: 34 COM 7B.44

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-10/34.COM/7B,

2. Recalling Decision 33 COM 7B.43, adopted at its 33rd session (Seville, 2009),

3. Acknowledges the progress made by the State Party in basic conservation and monitoring, in delineating the boundaries of the property and its buffer zone; and reiterates its request to the State Party to submit maps of the boundaries and buffer zone to the World Heritage Centre;

4. Requests the State Party to submit details of the type and frequency of monitoring arrangements of the temporary shelters;

5. Expresses its concern at the uncontrolled urban encroachment that threatens the property and urges the State Party to halt this encroachment;

6. Recognizing the importance of a management plan that could link the management of the churches to the sustainable development of the wider setting of the property, also requests the State Party to pursue its efforts in establishing a site management plan with the support of the World Heritage Centre ;

7. Also recognizing the importance of an holistic, inter-disciplinary project to study the cause of decay of the churches in relation to the wider landscape as well as to stone decay, further requests the State Party to pursue its efforts in implementing the pilot project at the Gabriel Rufael Church in cooperation with the World Heritage Centre and World Monuments Fund, with a view to finding a sustainable solution that would allow the removal of the temporary shelters ;

8. Requests furthermore the State Party to regularly inform the World Heritage Centre about the World Bank tourism development project that is being implemented at the property, and to submit to the World Heritage Centre all related planned conservation and enhancement projects for review by the Advisory Bodies and by the World Heritage Centre prior to any commitment being made, in accordance with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines;

9. Notes the completion of a development plan for Lalibela area and requests moreover the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre a copy of the plan with information on its related regulatory framework;

10. Finally requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre by 1 February 2012, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 36th session in 2012.