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World Heritage Convention

Decision 26 BUR XII.63-77
Byblos (Lebanon)

XII.63    The Bureau, recalling the recommendations of two Seminars, organized by the World Heritage Centre in 1998 and 1999 in collaboration with the Delft University, noted that Byblos is one of five Lebanese sites considered by a large Cultural Heritage and Urban Development Project financed by the World Bank, and examined the summary of the findings of an ICOMOS mission, carried out to the site in November 2001.

XII.64    An Urban Study was commissioned in 2001 by the World Bank to a Lebanese consultant firm, in preparation for the Project. A preliminary draft report on this Study was presented in November 2001 to the Bank during its pre-appraisal mission, in the presence of a WHC staff member, and discussed later with an ICOMOS expert in the framework of a reactive monitoring mission to the site. The ICOMOS expert examined as well several other proposed developments at the site, and assessed its general state of conservation.

XII.65    Concerning the archaeological area, the Bureau noted that, despite the remarkable efforts of the few staff working at the site, and some cleaning and site presentation carried out in view of the Summit on the Francophonie, most of its monuments and remains are in a very precarious and dangerous state of conservation. The main problems concern exposed and very fragile structures at risk of collapse, unprotected excavations, and the lifted or in situ mosaics, which are being deteriorated by the combined effect of weathering, neglect and cement. The ICOMOS report stressed the urgent need for retaining walls to prevent erosion, the refilling of most open excavations, the conservation and protection of mosaics, and their proper presentation in an exhibition area to be identified.

XII.66    On the World Bank project, the Secretariat explained that it focused on three main areas: access and parking, the historic city centre, and the harbour. The relationship with the archaeological site was not taken into account, and an archaeological study was not commissioned by the Bank, contrary to what was done for Tyre and Baalbek. The Bureau noted, however, that copies of the final studies had so far not been provided to the World Heritage Centre, which therefore could not examine the proposals in detail, but that from discussions with the Consultant, the project did not seem based on a detailed analysis of the ancient topography of the site, including the present-day archaeological area, and appeared conceived on a questionable concept of tourism development. As a result, a number of proposals had raised the concern of the ICOMOS expert. Among these were, for example, the installation of a wooden deck on the coast around the archaeological area with extensions onto the sea; the covering of the pebbly beach below the site with sand and the construction of “adequate services and facilities for a tourist beach”; the re-design of the public square in front of the entrance to the excavations including a new fountain with no relations to the underlying archaeological remains; the construction of a new restaurant and elevated promenade on top of the present souk; the conversion of the Municipality and Old Seray, two of the most significant buildings of the Old City and in direct contact with the archaeological area, into a “Relais et Chateau” type of hotel; the execution of a passerelle around the entire medieval walled enclosure; etc.

XII.67    The Study included as well proposals for the area outside the medieval walls, and especially for the conservation and presentation of the Decumanus Maximus, and its link with a parking area along the present highway on the eastern border of the town. These interventions, which would relieve the old city from excessive traffic and restore the original access to Byblos, were highly recommended by the ICOMOS expert.

XII.68    The Bureau was also informed that the areas immediately to the South and North of the property had not been considered by the World Bank Consultant. However, the ICOMOS Mission learnt of plans to further develop them for tourism purposes, and strongly warned against this idea, lest the encroachment of modern constructions should impact even more on the site and its buffer zone, which remains to be properly defined.

XII.69    On a separate issue, the Bureau noted the proposal by the Lebanese Ministry of Public Works and Transports, for an extension of the new jetty facing the old harbour of Byblos, to protect this and house a small tourist marina. As already pointed out by the participants in the two seminars organized by the Centre, and confirmed by the ICOMOS expert, this extension would have a major negative impact on the old harbour without providing a guarantee against the strong winter currents. The Secretariat then informed the Bureau of a letter, received on 4 April 2002 from the Director-General of the Lebanese Antiquities Department, suggesting an alternative solution to the proposed extension of the jetty, consisting of a breakwater to be executed under the sea, some 200 m from the old port. 

XII.70    The proposed realization of a road across the archaeological area to construct the extension to the jetty, moreover, would be a disaster for the site. ICOMOS strongly recommends that, instead of engaging in these new projects, a detailed survey of the underwater areas around the site and within the harbour be completed as a matter of urgency.

XII.71    The Bureau, furthermore, noted that one of the main problems concerning the archaeological site of Byblos, as much as for all the other archaeological sites of the country, is the chronic lack of staff, which severely affects the capacity of the DGA to adequately conserve and manage this large and very important property. Recognizing this problem at the national level, the World Bank decided to include an Institutional Assessment of the DGA as a precondition for the negotiation of its Project with the Lebanese Government. The WHC, which strongly supports this initiative, was involved in the preparation of the Terms of Reference for this Assessment and in the selection of the experts.

XII.72    Finally, the Bureau noted that all these initiatives are being conducted in the absence of a comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, with specific legal and administrative provisions for its implementation. 

XII.73    The Observer of Lebanon informed the Bureau that the final documents and studies prepared by the consultants of the World Bank would shortly be made available to the Secretariat. He also informed the delegates of the intention of the Antiquities Department to request technical assistance from the Centre to assess the feasibility and possible impact of the above-mentioned breakwater. Finally, the Observer of Lebanon agreed on the urgent need for a comprehensive Urban Conservation Plan for Byblos.

XII.74    The Bureau adopted the following recommendation for action by the 26th session of the Committee:

“The Committee commends the State Party for its efforts, undertaken in conjunction with the World Bank for the rehabilitation of the Old City of Byblos and its social and economic revitalization. The Committee, however, expresses concern with regard to some of the proposed interventions, which would be incompatible with the respect for the outstanding universal values of the site. The Committee, furthermore, invites the State Party to ensure that adequate resources, possibly within this Project, be made available to support the necessary conservation and presentation works within the archaeological area, and especially the strengthening of the capacity and number of the local DGA staff.

XII.75    The Committee, therefore, requests the State Party to submit urgently to the Secretariat a complete set of the preparatory studies on Byblos carried out in the framework of the World Bank Project, for examination by the Committee, before a final agreement is reached between the Government of Lebanon and the World Bank on the scope of the activities within this Project.

XII.76    The Committee also invites the State Party to discard plans for an extension of the jetty, and to engage in a thorough investigation of the underwater areas surrounding the site and the harbour. Finally, the Committee encourages the Lebanese authorities to develop a comprehensive Urban Conservation Plan, including provisions for the areas adjacent to the archaeological site, the medieval enclosure, the areas of archaeological potential on the two sides of the Decumanus Maximus, and the zones to the North and South of Byblos, to protect the site and its buffer zones from further encroachments.

XII.77    The Committee strongly encourages the State Party to submit requests for International Assistance under the World Heritage Fund, in addition to the World Bank funding, to accomplish the above-mentioned recommendations, and requests that a report be submitted by the Lebanese authorities on the progress of the situation to the World Heritage Centre by 1 February 2003.”

Decision Code
26 BUR XII.63-77
States Parties 1
Properties 1
State of conservation reports
2002 Byblos
Context of Decision