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Source: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
24 September 1991

United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization
Executive Board

Hundred and thirty-seventh Session

137 EX/26
PARIS, 24 September 1991
Original: French/English

Item 5.3.1 of the provisional agenda



The Director-General submits the present document in compliance with decision 5.3.1, on the subject of Jerusalem, adopted by the Executive Board at its 135th session. It has been prepared on the basis of the information available at 27 August 1991.

1. The Executive Board, at its 135th session, considered the Director-General’s report on ‘Jerusalem and the implementation of 25 C/Resolution 3.6, and adopted decision 5.3.1, in which it invited the Director-General:
and decided to place this question on the agenda for its 137th session.


2. On 3 October 1990 the Director-General received a communication from the Minister of Education of Jordan stating that work under way on the Bab-Al Silsila road in the Old City was endangering the stability of Islamic monuments. The Secretariat informed the personal representative of the Director-General and wrote to the Israeli charge d’affaires asking him to be kind enough to convey to it such observations as the authorities of his
country might wish to make on the subject of that information. By a letter of 23 November 1990 the Permanent Delegate of Israel replied as follows:

3. Furthermore, the Director-General received a communication on 24 May 1991 from the Permanent Delegate of Jordan stating that Israeli extremist groups had, through the group known as the ‘Temple Mount Faithful’, instituted proceedings in the Israeli Supreme Court with a view to depriving the agency responsible for the Waqfs of control of the al-Aqsa Mosque. The letter has been forwarded to the personal representative of the Director-General.


4. On 13 February 1991 the Secretariat received a work plan from the Department of Antiquities of the Jerusalem Waqf concerning the restoration of the Tankiz caravanserai (Khan Tankaz), with a view to its funding from the Special Account for the Safeguarding of the Cultural Heritage, particularly the Islamic Monuments, of the City of Jerusalem, which at present stands at US $608,155. The document was communicated to the Director-General’s personal representative in connection with his mission to Jerusalem from 14 to 19 July 1991 and in anticipation of the earliest possible execution of the proposed work, a start on which should enable the Director-General to appeal to the international community for fresh voluntary contributions, as he was asked to do by the Executive Board at its 135th session.

5. The Director-General continued his consultations with the parties concerned so that he could send representatives on a mission, in compliance with the relevant decisions and resolutions of UNESCO. Following those consultations the Director-General’s personal representative, Professor Lemaire, visited Jerusalem from 14 to 19 July and submitted the following report.

6. Report by the Director-General’s personal representative.

Report to Mr F. Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO, on my
mission to Jerusalem from 14 to 19 July 1991

1. Purpose of the mission: Inspection of the monuments of the City of Jerusalem, with special reference to the complaints lodged with the Director-General by various authorities.

2. People interviewed
3. Excavations

3.1 I did not observe any fresh excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem or in the immediate vicinity of its ramparts. The excavations under way in 1990 at the vast construction site of David’s Village in the new Mamilla district in the neighbourhood of the Jaffa Gate have been halted for the time being. They will nevertheless be resumed at some time in the future, as determined by the progress of construction work on the new infrastructures or buildings scheduled in the project. They are salvage excavations, since the ‘archives’ contained in the ground would otherwise be irremediably destroyed by the scale of the works undertaken. The works area is situated mostly in the Israeli zone, with a small portion in the former no-man’s-land of before June 1967. Mainly tombs have so far been found; they are reckoned to be Christian for the most part and to date from the Byzantine period.

3.2 Salvage excavations are also in progress outside the city on land earmarked for new housing construction for the Israeli population. Two of these excavation sites are located in the occupied zone between Jerusalem and Ramallah. The first, and larger, is situated on a building site in the immediate vicinity of the Arab village of Ras Amar. According to information supplied by antiquities department officials, the project includes the construction of a new satellite town called Disgat Zeev, with 20,000 new dwellings. Before any construction of infrastructures or buildings, the department was instructed to carry out excavations as a matter of urgency. These excavations, which are still under way, uncovered substructures - some of large buildings - dating from either the Roman or the Byzantine period. One of them, which is particularly extensive and contains numerous remains of oil presses, has been identified by some archaeologists as a Byzantine monastery or convent. Others reckon it to be the remains of a large Roman estate specializing in olive cultivation. The dating of these remains is therefore uncertain. None the less, the discoveries shed some light on the nature of the countryside around the city of Jerusalem in ancient times. These excavations are salvage operations, decisions regarding the works resting entirely with the Ministry of Housing.

The other site is closer to Jerusalem but also in the occupied zone. It is Shoaffat, another Arab village, close to which work has begun on a new housing development (said by the same sources to comprise 5,000 dwellings) apparently intended primarily for Jewish religious communities. Here too, preventive excavations have uncovered remains of farms of the same period as those referred to in the previous paragraph.

In both sites the most important or spectacular archaeological remains will be preserved or transformed into parks. The original plans for the construction of infrastructures or buildings have been altered to allow for this. It is a matter for regret, incidentally, quite apart from the legal and political implications of building vast new complexes in an occupied territory, that these new districts generally form a violent adjunct to a landscape of highly varied and abundant forms. It is also noteworthy that the two developments fit into the chain of new towns and districts that are gradually ringing the city of Jerusalem from south to north, via the new town of Maale Adoumin some 20 kilometres to the east on the Jericho road, and now house over 20,000 inhabitants.

The official excavations programme of the Antiquities Authority shows that excavations are scheduled in 1991 at Qumram in formerly inhabited caves. (Qumram is where in about 1947 the famous oldest manuscript Bible scrolls were discovered; there have been numerous Israeli and foreign archaeological expeditions to Qumram since then.) The place is located near the Dead Sea, in occupied territory. Excavations are also scheduled at Banias, in an old city dating from Roman times and the Early Middle Ages, and in a Hellenistic and Roman sanctuary. Banias is in the occupied Golan.

4. The tunnel and ad-joining chambers

The unquestionable archaeological worth of the many underground chambers for Jerusalem visitors, coupled with the considerable religious attraction of the tunnel and the wall around Temple Mount for the Jews, has put increasing pressure on the religious authority managing the site, and on the archaeologists with scientific responsibility for it, to make the place more readily visitable and intelligible for the average visitor. It will be recalled that this matter was raised in one of my previous reports, and that one of the solutions proposed was to provide a northern exit from the tunnel by opening up the staircase that used to provide access from the outside to the Hasmonaean Pool conserved beneath the convent of the Sisters of Sion. This pool is linked to the tunnel by a very old aqueduct, discovered and explored by Charles Warren back in 1867-1870 but completely forgotten since then despite publication of the find. It was an unexpected subsidence that linked the aqueduct to the tunnel in 1986. The staircase would have led out to the street, in the Arab quarter of the city, that provides a main access to the Haram as-Sharif. That solution was discarded in 1989 in view of the protests received from the Muslim authorities and for security reasons (see my April 1989 report). Things have since then remained unchanged as regards access points - but not as regards the interior, which has been reorganized to facilitate viewing, with lighting to show off the chambers and architectural features. Explanatory notices have been installed to make this architecturally and historically highly complex place more comprehensible to visitors. There would be nothing wrong with that if it had been done with tasteful discretion and in keeping with the historic spirit of the place, but, alas, it has not. Two essential criticisms can be levelled at the works in question. The first concerns the aesthetic quality of certain innovations and their respect for the surrounding architecture. The most discordant introduction is the construction of a platform in one of the wings of the large hall in the shape of a Greek cross that constitutes the most monumental and impressive area of the complex. This platform, standing about three metres high and full at the base, is made of metal pieces of a mat gilt colour. It can be reached via a gallery that runs along one of the walls halfway up and is served by a staircase. The platform, which is said to have been built to afford a view of the full extent of the hall, actually houses a model of Temple Mount reconstituting the site as it is presumed to have been in the Herodian era, the ‘Holy of Holies’ being illuminated. Some tiers are provided at the rear, from where visitors can listen to the guide. This arrangement has to do with the second and more basic criticism that can be made of the works carried out: the entire design, the objects, the inscriptions, as regards both the introductory text and the luminous glass panels echoing the traditional form of the Decalogue, and the lighting are all aimed at convincing visitors that they are seeing a sanctuary of the Jewish religion. This is reasonable and legitimate when one is in the chambers situated opposite the surrounding wall, which is a prolongation of the Wailing Wall and is for the Jews an eminently sacred place, but it certainly does not apply to the other (far larger and more numerous) areas, which are the remains of Roman, Byzantine and Arab constructions that served various non-religious purposes and are quite unconnected with the lofty religious function of the Mount itself. Historical truth is given a rough handling here for the sake of a religious ‘annexation’ that is totally unjustified, as regards both the place and history, and is almost bound to leave the visitor with a misperception of the true significance of the site.

5. Street improvements in the Old City

The street improvement work is nearing completion in the Arab district, where practically all the roadways have been redone to provide sewers, water mains, power and telephone lines, conduits suitable for cable television and new paving in Jerusalem stone. No complaints of damage to buildings as a result of the work have been made or received locally.

Similar work remains to be done in some parts of the Christian and Armenian Quarters to complete the street refurbishing of the Old City. This clearly represents a substantial improvement in the quality of life in the Old City, whose generally very old facilities (some sewers still dated from Roman times and were 2,000 years old!) no longer matched modern living and hygiene standards.

6. Work on the Haram as-Sharif

6.1 There has been little change in the Haram. All the work involved has been brought to a near or complete standstill by the recent events in the Middle East. More than ever, money and socio-cultural direction seem to be in too short supply for the commissioning or pursuit of significant work. Little progress has been made in rounding off the restoration of the al-Aqsa Mosque. The operation to replace the covering of the cupola of the Qubba as-Sakhra (Dome of the Rock), the chief monument of the Holy Place, seems to be at a standstill despite the fact that a crane and scaffolding have been in place for over two years. The Qubba as-Silsila (Dome of the Chain) is still screened off and without its superb sixteenth century ceramic tiles, but it is once again protected by a fine, extremely professionally installed lead roof.

6.2 Mention must be made of a substantial restoration scheme, that of the Madrasa al-Guadiriyya, situated against the north perimeter wall of the Haram. This building, dating from the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods, had long been in ruins, part of it even being in danger of collapsing. The work, which is still under way, is intended to make it usable once more, either as a meeting room or for other purposes. The ongoing project includes the partial rebuilding of the front wall and is soundly designed and executed.

6.3 Constant observation of the restoration work on the major monuments of the Haram as-Sharif for about 20 consecutive years gives rise to some apprehension as regards their future. There is no quarrel with the quality of the work done. It can be deduced from the praise often heaped on them in my reports, and from the fact that the restoration of the cupola of the al-Aqsa Mosque won the International Aga Khan Prize, that the fears raised by certain work carried out 15 or so years ago need no longer be entertained. The present anxiety arises from two factors: a demonstrated inability to carry through certain restoration operations within acceptable deadlines; and the fact that there is no high-calibre scientific involvement in the taking of essential decisions regarding the future of monuments of crucial worth. Two examples illustrate this state of affairs. They concern essential monuments of the site: the Dome of the Chain and the Dome of the Rock. The restoration of the former was undertaken at least 10 years ago. At that time, in order to consolidate its structure, it was stripped of all its decoration, consisting essentially of ceramic tiles dating from the time of Suleyman the Magnificent. These tiles were carefully stored so that they could subsequently be put back in place. The work was halted for many years owing to lack of money. Such situations are obviously prejudicial to the proper safeguarding of the monument. Experience proves that after a long period it is often difficult to find and replace all the pieces even if great care has been taken of them at the start. A further point is that the beauty and the sanctity of the site are impaired by the continuing presence of scaffolding and screens. It is desirable that such substantial and complicated restoration work be undertaken only when all the resources for performing it within a reasonable period of time are forthcoming.

The second example concerns that incomparable masterpiece Islamic architecture, of Omayyad the Dome of the Rock. The edifice dates from the late seventh century and suffers from a host of ills, its roof, chiefly the permeability of paintings, the rusty clasps of its marble cladding, the state of its ceiling and the numerous repaintings of its admirable interior cupola. Comprehensive restoration is needed, which calls for crucial decisions as to the aspect and future of the monument. The most spectacular, and no doubt also the most difficult, concerns the facing of the cupola. It was renovated some 40 years ago and at present consists of large gold-coloured anodized aluminimum sheets, which replaced a very old facing of much smaller lead sheets. It has two drawbacks. The first and more serious is that it is not waterproof. The wide temperature differences cause the sheets to expand and contract and so damage the weatherproofing. The second drawback has to do with aesthetics: the very excessive size of the individual panels detracts greatly from the monumental character of the edifice by departing considerably from one of the modules most expressive of the perception of its real dimensions. The covering therefore needs to be renewed - and one could describe the need as urgent, since the moisture seeping in may, in the medium term, endanger the superb stuccoes adorning the cupola and the internal painted ceilings. The work will present many complex archaeological, aesthetic and technical problems. Here are just some of the questions that will have to be answered:
Lengthy multidisciplinary studies are needed to answer these questions properly, and at present there is no team available to undertake such studies. The engineer-architect in charge of the edifice has, it is true, displayed a high degree of competence in his work at the al-Aqsa Mosque. Clearly, however, in view of the range of disciplines involved (history, archaeology, stability of materials, metallurgy, etc.) he cannot alone overcome all the pressing problems. Furthermore, the decisions required cannot be left just to the administrative authorities without their being supplied with all the scientifically established data permitting the most favourable options to be adopted for the proper protection of such an exceptional monument, recognized by all specialists to be one of the greatest masterpieces of the world’s architecture and as such entered, together with the entire Old City of Jerusalem, in the World Heritage List. It is therefore to be recommended that the Muslim religious authorities responsible for the Dome of the Rock set up a multidisciplinary scientific committee to supervise the restoration of the edifice, chosen from among the best specialists in ancient Islamic architecture, the restoration of monuments, and the metallurgical problems involved. The activities of such a committee and the preliminary studies could be funded from the Special Account for the Safeguarding of the Cultural Heritage , particularly the Islamic Monuments, of the City of Jerusalem.

7. The remarkable collection of Korans in the al-Aqsa Museum is ever a cause of worry for the curator. Some of the most precious manuscripts are still being attacked by insects and mildew, which despite the improved conservation conditions continue to do damage. Some years ago a German mission was asked to study the question of protecting these manuscripts, but no further action was taken although - a conservation campaign had been planned. Continuation of that mission’s work is highly desirable.

8. Of the problems, apprehensions or fears notified to me by the Waqf authorities, two items are particularly noteworthy:
9. The Christian monuments

9.1 The restoration of the medieval porch of Saint Mark’s Church, the seat of the Syrian Christian community, is being completed. Structural reinforcements have been carried out; the edifice, which was in danger of collapsing, has therefore been made stable. Completion work will be carried out in the coming weeks.

9.2 Restoration of the Holy Sepulchre is also proceeding very slowly - and not without problems as to the archaeological and aesthetic quality of the work. An agreement seems at last to have been reached between the representatives of the three religious communities (Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian) regarding the internal decoration of the cupola. The work carried out over the years on this renowned monument has, as we know, been roundly criticized, and this was covered in my 1990 report. The religious authorities’ power to decide the nature and extent of the work is clearly far too great and often results in decisions that fly in the face of even elementary rules of sound preservation or presentation of the monument. Just as for the Haram as-Sharif, the formation of a scientific supervisory committee of a very high international standard would be needed here. It could give the backing of its authority, in dealings with owners, to the generally wise proposals made by the architects in charge, which are all too often countered by very narrow traditional or liturgical views that are in conflict with the very nature of the monument.
(signed) R.M. Lemaire

4 August 1991

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