UNESCO World Heritage Committee laments "fragile state of conservation" of Gelati monument

  • Gelati is noted by the UNESCO for representing "the masterpiece of the architecture of the 'Golden Age' of Georgia and the best representative of its architectural style". Photo via National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia.

Agenda.ge, 11 Aug 2021 - 19:12, Tbilisi,Georgia

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has lamented the "fragile state of conservation" of the Gelati monument in Georgia's west, calling on the Georgian government to implement a solution for safeguarding the monastery from precipitation via a "workable solution" and requesting international assistance for implementing measures for improving its conservation state.

The question of the 12th century World Heritage Site, at the centre of a controversy in Georgia due to a botched rehabilitation work that has resulted in rainwater leakage through a recently installed roof and damage to its frescoes, was among subjects discussed at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s 44th session, held online between July 16-31.

In the meeting's section for reviewing the current state of conservation of World Heritage List monuments worldwide, the question of Gelati followed on the heels of the Georgian government's request for assistance from the World Heritage Centre following the confirmation of rainwater leaks last year.

In the related UNESCO document WHC/21/44.COM/7B, published on the official website of the global body following the 44th meeting of its Committee, a draft decision on the monument is presented containing a number of notes and requests for the Georgian state and international community for safeguarding the site.

A view on a section of the interior wall painting of the monument, observed during a visit by UNESCO experts in June to study damage to the site. Screenshot from culture ministry video.

The decision is based on an analysis of the state of the monument by the World Heritage Centre, International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM).

The conservation actions undertaken have unfortunately not all been successful. The failure of the recently installed tiled roofs on the Church of the Virgin and the persistent moisture problems at St George’s Church has resulted in damage to the wall paintings and mosaics inside both churches, which has a negative impact on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property.

- UNESCO World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS, ICCROM

The analysis itself laments the problems with safeguarding the complex from precipitation that "exacerbate the fragile state of conservation of this property". It also calls "disconcerting" the fact of the issues arising "so soon after the removal" of Gelati from the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2017.

The Committee notes the "unfortunate failure" of the roofing tiles selected for replacing the roof of the monastery, along with lamenting the "continuing degradation through moisture ingress in St George’s Church [part of the monastery complex] which is leading to decay of stonework, mosaics and wall paintings".

The roof tiling selected in the rehabilitation work that later proved defective and leaked rainwater in 2020. Photo via National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia.

While acknowledging the Georgian state cultural authorities' action on installing a temporary roofing structure over the St Mary Church - a central part of the monastery - as well as "monitoring and reporting of the damage" at the site, the Committee requests an urgent action of providing a "more workable solution" of covering both the St George's Church and the St Mary Church in a manner that would ensure prevention of moisture ingress into their structures.

The draft decision also asks the Georgian authorities to report on progress on the Committee's previous request for a "coordinating committee" for Gelati, and for updating the Management Plan for the monument. Finally, the UNESCO Committee also calls for "an increased mobilisation" of resources from the international community in implementing measures for improving conservation status of Gelati.

The World Heritage Committee document follows a visit of UNESCO experts to Georgia in June to examine Gelati following a request by the Georgian culture ministry. The two professionals said frescoes in the monastery were "in very bad condition", with their recommendations for safeguarding the site expected to be sent to their Georgian colleagues last month.

Earlier this year, culture minister Thea Tsulukiani, appointed to the position in March, said some of the damage caused to frescoes of Gelati by rainwater leaks would be "irreversible". She also called the 2008-2020 rehabilitation "experiment" on the monument a "big mistake".