On February 9 UNESCO published report of the Joint World Heritage Centre/ ICOMOS/ICCROM Advisory mission to the World Heritage property “Gelati Monastery”. The mission took place Nov. 28-Dec. 2, 2022.
When assessing the overall state of conservation of the Gelati Monastery the report states “that there is a general need for interior and exterior conservation work on the monuments of the property.” The immediate needs are linked to addressing deficiencies with regards to the roofs installed in 2015-2018, “which led to moisture ingress and associated decay of the historic murals inside the Main Church of the Complex.” The report goes on to say that the necessary emergency interventions should be undertaken in parallel with developing a holistic conservation programme for the property as a whole, which would entail updating the existing Conservation Master Plan.“ A long-term overall conservation strategy for the property and management plan are of utmost importance in ensuring that all further interventions, including more extensive conservation treatments of the wall paintings, are guided by a well informed and comprehensive vision for the property future, according to the report.
Among various deficiencies of the process are the inadequacy of used techniques and materials, lack or absence of documentation on performed works, absence of thorough plan of works, lack of coordination between various stakeholders involved in the property conservation process, etc.
Some of the concrete recommendations are:
- Immediate actions should focus on emergency stabilization works. They should be undertaken only once the structures, wall paintings and mosaics are guided by a thorough conservation programme for the entire property. These should be underpinned by systematic monitoring, research and documentation.
- Immediately carry out a project for the placement of an overall protective coverage of the monument, including the cupola, following the mission’s remarks.
- Ensure thorough and detailed documentation is continuously produced (both to monitor the condition of the wall paintings and to record all the treatments undertaken).
- Extend the condition assessment and monitoring to the mural paintings of the Church of Saint George where infiltrations may also have occurred when the roof was changed.
- Address the water flows at the site and the impact of capillary rise on the stones and mural paintings (lower parts of the walls).
- Undertake a holistic structural investigation and prepare an intervention project to restore the static adequacy of the monument, with emphasis on the upper parts of its structure. It is advisable that Georgian scientific institutes and university laboratories be involved in the preparation of the project.
Minister of Culture Thea Tsulukiani in her briefing on February 9 dedicated to the findings of report, underlined that one of the main challenges identified in the report, in particular problems caused by the roofing of the Monastery, which was done in 2015-2018 before she became a Minister of Culture, were prerogative of the Cultural Heritage Agency. She emphasized that the concrete team of experts working on the conservation was invited following the advice of UNESCO. She said the recommendations are a normal part of the process and should not be politicized. She noted that UNESCO report’s main criticism is that there is no comprehensive plan for conservation, however underlined that such a plan should have been developed by the Cultural Heritage Agency. On the report’s criticism that there is no documentation on prior works, she underlined that those who were in charge of producing that documentation, are the ones who now decry its absence the most.
The Minister brushed away the majority of criticism contained in the report and accentuated those elements of the report that did not contain critique.
The Giorgi Chubinashvili National Research Center, which is one of the main stakeholders in the process, reacted to both published report and to the Minister’s briefing and statement of the Ministry of Culture (essentially the read-out of the briefing) with its own statement in which it said that both Minister’s briefing and the statement erroneously interpret the UNESCO report. The Centre promised to provide the overview of the report in the coming days.
As Centre said:” At this point all we can state is that the criticism and recommendations contained in the report on principled issues such as project management, decision-making process, strategic vision of the problem, temporary roofing and the methodology of the wall-paintings’ conservation, are in essence in line with the Centre’s report published on January 27… as well as with the reports produced by the group of experts invited by the Georgian Orthodox Church.”
The Centre also stressed that the discussions around Gelati will only become fruitful when they are held in a healthy manner, without groundless accusations of scientists and when they are based on admission of the recent glitches in methodology and management of the process.
Gelati monastery conservation works have become a contentious issue recently.
The Giorgi Chubinashvili National Research Center for Georgian Art History and Heritage Preservation, an entity under the Ministry of Culture, released at the end of January, 2022 a highly critical report on restoration works at the Gelati Monastery Complex near Kutaisi, commissioned by the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The Ministry of Culture responded with an official statement, noting that the document was “a collection of opinions by a group of politically motivated people” that was “far from a scientific conclusion.”
However, in response the Georgian Orthodox Church confirmed that the conclusion was prepared at their request and that “politics has nothing to do with the report, which is motivated by the best interests of monument preservation.”
The issue quickly became political as some members of the public and opposition politicians placed full responsibility for the shortcomings identified on Culture Minister Tea Tsulukiani and criticized the government and the majority lawmakers for negligence. The opposition’s criticism was followed by Tsulukiani’s fellow party members voicing their support for her.