30.07.2018 - UNESCO Office in Amman

UNESCO’s work in the Petra ‘Siq’ attracts high praise

© UNESCO/Nadir Daoud

Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) Regional Conservation Centre in Sharjah announced candidates for the 2017 “Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation in the Arab Region”. Awarded on a biennial basis, the prize strives to honor efforts contributing to the protection and vitality of tangible cultural heritage in the Arab world.

It was UNESCO’s privilege to be shortlisted for the award for the valuable work carried out in Petra since 2012. Implemented by the UNESCO Amman office in partnership with the Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority and the Department of Antiquities of Jordan and funded by Italy, the multi-year "Siq Stability" project aims at assessing, managing and mitigating natural hazards through the implementation of risk mitigation interventions in the 'Siq'. The project, currently in its third phase of implementation, aims to apply mitigation measures in priority areas identified as most hazardous – based on a feasibility study undertaken in 2017 - by targeting specifically blocks of medium-large dimensions.

The 'Siq' is a 1.2km, naturally formed gorge that snakes through the sandstone cliffs, serving as the main entrance to the UNESCO World Heritage site. Due to its unique geological and cultural landscape, the Petra 'Siq' is one of Petra’s most endangered areas, in which natural hazards pose a major threat to cultural heritage as well as site visitors. The project also responds to a strongly felt need to enhance management and preparedness against disaster risks through the development of a Disaster Risk Plan for addressing emergencies in the 'Siq' and in the entire Petra Archaeological Park in the long term.

During a special event held under the auspices of H.H Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, an exhibition of the shortlisted projects was organized in February 2018. In addition to the Petra project, 13 other outstanding initiatives from throughout the Arab world were showcased before a jury composed of prominent cultural heritage experts from the Arab region.

Ms. Giorgia Cesaro, "Siq Stability" Project Officer, travelled to Sharjah to present an overview of the project. "It was a unique opportunity to present the project before such a distinguished audience, share our experiences and respective challenges in heritage conservation with a diverse public, from all over the Middle East”.

While the prize was awarded to another inspiring project, the cultural event offered a platform for sharing of knowledge and experiences; mutually benefitting attendees who had led successful projects on cultural heritage conservation and gathered in Sharjah for the distinctive ceremony. The event also provided an opportunity to showcase the achievements of this unique project before an international audience of specialized experts and notables.

In keeping with the priorities of the current project phase, the UNESCO "Siq Stability" project has been focused on implementing slope consolidation interventions in the ‘Siq’, as a means of mitigating landslide risk. For the first time in the history of Jordan, block consolidation is being pursued in Petra. In line with the results of a recent feasibility study, the works have been undertaken with the full and ongoing support of the national authorities and local communities.

The logistical arrangements surrounding such an operation are incredibly complex, especially as the high season for tourism is underway in Petra. As tourists flock to the renowned heritage site, their movement in and out of the narrow ‘Siq’ must be managed to ensure their safety during the works. Challenges of access to precarious locations high above the ‘Siq’ also take time to solve.

An Italian company (named Or.Ba.Ri. SNC) formed by alpine climbers specialized in slope consolidation works was engaged as such highly technical expertise is not yet available from a local company. Part of Or.Ba.Ri.'s work has involved the training of local counterparts in order to support the sustainability of the activities undertaken, which represents a key component of the entire UNESCO initiative in Petra.

Experts wrapped the precarious blocks with layers of wire, anchoring them in place to secure them against further displacement. The risk mitigation measures are further supported by the wireless monitoring system, which works to track rock deformation and climate parameters throughout the ‘Siq’.

The rewarding results of this work speak to the long-standing preservation efforts of UNESCO and its supportive partners. Following these efforts, in both April and May, the work was put to the test when torrential flash floods swept the area; the reinforced blocks held firm, paving the way for the implementation of further preventative interventions in the upcoming future.

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