12.01.2018 - UNESCO Venice Office

Resilience of cultural heritage to natural disasters: Seismic resonance response assessed in Crete

Bernard Gagnon - View of Agios Minas Cathedral, Heraklion, Crete, Greece

Financially supported by UNESCO and the Japanese Fund-in-Trust project “International Platform for Reducing Earthquake Disasters”, the project on “Seismic response assessments of minarets and important high-rise historical and monumental structures in Crete (Greece)” ended with a final workshop held on 14-15 December 2017 in Chania. UNESCO’s contribution illustrates how the interdisciplinary actions under implementation in South-East European countries are in line with their priorities in the field of Disaster Risk Reduction and, in particular, their need of building capacities to better address seismologic risks.

The resilience of cultural heritage to natural disasters has been articulated in the 2015 Sendai Framework, and in the 2013 European Union Civil Protection legislation. In such direction, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for the fulfilment of the Sendai recommendations and a new approach to manage and prepare for disasters, moving away from reacting to crises, towards proactively managing risks and fostering risk-informed sustainable development.

In 2017, within the context of the UNESCO-Japan Funds-in-Trust project “International Platform for Reducing Earthquake Disasters”, the UNESCO Chair on Solid Earth Physics & Geo-hazards Risk Reduction (Greece) started implementing the project “Seismic response assessments of minarets and important high-rise historical and monumental structures in Crete (Greece)”.  The objective was to investigate the seismic resonance response of minarets and high-rise bell towers of monumental churches and important high-rise monuments in the historical cities of Chania, Heraklion and Rethimnon in Crete (Greece) - using micro-tremors, processed through Horizontals over the Vertical Spectral ratio technique (HVSR).

Better protecting high-rise monuments against seismic risk is of great relevance for all countries in South-East Europe (SEE) and a concern for many World Heritage sites in the region. Organized with the support of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, the final workshop in Chania aimed to present the results of the project, raise awareness of and transfer the research outcomes among regional and local authorities, local communities and the private sector. Among its priorities was to facilitate an exchange of experience and knowledge among experts from SEE.

The workshop included presentations on the engineering experience in a restoration project (the Acropolis in Athens), the seismic scenarios for the Aegean Sea (a necessary basis for heritage conservation in the region) and more experiences from Italy, Albania and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Participants stressed the importance of adopting interdisciplinary approaches to the protection of monuments and the establishment of interdisciplinary teams including geologists, geophysicists, mathematicians, engineers, archaeologists. Many European projects do not encourage such interdisciplinary approach, for example, having strong emphasis on engineering aspects but ignoring historical/archaeological issues. It takes time to generate a basis for better cooperation.

UNESCO works on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in all sectors of competence. Most UNESCO DRR activities in Europe are developed by this Regional Bureau, dealing not only with capacity-building efforts in UNESCO Designated Sites, but also strengthening the capacities of emergency planners and responders at national and local levels, notably through its participation in EU-funded projects, such as FLOODIS and I-REACT.

At the international level, UNESCO pursues the wider use of science and technology to comprehend hazard and vulnerability (both human and economic loss). Adopting a “knowledge brokering” approach, meaning that stakeholders must be involved actively throughout the planning and implementing of DRR plans and actions, working closely with end users, application developers and governmental authorities from the beginning of a project.

The Chania workshop sessions showed the progress made in various interrelated disciplines of seismology and conservation, protection, and restoration of monuments, including monitoring, modelling, capacity to anticipate, and technologies. The knowledge generated remains, however, scarcely used by decision makers both at local and national level. There is often a lack of adequate preparation of stakeholders, but also a real difficulty for them to comprehend the complexity of the approaches needed to properly address seismic risks.

The knowledge gained on specific historical monuments concerning their capacity to support or resist seismic events could be extended to modern buildings, leading to the elaboration of “rules of good building, restoration, and reinforcement”. Good practices are not exclusively modern and learning from the past should be encouraged. An interdisciplinary group of experts like the one in Chania could contribute to the production of catalogues of methods and solutions, and to the updating of protocols for heritage protection in SEE.

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