|Kiri Maria Monastery|
|Plan for Reconditioning the Historic Covering of the Remains|
|Orderer||Israel Nature and Parks Authority|
Arch. Lilach Strul|
Remains of the Kiri Maria monastery, which dates to the Byzantine period, were uncovered in 1930 by the University of Pennsylvania expedition, headed by G. M. FitzGerald. A ‘structure’ that was meant to protect the remains was erected at the time of the British Mandate. The site is today located along the outer edge of the old industrial zone in Bet Shean, c. 300 m from Highway 71 (Fig. 1). The Mandatory structure can be seen by visitors on Tel Bet Shean and when leaving the city to the west.
The aim of the current project was to propose a plan for rehabilitating the covering and protecting the monastery remains in order to prepare the site for visits by the public. At the same time conservators have been treating the mosaics at the site since 2006.
The monastery was erected in the sixth century next to the city walls, at the top of the northern bank of Nahal Harod. The monastery consists of rooms that are built around a central courtyard and the room where the apse is located has been identified as a chapel. The entrance to the compound is from the south (Fig. 2).
The monastery is built of various size dressed basalt stones. The walls are made of two rows of stone, 70-80 cm thick and have a core made of small stones and mortar. The walls were preserved to a height of 1-2 courses. The floors of the monastery are mosaic and were well-preserved at the time they were found. The designs on the mosaics are assorted and include inscriptions, geometric patterns, and figurative motifs such as birds, images and the zodiac (Fig. 3).
In light of the mosaics’ beauty and uniqueness and the fact they were preserved in their entirety, the Mandatory Department of Antiquities decided to erect a structure above the mosaics in order to protect them.
The structure consists of a steel construction and concrete walls. The main part of the building’s roof is rectangular and it covers most of the monastery’s remains. Secondary roofs were attached to it from the east and west. The foundations of the covering were poured concrete and steel pipes were set in place atop them, which carry a steel and riveted roof construction that is pitched in two directions. The secondary roof constructions are supported by the main construction. Sheets of asbestos were affixed to the steel frame. Concrete walls that are not connected to the steel construction were poured along the inside perimeter of the structure (Figs. 4, 5).
In 2004 a survey was conducted to document the condition of the mosaics and the Mandatory structure, and in 2005 the asbestos sheets were removed from the roof of the structure. Landscape architects from the office of Moria-Sekely drew up preliminary plans for the development of the site. In 2006 the mosaic conservation project was begun and the planning work for the treatment of the Mandatory building was ordered.
In the first phase of the planning (February 2007) a survey was conducted and documentation was carried out as a basis for planning. The structure that was erected at the time of the British Mandate was recognized as having value and worthy of conservation; whereas the concrete walls whose physical condition was problematic were deemed a component that is not particularly important.
In keeping with this evaluation, two planning options were proposed that are based on the existing construction. One entails using boards to complete the covering. The other uses a combination of boards and lattice screens to complete it and various possibilities were suggested for covering the sides (Fig. 6).
The client decided that boards be used to replace the roofing. It was also decided that the concrete walls would be removed and it was therefore necessary to plan new walls in their place.
In the second phase (September 2007) the cost of covering the roof with boards was looked into and a proposal was formulated for new walls that would follow the layout of the Mandatory concrete walls. It was proposed that the area required for the walls be divided into modules and it was suggested that they be built of concrete and lattice screen, in accordance with the necessary protective attributes required to safeguard the finds (Fig. 7).
1. A prefabricated concrete component was planned for the facades which face south, east and west in order to prevent direct sunlight on the mosaic.
2. Lattice screens will be installed in the façade facing north, thereby preventing birds from entering the structure and allowing natural light and ventilation.
3. Poured concrete wall panels will be erected to fill in the fields that deviate from the repetitive module.
In the last phase (March 2009) the client requested that we examine the possibility to delimit the structure based on the remains of the monastery walls from the Byzantine period. A proposal was drawn up subject to a thorough examination of the walls’ load bearing capacity, which will be conducted by a conservation engineer. If the original walls’ load bearing capacity will allow it, some of them will be completed to the point where they meet the roof. The completion will be done in a manner that will distinguish it materially and from the standpoint of color from the original stone courses. It was suggested that this completion be fully implemented in the southern facade and partially implemented in the eastern and western facades. In the northern facade and in part of the western facade the completion will be done utilizing lattice and it will follow the outline of the walls of the Mandatory building.
Special emphasis will be placed on renewing the roofing above the chapel. Part of the roof on the eastern side is to be changed and raised.
The principles that guided the conservation planning and the development are:
1. Providing maximum protection to the mosaics.
2. Conserving the steel construction from the Mandatory period and utilizing it
3. The planning will make it possible to lock the site.
The materials to be used in the proposed walls are not uniform. Some will be solid and will prevent direct sunlight from shining on the mosaic, and some will allow the northern light to enter inside the building and ventilation throughout the year.
The proposed planning aspires to separate the visitor to the site from his current spatial context – that is the industrial zone – and provide him with an experience of visiting a closed place, in the spirit of the monastery. That being the case, two periods of the historic heritage at the site will be presented: one being the Byzantine period, of which remains of the monastery and the mosaic floors are preserved, and the other is the modern heritage, which is represented by the steel construction from the time of the British Mandate.
To view the figures, click on the figure caption