New Integrated Knowledge based approachs to the protection of cultural heritage from Earthquake-induced Risk

Cultural Lanscapes

Walking the Cultural Landscapes of the Northern Kinneret
The Conservation Appendix for the Hamat Gader Valley
Raz Efron

Preliminary planning is one of the most important and effective tools in the assorted “toolbox” for protecting and conserving heritage sites. Awareness among archaeologists and decision makers, knowledge of the planning processes and familiarity with the planning institutions are all important conditions for utilizing this tool, and they are currently being assimilated by the Antiquities Authority. An outstanding example of this is the Antiquities Authority’s recent involvement in the detailed planning of the Hamat Gader Valley.
The Hamat Gader Valley is a unique region due to the combination of its natural landscape and the rich human activity that occurred there over long periods and many cultures. This activity has left in its wake one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the country and fascinating historical compounds. This is a small valley with an abundance of water and vegetation, which is traversed by the Yarmuk River channel. It is bounded by steep slopes that distinguish it from its surroundings. In the Hamat Gader Valley there are remains of a city from the Roman and Byzantine periods, of which three main complexes have been excavated since the 1920s: a synagogue and theater (E. Sukenik), a bathhouse, and a section of the cardo (Y. Hirschfeld). The city, which is waiting to be exposed and studied, is located in the area between these complexes. The hot springs have attracted people to the area ever since antiquity, and as of the 1970s they are the focal point of the development activity of a thriving tourism site. The tourism site is managed by a company owned by several kibbutzim in the region. Despite the extensive tourism activity, the archaeological and historical sites stand desolate; they are closed to the visiting public and subject to weathering and destruction.

General view toward the Roman Baths of Hammat Gader, 2010.Photo by: Yael Fuhrmann-Naaman

In order to ensure the lawful preparation of the tourism site for further development in the future, the owners of the site were required to draw up a detailed plan and have it validated by the planning institutions. Thanks to the attentiveness of the district archaeologist, the developers were also required to add a conservation appendix to the plan which would document the heritage sites and formulate guidelines for their integration and development in the future. The work of compiling the conservation appendix was given to the Conservation Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
From the very beginning of the work it was already clear that simply marking the antiquities complexes and protecting them by means of the “Antiquities Clause” would be insufficient. The original plan emphasized the future tourism development while the excavated antiquities sites remained isolated “islands” in the midst of the bustling tourism activity. The preliminary planning phase facilitated designing the manner in which the ancient complexes would be integrated in the future development, in a way that seeks to maintain the integrity of the heritage components, including the spatial and historical connection between them and including the landscape context in which the site evolved. In the first stage an outline was formulated according to which the antiquities complexes would be part of one continuous space that includes all of the presumed area of the Roman-Byzantine city, in order to allow the continued exposure of the city in the future. Later on, within the framework of the planning coordination, the Nature and Parks Authority agreed to designate this area a national park. This step is likely to improve safeguarding the site’s heritage complexes against destructive development plans.
Conservation architects are responsible for protecting heritage values, in all of their variations and periods. The conservation appendix also refers to the modern heritage treasures of the late nineteenth century and twentieth century at Hamat Gader: the Hejaz railway station and its associated buildings; a historic hotel building from the 1930s, which preserves evidence of rare cooperation between a Jewish and a Syrian developer; warehouses from the time of the British Mandate; security structures and bridges, one of which was blow up on the Night of the Bridges and is still standing in ruins; a magnificent mosque from the time of the Syrian regime; a beautiful resort village compound from that time with elegant modern style pavilions, boulevards and ornamental ficus trees, water channels and bridges. The conservation appendix includes guidelines for the preservation of these heritage treasures and their development as part of the tourism site. Along the Yarmuk River channel in the eastern part of the valley, a large area has been designated for a “nature park” that will be an uninterrupted extension to the antiquities compound.
Today, after the district planning and building committee adopted the conservation appendix and issued changes to the plan in accordance with its instructions, we can look back with satisfaction on the process and its results. However, the road to this achievement was fraught with misgivings and struggles. The conservation appendix was actually imposed on the entrepreneurs of the plan who were interested in extensive tourism development. But in our opinion it represents the public interest to maintain the unique heritage and landscape values of the place. This was also the guiding principle of the district planning and building committee that ordered certain changes be made in the plan. Thus the outline that was proposed in the conservation appendix became the plan itself.

The key to this achievement and similar future achievements lies in raising awareness among those responsible for archaeological supervision in the regions, districts and sub-districts. They need to be familiar with planning procedures, to keep track of the plans in their regions, to understand their impact on the conservation of the heritage assets and maintain a relationship of trust with the planning institutions. By working together the archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the architects of the Conservation Department have made possible the manifestation of a concept for protecting heritage sites with professional tools. These provide for protecting the sites from inappropriate development and ensure that the public will benefit from the sites. This approach, if it becomes an essential part of the ongoing work of the Israel Antiquities Authority, will result, or so we hope, in the optimal preservation of heritage in the future.
Michal Ratner and Yaʽara Shaltiel: the architects of the conservation appendix
Zach Horowitz: district archaeologist of the Lower Galilee and the valleys

December 2012


site built by tetitu