Yemrehanna Kristos among endangered landmarks

October 2013 – Ethiopia

An international heritage group has placed 67 sites, monuments and landmarks on its 2014 World Monuments Watch list this year — a list that includes one of Ethiopia’s late Axumite churches, Yemrehanna Kristos.

Yemrehanna Kirstos is a built–up church under a huge basaltic cave located at about 42 kms northeast of Lalibela, on a mountain ridge with an altitude of 2681 meters, set in a spectacular landscape of juniper trees, predating the famous nearby rock-hewn churches of Lalibela by almost a century. The walls of the building were constructed with alternating layers of recessed timber beams and projecting plastered stone, with windows covered by carved cruciform lattices. The interior is divided by masonry pillars and arches into a nave and two side aisles, with a domed sanctuary on the east end. All interior wood surfaces, including the paneled ceilings, are elaborately decorated with carved geometric designs and polychrome.
According to the World Monuments Fund’s latest report released last week, the church is among the diverse cultural heritage sites threatened by neglect, overdevelopment or social, political and economic change, preservation group announced last week.
The New York-based group has issued its watch list every two years since the mid-1990s to call attention to important landmarks threatened around the world in an effort to promote awareness and action. The list is assembled by a panel of experts in archaeology, architecture, art history and preservation.

Yemerehanna was at risk due to “new road,” increasing visitation numbers and creating a management challenge, the group said. It also singled out a modern wall that is constructed across the opening of the cave for security reasons in the 1980s detracts from the site’s integrity and visitation potential.

“The building is well-preserved, but recent evidence of some structural failure compels a timely assessment,” the group said. An effort to address these issues should involve all stakeholders, including the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Ethiopia’s Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, it concluded.