H@R! : Heritage at Risk


Texte en fran├žais

In Luxemburg, heritage is above all threatened by a lack of knowledge and understanding, the exaggerated need for improvement and progress, and the wealth of financial resources.

At the level of important heritage items, publicly it appears that there is a general protection without too many problems. However, from the moment that it is about the reuse of a structure, the interior elements are sacrificed without hesitation: dividing walls are removed in order to permit the creation of large interior spaces, wooden ceilings are replaced by concrete slabs, stairs must guarantee easy circulation, lifts are essential, and historic timber frames are demolished in order to establish new functions in the attic. These examples of destruction could be multiplied endlessly: pavements, doors, windows, stucco etc. The owners of heritage buildings often feel the need to improve on the historic situation according to an ideal state that however never existed. A restored farm often looks rather more like a little manor house than the abode of peasants.

The threats that impact on less or not very spectacular heritage, are of another kind. It can still happen that the road authorities will consider the demolition of a house or shed, because these structures hinder traffic-flow. If such projects are implemented, they always cause tears in the social fabric of the village, a result of long harmonious development. They lead inevitably to a standardisation which in the end destroys the identity and the individuality of a village. Pavements re-clad in artificial stone that is foreign to the site complete this process. As the traffic no longer has any obstacles, the speed increases. In order to guarantee the safety of pedestrians, it is necessary to put in traffic lights or containers of flowers. The village becomes a little city where the pedestrian no longer has any place.

As the population numbers increase, building new flats becomes more and more urgent. The price of land often pushes developers to buy old houses which they demolish in order to build new residences there. If of itself, the creation of housing complexes is commendable, in such cases it sadly leads to the destruction of important elements of rural or urban heritage. As well, the new buildings do not necessarily take into account the context in which they have been integrated. The developer is clearly interested in his profit margin, and not the quality of the architecture. He wants above all to make the land which he has bought profitable. He also has more of an advantage in being able to pay prices that exceed the limit for special loans to restore and old buildings. The victims of this development are villages, abandoned farms, and in the towns, besides middle-class homes, old farm estates or traditional craft workshops situated on the outskirts.

The increase in monetary income has also been felt very abruptly in cemeteries which increasingly look like displays of exotic building materials. The granites or marbles that are used, come from all over the world. Old monuments, for example Neo-Gothic ones, completed by regional sculptors, are replaced by banal machine-cut structures. As plants require too much upkeep, they have no chance in comparison with the polished and shiny flag-stones which only need to be cleaned once a year with a spray of water. In general, public authorities have capitulated to this attitude and failing any means of control, even listed cemeteries have lost all character. In so far as they are to be found near classified churches, even they too turn out to be disfigured by this.

The decomposition of stone under the influence of different factors constitutes a serious threat for the innumerable wayside crosses that are part of the traditional landscape. These monuments were usually covered with a polychromatic coat of paint, a form of protection that was regularly renewed. A lack of interest and the urge for authenticity have led to the abandonment of this practice. The result: visible and bare stone exposed to bad weather that it cannot withstand. Other sculptures have been submitted to a hydrophobic treatment that hampers the elimination of trapped moisture, which causes decomposition of the stone. This threat impacts especially on sandstone and slate. The use of inappropriate cleaning means, also applied way too often, creates additional dangers.

In general, all these hazards escape the heritage conservation authorities as they do not have at their disposal sufficiently effective legal measures, nor sufficient means to communicate or enforce them.


Case Study 1 Steinsel, damaged wayside cross

The sandstone of Luxemburg, is on the whole a stone that is easy to work. Although in the first stage, it resists atmospheric conditions quite well, it loses all hardness after a few years. This discovery put an end to the exploitation of its deposits but for some exceptions. In the past, building materials that came from the surroundings of the site were generally used. This practice explains the use of very friable stone. In the case where the items are protected, their conservation does not pose too many problems. This is not always the case, because the majority of the wayside crosses destined to be placed outside, most frequently by the side of a road.

Recently, the Steinsel Council conducted the conservation of all its calvary crosses. The examination of the items revealed that some monuments are extremely damaged. The cross situated between Steinsel and Hunsdorf had practically lost all its sculptural relief and all its inscriptions. An iron bar fixed to the back had caused the erosion of several elements.

The holes have finally been plugged with the aid of reconstituted stone. To give a harmonious aspect to the feature and to protect the original sandstone, all of it has been covered with a coat of whitewash. That will need to be renewed regularly. It was not possible to recreate the legibility of the reliefs.

This case is model for the threats which affect these monuments to popular art and piety.


Case Study 2 Rescue of a house

At Septfontaines, the bridges and roads authority, in collaboration with the local government, proceeded to straighten the main road in the village which is a national highway. As part of the scope of these works, it was expected to demolish a historic house, whose current appearance dates back to the end of the 18th century. As the house had not bee lived in for about twenty years, the interior had not been modified and maintained its original layout. However above all, the structure assumes a vital importance for keeping the social fabric of the village intact. It is after all located at the corner of a crossroads and is completely free-standing. Its disappearance would have created an empty space in the middle of the village. When the National Sites and Monuments Service got knowledge of this demolition project, it preceded to inscribe the building on the supplementary inventory of national heritage places. Negotiations were initiated between the authorities concerned and the owners. Eventually, the house, classified as a national monument in the meantime, was able to be saved. It is currently undergoing restoration. Sadly other villages have been disfigured by demolitions of this kind.

ICOMOS Luxemburg

Regional and National Reports ISC and Special Reports Relevant Websites H@R Index ICOMOS Home Page