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Myanmar’s ancient temple city faces modern danger

The Bagan temple complex is one of the holiest and most visited sites in Myanmar. But according to architects and archaeologists, many of the temples have been badly renovated over the past 20 years, which could threaten its application to be awarded world heritage status.

The temples of Bagan stretch as far as the eye can see. Originally built between the 11th and 13th century, some have stood the test of time, others have been rebuilt after a huge earthquake in 1975. But the new ones often bear little resemblance to their ancient neighbours. Pierre Pichard was brought in by UNESCO after the 1975 earthquake — and returned last year for the first time in 20 years.

“I knew there had been a lot of constructions that can be strongly criticized, constructions of brand new temples during the last ten years. I was expecting that. And finally, what surprised me most, was to see the number of trees they planted and which, in my opinion, do not correspond at all to the character of this historical landscape.” Pichard said.

In the mid 1990s the military government effectively expelled foreign experts from Bagan, and started a huge renovation project. 2,000 temples have been completely or partially rebuilt over exposed foundations. The builders have been accused of disney-fying an ancient and holy site, and failing to follow the designs that were there before.

“The people of the world might see the renovations as us destroying the original form of the ancient monuments, but as a Buddhist in Myanmar and seeing these old piles of bricks, it is not graceful or respectful to Buddhism.” U Kyain secretary of Dhammayazika Pagoda Trust said.

The Myanmar government wants UNESCO to give Bagan world heritage status — something that has rattled some historians, who say if that were to happen, it would reward all the shoddy work that’s been done. UNESCO says first some conditions need to be met.

“I don’t think the challenge is the outstanding universal value, or demonstrating that, I think that is obvious. The challenge will be effective and proper management and protection of the site in today’s world and in particularly as Myanmar is opening up and more and more people are coming.” Tim Curtis with UNESCO said.

In the 12th century, Bagan was one of the most important cities in the world. The battle now is to preserve what’s left, keeping both the worshippers and historians happy.

source: CCTV, 10 Aug 2013

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