RANGOON — After a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in late August damaged more than 400 temples in Bagan, two temples suffered partial collapse on Tuesday after rainwater seeped into cracks caused by the Aug. 24 tremors, government archaeologists say.
One temple, built in the “cave” style with a hollow interior and located just south of the famous Htilominlo temple, had roughly half of its structure collapse; the other temple, located in Min Nan Thu village, had one of its walls crumble.
“Both are not that famous, unlike other temples damaged in the [Aug. 24] earthquake. The earthquake caused large cracks in their structures, and they collapsed due to rain,” said U Aung Aung Kyaw, director of the Bagan Archeological Department.
He explained that, in the “cave” temple, the cracks that filled with rainwater were present where reconstructed parts of the temple joined with the original remnants of the antique structure.
These reconstructions were part of crude renovation efforts carried out across Bagan under the previous military regime in the 1990s, which have been blamed for preventing Bagan—the site of an ancient Burmese royal capital—from being granted World Heritage Site status by Unesco, the United Nations’ cultural agency. It was these crude reconstructions that reportedly suffered the most damage in the August earthquake.
The more than 3,000 temples of Bagan, mostly dating from between the 9th and 13th centuries—when the Kingdom of Pagan ruled over much of lowland Burma—are considered Burma’s biggest tourist draw.
According to the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs, the Aug. 24 earthquake damaged a total of 449 temples, including iconic favorites such as Sulamani, Ananda, Htilominlo, Myazedi, Shwesandaw, Lawkananda and Dhamma Yazaka, as well as the murals at Ananda Oakkyaung.
Repair and conservation work on 389 of the damaged structures is slated to begin on Jan. 1, with the assistance of Unesco. According to the Bagan Archaeological Department, 36 temples considered most at risk of further damage will be prioritized, followed by 53 temples in a second-tier risk category.
Cyclone “Kyant,” currently brewing in the Bay of Bengal, has led to concerns over heavy rain causing further damage to exposed structures in Bagan awaiting conservation work, although it is currently unclear if, when and where the cyclone will make landfall in Burma.