The Irrawaddy

Bagan Bids for UNESCO World Heritage Status

Hot air balloons glide over the temples in central Burma’s Bagan. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

MANDALAY—Burma’s branch of the World Heritage Site Committee announced its plans to nominate the Bagan Archaeological Zone for UNESCO’s list of culturally significant sites in 2017 for reconsideration the following year.

The planning follows a meeting held in Mandalay in July between officials from the divisional government, Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, Ministry of Home Affairs, engineering experts and representatives of the committee. A separate nomination committee was formed following the meeting with the aforementioned officials along with the Bagan Heritage Trust.

Than Zaw Oo, director of Burma’s branch of the World Heritage Site Committee, explained that if the draft report and the draft management plan needed for the nomination could be submitted by September 2017, committee representatives would visit the site in 2018. Bagan’s nomination would then be brought up for deliberation at UNESCO’s 2019 World Heritage Site convention.

UNESCO guidelines for selection include deciding whether the site exhibits outstanding universal value, international significance and the ability to “transcend national boundaries and be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity.”

Economic development and a growing tourism infrastructure in Bagan’s vicinity have been the biggest challenges facing the site in its bid to become a World Heritage Site, threatening preservation of the cultural areas.

“We will just have to wait and see what the experts decide at the convention,” said Than Zaw Oo.

Burma’s initial application for recognition came in 1996, but it was rejected due to poor management plans and legal frameworks.

After UNESCO inscribed the ancient Pyu cities as the first Burmese World Heritage Site in June 2014, the culture ministry decided to continue campaigning for the addition of Bagan.

In 2015, the committee completed a comprehensive data collection project and implemented measures to survey and maintain historical records, including the impact of future development on the area. The survey also looked at how many structures remained in their original forms and to what extent preservation efforts would have to be undertaken.

Bagan houses stupas, temples and other Buddhist religious buildings constructed from the 9th to 11th centuries—a period in which some 50 Buddhist kings ruled the Bagan Dynasty. There are more than 3,000 stupas and temples in the area. Of these, 120 temples have stucco paintings and 460 have mural paintings that are found to be in need of preservation.