Bagan Readies for Unesco Listing with Ambitious Data Collection Project

By May Sitt Paing 27 July 2015

RANGOON — Hard work lies ahead for Burma’s Ministry of Culture as preparations continue for a bid to recognize the ancient temple complex of Bagan as an Unesco World Heritage Site.

Deputy Culture minister Sandar Khin announced on Friday that the ministry will soon undertake a comprehensive data collection project in the Bagan Archaeological Zone, which spans about 26 square km (16 miles) and contains some 3,000 pagodas.

Complete maintenance and historical records for all of the zone’s pagodas, stupas and other religious edifices will be collected to determine how many structures remain in their original form and what preservation might entail. The Ministry estimates that about 400 structures remain unchanged.

Sandar Khin did not say exactly when the data collection project will begin or when it is expected to be complete, remarking only that “it will take time” because of the sheer number of artifacts at the site.

The data collection survey, which will be broken down into categories measuring the amount and quality of restoration work that has already been done, is required to proceed with efforts to add the site to the Unesco heritage list.

Old Bagan is one of Burma’s biggest tourist draws, charming visitors from across the globe with 360 degree views of ancient Buddhist relics dotting the horizon. Built between the 9th and 11th centuries under the rule of the Bagan Dynasty, the area’s thousands of pagodas house more than 100 stucco paintings and 460 murals that are in urgent need of protective measures.

Shoddy restoration work undertaken by the former military regime left many of the structures in poorer condition, and some original artistry was forever lost.

Minor earthquakes regularly rock the plains of central Burma, though a severe quake in 1975 was the first to cause serious damage. Flooding, vandalism and rapid development also pose urgent threats to the site. Sandar Khin stressed the need to educate locals and tourists to prevent litter and graffiti, both becoming ever more visible along the dusty floors and pagoda walls.

The governments of Japan and Italy will both be assisting Burma’s bid to achieve Unesco World Heritage status, and will provide some financial support to increase security on the site, she added.

Burma has nominated 14 sites for inclusion on the World Heritage List, including Mandalay’s ancient kingdoms and Mrauk U in Arakan State. Thus far, only one site—the ancient cities of Pyu—has been admitted o the list. Experts envision a Bagan listing to be approved within the next few years.