Conservation of Historical Teak Monastery Underway in Mandalay

By Zarni Mann 17 February 2014

MANDALAY — Conservation works for the Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung Monastery, one of Mandalay’s most iconic historical structures, officially began with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the site in Burma’s cultural capital late last week.

Funds for the conservation project will come from the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, in coordination with Burma’s Ministry of Culture and with expertise provided by the World Monuments Fund.

Jeffrey Allen, program director for the World Monuments Fund, told media on hand Friday that initial conservation efforts would include reconstructing and improving the building’s drainage system before the onset of the rainy season, and preliminary studies on the monastery’s structure.

“To improve the drainage system is a very basic, important fact, which has to be done before the rains come. Now we are starting digging and connecting the pipelines. And there are some other areas, such as some parts of the roof, to be fixed before the rain. I think this process will take until September,” said Allen.

According to officials, the full US$500,000 project will take about two years to complete. Allen explained that experts from both Burma and foreign countries would use traditional and modern technologies in the preservation effort.

“We will use traditional methods and will use a laser scanning machine in April, to produce a three-dimensional digital model of the monastery. This model will help us with the architectural structure, which will make us understand how to preserve this monument for many years,” he said.

“With what we have been provided, we could do it in 10 months. But we want the [Burmese] archaeologists to work together with us to understand the process, to leave behind the necessary skills to take care of this site in the future, and replicate the same process to conserve other teak monasteries and buildings,” he added.

US Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell and Deputy Minister of Culture Than Swe, who were present at Friday’s ceremony, said the project would strengthen cultural ties between the United States and Burma, and would serve as a model for future conservation efforts on other monuments such as Mandalay’s Shwe In Bin Kyaung teak monastery and U Bein bridge.

The Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung Monastery, a teak wood structure dating back to the 19th century, was originally covered with gold leaf and glass mosaics and was known for elaborate wood carvings that covered the building.

The monastery, also known as Shwe Kyaung or Golden Palace Monastery, was originally built as part of King Mindon’s royal chambers, and was sited within Mandalay’s old palace complex. With Mindon’s passing, his son King Thibaw moved the entire structure to its current location, where it was repurposed as a monastery.

During World War II, aerial bombing campaigns destroyed most of the historical buildings located within the Mandalay palace walls. The reconstructed Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung Monastery is the only building from the 19th century royal palace compound that survives today.