Govt, Unesco to Study Bagan’s World Heritage List Nomination

By Yan Pai 30 September 2014

Ministry of Culture officials said they are scheduled to meet with Unesco officials and international archaeological experts in Bagan on Oct 10-12 to discuss what studies are required to complete the World Heritage List nomination for the Buddhist temple complex in central Burma.

“The meeting will focus on how to designate ancient zones in line with World Heritage site status criteria, and if local people are compliant with Unesco rules and regulations,” said Thein Lwin, deputy director-general of the Archaeological, National Museum and Library Department at the Culture Ministry.

The Bagan Consultation Meeting is set to be held at the Bagan Archaeological Museum and more than a dozen Unesco officials and archeological experts from the United States, Australia, Japan, England and Nepal will attend, he said.

Thein Lwin said that cultural heritage management, preservation works, verification of outstanding universal value, and studying the authenticity and integrity of Bagan pagodas will also be discussed.

Last month, Culture Ministry officials already held workshops in cooperation with Unesco to compile historical maintenance records on each of the more than 3,000 pagodas in Bagan, along with photos and pictures of the buildings. Plans were also made to carry out examinations of the conditions of art work and murals.

“It is a daunting task to survey the conditions of these ancient pagodas. What techniques shall be used in conducting the surveys? We have to make detailed list of the condition of every artistic work and mural at the pagodas. So, it will take time,” said Thein Lwin.

In mid-June, Unesco accepted the first inscription of a Burmese heritage site, the Pyu Ancient Cities, on the World Heritage List. It began offering technical assistance at the Pyu sites in 2012. Shortly after enlisting Pyu, it announced it would begin cooperation with Burmese officials on studying the conditions of the Bagan temples and developing guidelines on their conservation.

In March, President Thein Sein visited Bagan and ordered the Culture Ministry to begin preparations for a nomination for a World Heritage listing of the temple complex.

Thein Lwin said it would take at least three years to complete the studies required for the World Heritage List nomination because of the massive scale of the temple complex.

The Old Bagan City area covers about 26 square km (16 miles) and was constructed from the 9th to the 11th century, a period when some 55 kings ruled the Bagan Dynasty.

The region is known to have been struck by earthquakes three times, with a particularly heavy one in the 1970s doing extensive damage to the pagodas, stupas and religious edifices.

In 1992, the then-military regime ordered a detailed survey and restoration works on the pagodas, in many cases using methods that have been criticized by international experts, who said little attention was paid to historical accuracy and that damage was caused to the structures’ historical value.

A subsequent 1996 bid by the regime to enlist the ancient city as a Unesco heritage site fell flat.

Also controversial, and problematic for the current Unesco World Heritage listing, was the former regime’s decision to let crony businessmen develop large hotels, restaurants and golf courses in the archeological zone and close to the temples.

Currently, the expansion of such businesses and urban buildings for the rapidly growing number of tourist visitors continues in the area, underlining the need for the government and Unesco to develop zoning guidelines.

“Bagan is a big challenge to us. We have to discuss and design a plan to control and manage urban expansion with the help of scholars. There are many problems. We have yet to do a lot work for Bagan to get Unesco recognition, while also ensuring all parties concerned [hotel and restaurant owners] are not affected,” said Thein Lwin.

During the Social Party-era of Gen. Ne Win, Sakura, Bagan, Than Te, Thripyitsaya and Ayeya hotels were built in the archeological zone, while some hotels built during the 1990s include Tharapa and Nan Myint. Currently, Eden and Adventure hotel projects are under construction.