Myanmar Called on to Protect 140-Year-Old Cultural Heritage Site From Tourist Damage

By Zarni Mann 3 December 2019

Mandalay – An international cultural heritage body, the World Monument Fund (WMF), has urged the Mandalay regional government to deploy security staff at the city’s landmark Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung Monastery to enforce regulations over tourist behavior.

The New York-based non-profit organization that has been restoring the monastery is worried that unruly behavior could damage the teak structure during the peak tourist season.

The WMF program director said some visitors are littering and climbing on the ornament. Some jump to take pictures and smoke, threatening the wooden monument.

“We have extremely high numbers of tourists visiting the site, especially from mainland China. Although there are warning signs and their guides are warned, some still smoke, litter and climb on the building,” Jeff Allen told The Irrawaddy.

The 19th-century teak building, also known as the Golden Palace, was constructed during the reign of King Mindon and is one of the major tourist attractions in Mandalay.

The Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung Monastery was originally covered with gold leaf and glass mosaics and is known for the intricate wood carvings on its walls and roofs that show Buddhist myths. It was built as a royal chamber for King Mindon within the Mandalay Palace complex.

Under Mindon’s son, King Thibaw, the building was moved outside the Mandalay Palace moat and was turned into a monastery.

During World War II, aerial bombardment destroyed most of the complex, leaving the Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung Monastery as the only remaining original structure from the 19th-century palace.

The restoration project began in February 2014 as a collaboration between Myanmar’s Ministry of Culture, the US Embassy and the WMF.

“It is very important that Mandalay’s regional government addresses this issue and brings security to the site during the peak tourist season to help protect the building,” he added.

The WMF said visitor safety had to be considered, as parts of the northern veranda were under reconstruction and termite eradication work, especially during the late afternoon when overcrowding was most common.

“There is no proper site management from the government side. I’m afraid about what will happen when our work is finished,” Allen added.

Work on the northern verandah was delayed for about a year because of holdups with the supply of teak logs to replace the decaying pillars after September 2014.

Restoration of the monastery resumed in January 2016 but was suspended again due to a funding shortage.

The US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation issued a grant of US$300,000 (550 million kyats) in November.

The new grant should fund termite eradication, the restoration of the north veranda to its late 19th-century appearance, replace the missing decorative wood around the veranda, rehabilitate the brick staircases and produce a set of five preparatory studies for further fundraising.

Allen said the studies would include designs for a visitors’ center for the Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung Monastery, repairs for the Buddha throne, the south garden drainage and landscaping, new toilets and roof repairs.

Artisans are crafting woodwork to replace decay and foreign specialists are working on chemical treatments and color adjustment for the new woodwork.

“Almost all wood was replaced in 1964 and a major replacement was done in 1995. Now is the third time and about half of the wood needs to be conserved and some parts need replacement,” said U Kan Chun, the chief of the traditional craftwork who was also involved in the 1995 restoration.

“Back in 1995, we did not know the details of the woodwork and we crafted them in our way, leaving few records behind. But now, we can study the actual 19th-century designs and restore this historical building professionally, according to international standards, and hand over the preserved structure to the next generation systematically,” U Kan Chun added.

You may also like these stories:

Controversial High-End Spa in Myanmar’s Historic Secretariat Building Not Licensed

Myanmar Submits Draft of Mrauk-U World Heritage Bid to UNESCO