Damaged Bagan Temples Under Detailed Assessment

By Tin Htet Paing 6 October 2016

RANGOON— Ancient temples and pagodas in Bagan which were damaged in a powerful earthquake in August are currently under detailed assessment by Unesco experts and the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library.

Officials from the department told The Irrawaddy that the detailed assessment was started in early September, after emergency responses and an initial assessment took place from Aug. 28 to Sep. 10, and is targeted to finish by the end of November.

The director of Bagan’s Archaeological Department U Aung Aung Kyaw explained that the detailed work would assess individual temples with severe damage while the rapid assessment helped analyze the severity of the damaged temples, all of which have high historical and cultural heritage value.

“Detailed assessment takes time,” he said. “It will assist technical experts in planning restoration works for individual damaged temples more effectively.”

“There are things that can’t be done easily,” U Aung Aung Kyaw said, citing the difficulty of constructing scaffolding on the big temples to clean debris at the top of the structures.

According to the latest data released by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, the earthquake affected a total of 449 temples out of 3,252 across the ancient capital on Bagan plain.

This included iconic structures Sulamani, Ananda, Htilominlo, Myazedi, Shwesandaw, Lawkananda and Dhamma Yazaka, and the murals at Ananda Oakkyaung.

U Than Zaw Oo, director of Burma’s branch of the World Heritage Site Committee, told The Irrawaddy that five teams led by the department, and under Unesco’s guidance, are conducting a detailed assessment on individual structures in order to ascertain the extent of the damage, including harm to murals.

The detailed assessment will be reported to the technical expert team comprised of archaeology experts from Unesco, the Association of Myanmar Architects, the Myanmar Engineering Society and the ministry itself, for thorough analysis and recommendations for restoration work, U Than Zaw Oo explained.

“We have only finished about thirty temples now,” he said. “Depending on the severity of the damage, we prioritize which temples to assess first.”

It is expected that they will work on over one hundred temples during the process, he added.

A powerful 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck central Burma at 5:04 p.m. on Aug. 24, centered about 15 miles west of Chauk in Magwe Division. It damaged ancient temples in Bagan, located to the north of the epicenter.

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi sent notice to officials in the Bagan archaeological zone not to “rush” the restoration of the damaged pagodas and temples, and to seek technical assistance from Unesco.

She met with the director general of Unesco in New York during a trip to attend the UN General Assembly and stressed the importance of Bagan’s cultural heritage. Unesco also pledged to support the restoration of the damage temples.

The temples of Bagan, dating from between the 9th and 13th centuries—when the Kingdom of Pagan ruled over much of lowland Burma—are considered Burma’s biggest tourist draw, although the ancient capital has yet to be granted World Heritage Site status, allegedly on account of sub-standard, inauthentic restoration efforts under previous governments.