News / Asia

Burma Seeks World Heritage Status for Ancient Royal Capital

Burma's 'Angkor Wat' Seeks World Heritage Statusi
X
March 08, 2013 4:44 PM
Burma’s ancient royal capital, Bagan, is home to more than 3,000 temples and shrines - a treasure of archaeology and architectural history. Burma's government wants it recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but some scholars say that would reward shoddy restorations that have damaged the monuments. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Bagan.
Daniel Schearf
Burma’s ancient royal capital, Bagan, is home to more than 3,000 temples and shrines - a treasure of archaeology and architectural history. Burma's government wants it recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but some scholars say that would reward shoddy restorations that have damaged the monuments. 

As Burma opens up, thousands of tourists are flocking to Bagan, the largest concentration of Buddhist monuments in the world. 

Bagan's millennium-old brick structures are Burma's equivalent of Angkor Wat, the famous ancient stone temple of Cambodia.

But while Angkor Wat was professionally restored, experts say the military government damaged Bagan by building on top of old temples or reconstructing them altogether.

  • Burma's ancient royal capital Bagan is home to more than 3,000 temples and shrines. (D. Schearf/VOA)
  • Hot air balloons carry tourists over Bagan's temples and shrines. (D. Schearf/VOA)
  • Tourists watch the sun rise over Bagan's temples and shrines. (D. Schearf/VOA)
  • Bagan has more than 3,000 temples and shrines. (D. Schearf/VOA)
  • Burma's government wants Bagan to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (D.Schearf/VOA)
  • One of the thousands of historic sites in Burma's ancient royal capital Bagan. (D. Schearf/VOA)
  • Scaffolding is erected around one of Bagan's ancient buildings. (D. Schearf/VOA)
  • Workers restore an ancient structure in Bagan, Burma. (D. Schearf/VOA)

Author on Bagan architecture and art, Don Stadtner, says declaring it a U.N. World Heritage Site would be a mistake.

"It would be telling the world that basic archaeological principles not only don't mean anything but may be rewarded by this kind of baseless, conjectural restorations," he said.

In more recent times, authorities have built hundreds of brand new temples and pagodas, including this one dedicated to former military leader General Than Shwe.

Defenders of the construction frenzy note Buddhists earn merit by building new temples and say claims of damage are exaggerated.

"We've done reconstruction based on the research on others original temples' structures," said Naing Win, managing director of Bagan's archaeology department. "The new construction cannot be different from the original structure of old temples. That's why, we cannot say that it [reconstruction] damaged the original according to its shape and architecture."

Restoration crews in 2010 were ordered to stop building new structures and to just preserve the old ones.

Many say only well-preserved structures and Bagan's unique murals should be considered for world heritage status.

Program specialist for culture at UNESCO Rangoon, Takahiko Makino, acknowledges the damage from new structures and says they are still discussing Burma's application for Bagan.

"Certainly the further study by the experts as well as in discussion with the Myanmar authorities and people in here in Myanmar has to be done in order to decide which monuments to include or which monuments not to include," said Makino.

Like Bagan's famous handicrafts, critics worry the temple controversy will be lacquered over as the world rushes to embrace a shiny, new Burma.

And if Bagan wins World Heritage status, the increased tourism, if not managed well, could further damage the ancient structures. 

But the designation would also bring more funding and expertise that supporters say would help better conserve a world treasure.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: jplaczek from: Vancouver
March 13, 2013 12:23 AM
When I was in Pagan about five years ago I was shocked to see a large tourist tower built at a hotel on the outskirts of the old city. Then in touring round the heart of the old city (within the ancient city walls, near the bend in the river) I saw another observation tower being built. As it was a construction site, we were not allowed to go nearer. A local person around there said it was an old palace being restored by the Army. Don't think there were places 15-20 storeys high.

by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
March 09, 2013 5:22 PM
Yes, I hope Burma's old temples also designated as world heritage site. I wonder if millitary government had destroyed old temples and constructed new temples at the same places.

by: Paris Tun from: Myanmar
March 09, 2013 9:18 AM
I am just glad that many tourists take interest in the ancient temples for whatever reasons, cos' it may means "good business" for people relying on the tourism. And hope that the tourists will be able to make good memories at Bagan with their loved ones, thanks to ancient temples or the beautiful sunset. Good relations with the West should mean something and it definitely means something, for more tourists are coming to our country and we feel that we are now part of a global society.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs