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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

John the XXIII and John Paul II will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square on April 27 More

Thailand Reacts to Plots Targeting Israelis

Authorities hope arrest of two Lebanese suspects will disrupt plot to attack young Israeli tourists More

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

'Once Upon a Forest' takes viewers deep into heart of tropical rainforest 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.
Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Churchi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 22, 2014 4:14 PM
On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Robotic Mission Kicks Up Lunar Dust

A robotic mission to the moon was deliberately crashed onto the lunar surface late last week, but not before scientists had collected data gathered by the spacecraft which was designed to self-destruct. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports on the preliminary findings of the craft, called LADEE - an acronym for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.
Video

Video Boko Haram Claims Responsibility for Bombing in Nigerian Capital

The Nigerian militant group known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a bombing in the capital on April 14th that killed 75 people. In the video message, Abubakar Shekau, the man who says he ordered the bombing, says nothing about the mass abduction of more than 100 teenage girls, most of whom are still missing. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Abuja.
Video

Video Ukraine Developments Hang Over Obama Trip to Asia

President Barack Obama's trip to Asia this week comes as concerns over Beijing's territorial ambitions are growing in the region. Those concerns have been compounded by Russia's recent actions in Ukraine and the possibility that Chinese strategists might be looking to Crimea as a model for its territorial disputes with its neighbors. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid