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Swiss Artist Hopes to Recreate Destroyed Buddha Statues - 2002-03-15


A little over a year ago, the Taleban destroyed a giant Buddha statue that stood for centuries in a mountainside near the village of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. Now an architect in Switzerland is preparing to rebuild the giant statue.

Perhaps no single act of the Taleban gained as much international attention as their destruction of the 53 meter high Buddha at Bamiyan. Not only was it the largest Buddha in the world, it was also one of the oldest, having towered over the village for 1700 years. Thousands of kilometers from Afghanistan, Swiss architect Paul Bucherer-Dietschi has begun trying to undo what the Taleban have done, to recreate the Buddha statue.

The architect has been intimately involved with Afghanistan since the early 1970's and had even gained the trust of some of the more moderate members of the Taleban. In the late nineties, he was invited to do some preservation work on the big Buddha.

"I was there to reconstruct and to repair the Buddha statues, which were decaying, and a lot of melting water from snow and rainwater was getting inside the caves and (damaging) the mural paintings," he recalls. "So, the Afghans did know me and (of) my interest in Bamiyan, so they asked me to go ahead with such a project."

But he was not able to make much progress because of the fighting between the Taleban and the Northern Alliance forces. And in March of last year, the Taleban demolished the giant Buddha and a smaller companion statue.

To this day, Mr. Bucherer-Dietschi believes it was the foreign-born members of the Taleban who were the driving force behind the decision to destroy the statues. He says most Afghans, including quite a few Taleban, opposed the destruction of the statues.

Not too long after the fall of the Taleban, the new authorities in Afghanistan asked the architect to recreate the giant Buddha. He says the preliminary work will be done in his village of Bubendorf in Switzerland, where he has established a museum devoted to the preservation of Afghanistan's culture. He plans to use digital data from photographs of the statue to create a model of the Buddha.

"Our intention is to create the reality as close to the original as it was. And, for this, we have to computerize and digitize all the measurements which are existing and then to transfer it back to the reality," he explains.

In addition to being expensive - he estimates the model alone will cost $1 million - the architect says recreating the Buddha will be a complex and lengthy affair. But he says the Afghan people, even though they are Muslims, consider the Buddha at Bamiyan part of their cultural heritage and want the project to go ahead.

"I asked them what they would prefer. If there would be at the same price, it would be possible to build 30 bridges or one Buddha. And, we did not find one single Afghan who voted for the 30 bridges," he says.

After Mr. Bucherer-Dietschi completes his model, he will then move on to the next stage of his project, getting the money to recreate the 53 meter high statue. And once this is done, he can think about returning the Buddha to its place in the mountainside overlooking Bamiyan.