Ancient temple city faces modern danger
By William Davies, AFPBAGAN, Myanmar--The spires of Bagan have survived wars, earthquakes and centuries of tropical sun, but in recent years Myanmar's ancient capital has faced a distinctly modern threat — scaffolding and cement.
October 7, 2013, 12:06 am TWN
The temples, some of which are around 1,000 years old, are one of the country's most treasured religious sites and a top attraction for foreign tourists flocking to the country as it emerges from decades of military rule.
While many have largely withstood the ravages of man and nature, haphazard renovation work has also seen new temples built on the foundations of crumbling structures, and experts say they bear little resemblance to the originals.
“Several hundred monuments have been completely rebuilt. It has obviously damaged the historical landscape,” architect Pierre Pichard, a former UNESCO consultant, told AFP.
“It is totally contrary to what is accepted internationally in terms of good practice.”
Pichard helped restore the temples after a huge earthquake struck the region in central Myanmar in 1975, but was forced to leave the site in the early 1990s when the rulers effectively closed the country to the outside world.
After asking Buddhists for donations, the junta then started rebuilding the temples, many of which were just piles of bricks.
Around 2,000 have so far been renovated, many with hastily done stone and plaster work, using bright orange bricks and other modern materials.
A huge number of trees have also been planted across the vast plain dotted with pagodas and temples.
“One of the characteristics of Bagan in the past was to be able to see hundreds of monuments in the middle of fields, and now we see them less,” said Pichard.
“These trees are an aberration in terms of the environment because the climate is very dry and they need to be watered during the dry season.”
Today new building works have been halted, but some structures are still being renovated, and archaeologists have been allowed back into the country to oversee the work.