Technical assistance for the conservation of the Ruins of the Buddhist Vihara at Paharpur, Bangladesh
With support from the World Heritage Fund’s International Assistance and the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement, the Bangladesh authorities wished to develop a long-term archaeological research policy for the temple of Paharpur and the surrounding area.
The monastic complex of Paharpur, which is also known as Somapura Mahavira, or the “Great Monastery”, was an important intellectual centre from the eighth to the twelfth centuries. The unique monastery-city influenced Buddhist architecture as far away as Cambodia. The Ruins of the Buddhist Vihara at Paharpur have been inscribed on the World Heritage List since 1985. The site consists of a central monument, a temple with a cruciform layout and a collection of 2,800 terracotta plaques which were originally arranged in ornamental friezes on the external walls of the monument.
The project’s objective was to provide technical and methodological assistance for conservation and training. In 2002 the World Heritage Committee noted serious deterioration of the terracotta plaques and the site structure. It also identified a partial loss of authenticity as a result of improperly conducted restoration in 1991 which involved the systematic replacement of ninth-century plaques with new plaques.
Several expert missions were sent and culminated in a seminar in March 2004 on the development of a policy for the conservation, restoration and management of the site. A workshop on special techniques including collection, management and conservation, cataloging and inventory was organised and trained twenty-four participants.
The challenge with an archaeological site was both to manage and preserve: preserve the monument per se the artefacts taken down for conservation purposes with the help of UNESCO, but also to develop infrastructure, in particular for the management of storm water, all of which must be compatible with the enhancement of the site.