Close to one thousand years ago, Anawrahta, king of the first Myanmar Empire and a staunch advocate of Theravada Buddhism, embarked on one of the most ambitious religious construction programs in history in his kingdom’s capital city, Bagan.
Today, over 3,000 temples and pagodas – the largest concentration in the world - stretch as far as the eye can see across the plains to the Irrawady River. Many have survived the ravages of time, from invasions to natural disasters, mostly recently the 1975 earthquake that destroyed many monuments and weakened overall foundations.
Visiting Bagan for the first time on 8 August 2012, the Director-General encouraged authorities to resubmit the nomination for the architectural complex as a World Heritage Site.
Myanmar ratified the World Heritage Convention in 1994 and first nominated the site in 1996. The nomination was referred back to the State Party due to a lack of site boundary definition and legislative and management plan. Following this recommendation, authorities adopted laws to better protect cultural heritage and adopted a national legal and management framework.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, accompanied by the Director of the World Heritage Centre Mr Kishore Rao, visited some ten temples and pagodas, a monastic complex and the excavated Palace site, as well as the on-site museum. Immense gold-covered teak statues from the 11th and 12th centuries smile down upon pilgrims and visitors, which numbered around 100,000 in 2011. The religious monuments are renown also for their evocative murals depicting scenes from the life of Lord Buddha. Those in Nagayone Temple, visited by the UNESCO delegation, were restored in the 1980s with assistance from the Organization, supported by Italian funds.
During the Director-General’s visit to Bagan, the Director-General of the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library, U Kyaw, Oo Lwin, called upon UNESCO to contribute technical expertise for conservation, restoration and the nomination process. Although the Government aims to present the nomination of Pyu Ancient Cities in 2013, authorities are also working to resolve various management issues in Bagan and to elaborate a more systematic plan for the site’s preservation and conservation.
Cooperation with Myanmar’s Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library was recently re-engaged with a USD$530,000 project on “Building Capacity to Safeguard Cultural Heritage in Myanmar.” A survey mission will be undertaken this year to Bagan to conduct an assessment that will form the basis for an on-site mural conservation training course.
The site, which counts some 15 villages within its 42 square kilometres, is also threatened by pressures on land use for development and tourism. Inscription on the World Heritage Site could increase commercialization while at the same time promoting more sustainable management of this unique cultural landscape.