Af­ter earth­quake, Ba­gan knuck­les down on restora­tion and her­itage bid

The Myanmar Times - - News - EI EI THU eiei­thu@mm­times.com

BA­GAN’S an­cient reli­gious her­itage is at risk be­cause of a com­bi­na­tion of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, botched re­pairs and ne­glect, ex­perts are warn­ing. The city’s 3000 an­cient pago­das, tem­ples and other reli­gious build­ings risk fur­ther dam­age un­less ur­gent ac­tion is taken.

Ba­gan is also a ma­jor as­set for tourism, one of the coun­try’s main for­eign­cur­rency earn­ers.

More than 30 pago­das, in­clud­ing Ananda, That Byin Nyu, Py­athagyi and Buu Pa­yar, sus­tained se­ri­ous dam­age in the 1975 earth­quake that reg­is­tered 6.5 on the Richter scale, said U Than Tin Aung, a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at Yangon and Man­dalay Tech­nol­ogy Uni­ver­si­ties who is in­volved in restora­tion work.

“The Ba­gan pago­das are built with bricks nearly 1000 years old, and whose re­sis­tance to shock was al­ready re­duced when the earth­quake struck,” he said in a re­cent in­ter­view.

The year af­ter the earth­quake, UNESCO sent ex­perts from France to work with the min­istries of con­struc­tion and ar­chae­ol­ogy, and lo­cal ar­chi­tects, on re­pair­ing the dam­age, he said.

“The UNESCO ex­perts pro­duced documentation which was very im­por­tant to the renovation work. It helped us re­store the Ananda Pagoda, which was built as a Kwan Taung [pyra­mi­dal spire on a square tem­ple] to its orig­i­nal form,” said U Than Tin Aung who has more than 30 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence.

In 1988, the then-mil­i­tary regime per­mit­ted renovation work that de­vi­ated from UNESCO stan­dards, caus­ing dam­aged to more than 600 pago­das, ar­chi­tec­ture ex­pert U Sun Oo told The Myan­mar Times.

“The re­sult­ing struc­ture had noth­ing in com­mon with the orig­i­nal Ba­gan era cul­ture. It has no her­itage or ar­chi­tec­tural value. Since the renovation was paid for with pub­lic money, that rep­re­sents both a fi­nan­cial and a his­tor­i­cal loss,” he said.

Renovation work should be car­ried out by ma­sons ex­pe­ri­enced in an­cient ar­chi­tec­tural tech­niques, and can­not be rushed, said U Than Tin Aung. “Or­di­nary ma­sons can­not do this work un­less they have been trained in an­cient ar­chae­o­log­i­cal tech­niques. All the work we have done em­ploys these ex­pe­ri­enced ma­sons,” he said.

When an­other quake struck on Au­gust 24, caus­ing fur­ther dam­age, State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi warned that a proper renovation would take time.

At the time of the earth­quake, the De­part­ment of Ar­chae­ol­ogy, Na­tional Mu­seum and Li­brary had been su­per­vis­ing the renovation of al­ready-dam­aged pago­das on a ten­der ba­sis. Some ex­perts have crit­i­cised the qual­ity of the work, call­ing into ques­tion the qual­i­fi­ca­tions of the ma­sons. Where the work was es­ti­mated to cost less than K5 mil­lion, Pro­fes­sor the ar­chae­ol­ogy de­part­ment would un­der­take the renovation it­self, said U Zaw Zaw Tun, di­rec­tor of the Min­istry of Reli­gious Af­fairs and Cul­ture.

“Some pago­das are ren­o­vated with donor fund­ing [if the es­ti­mated cost ex­ceeds K5 mil­lion]. We would in­vite com­pa­nies to ten­der for the work, in ac­cor­dance with all the nec­es­sary rules and reg­u­la­tions,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to the ar­chae­ol­ogy de­part­ment, the Au­gust quake dam­aged about 400 pago­das, in­clud­ing 56 an­cient build­ings with mu­rals.

“Luck­ily, the col­lapse did not de­stroy all the mu­rals in these 56 pago­das. Just the edges sus­tained dam­age,” said U Thein Lwin, deputy di­rec­tor gen­eral of the ar­chae­ol­ogy de­part­ment.

UNESCO is con­duct­ing the renovation of those pago­das, with the more than K2.3 bil­lion re­ceived from donors as of Septem­ber 15, said lo­cal MP U Win Myint Khaing (NLD; Nyaung-U 1).

“The Man­dalay Re­gion chief min­is­ter said all the funds col­lected from pub­lic donors must be ap­plied to­ward re­pair­ing the dam­age, and should not be used for de­part­men­tal bud­get sup­port.

“That’s why we’ve with­drawn only K30 mil­lion for im­me­di­ate re­pair work,” he said.

The ar­chae­ol­ogy de­part­ment had in­tended to ap­ply for World Her­itage Sta­tus at the end of 2017, a de­ci­sion that has called into ques­tion the sta­tus of ho­tels built in the his­toric zone. The ques­tion of renovation fund­ing has shed new light on the some­times un­easy re­la­tion­ship be­tween his­tor­i­cal con­ser­va­tion and the demands of tourism.

The min­istries of Reli­gious Af­fairs and Ho­tels and Tourism had al­lowed 45 ho­tels, in­clud­ing 25 still un­der con­struc­tion, to op­er­ate for the next 15 years in or­der to en­sure the re­turn of their in­vest­ment. Af­ter that, they have to move their ho­tel out of the her­itage zone, said tourism min­is­ter U Ohn Maung on Septem­ber 20.

“Some of the en­trepreneurs con­cerned have bank loans at 13 per­cent in­ter­est. We will let them op­er­ate for 15 years, but then they have to leave the zone,” he said.

Tourism sources say the Au­gust quake did not make much of a dent in visi­tor fig­ures. Though some of the most fa­mous pago­das had to be closed tem­po­rar­ily, no book­ing can­cel­la­tions were re­ported. Tour op­er­a­tors fac­tored in other, un­dam­aged, pago­das, as well as trips to lo­cal vil­lages, said tour op­er­a­tor Daw Sabei Aung.

“The tourists were happy even though they didn’t get to see some of the pago­das,” she said.

But the Au­gust dam­age could de­lay the ap­pli­ca­tion for World Her­itage Sta­tus, said Daw Oh­n­mar Myo, a co­or­di­na­tor at UNESCO Myan­mar.

“We are still work­ing on the her­itage sta­tus de­spite the dam­age caused,” she said.

Ac­cord­ing to the master plan by the De­part­ment of Ar­chae­ol­ogy, Na­tional Mu­seum and Li­brary and UNESCO ex­perts, the ap­pli­ca­tion will be fol­lowed by an ex­pert in­spec­tion in 2018, and the de­ci­sion on whether or not to ac­cord her­itage sta­tus will be made in 2019, said U Aung Aung Kyaw, di­rec­tory of the ar­chae­ol­ogy de­part­ment.

‘Or­di­nary ma­sons can­not do this work un­less they have been trained in an­cient ar­chae­o­log­i­cal tech­niques.’

U Than Tin Aung

Photo: Kaung Htet

Sol­diers and vol­un­teers clear up rub­ble at Lawka U Shaung Pagoda in Ba­gan on Au­gust 25.

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