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Bagan

Author Solivagant
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#1 | Posted: 9 May 2008 13:23 | Edited by: Solivagant 
It seems appropriate to start this list of proposals for the 50 best uninscribed sites with Bagan. Myanmar's government is currently demonstrating its incomptence in the face of the Typhoon disaster but has been doing so in many ways for the last 50+ years. Despite Myanmnar's many wonderful sites not a single one has been inscribed since its inital Tentative list of 8 was produced in Oct 1996. If the government is as wary of UNESCO, ICOMOS and IUCN officals as it is of UN aid workers this is hardly suprising! But I suspect that too much of its energies have been spent on corrupt activites and in moving the Capital from Rangoon to Naypyidaw.

The most significant of the sites which have languished all those years on the T List is the "religious city" of Bagan I understand that UNESCO has made genuine attempts to get the Myanmar government to "do the necessary" to gain inscription - but without success and the list is "poorer" without it as it stands above all the others as a site of genuine world importance. It spreads across some 50sq kms of the Irrawady plain and contains over 2500 Buddhist monuments. It was the capital of the Myanma emipire around 1000-1200 AD before being sacked in 1287 by (who else?) the Mongols! Since then it has existed as a location for Buddhist scholarship and worship - and remains a significant and active Buddhist site to this day

Among the temples are some masterpeices of World architecture - eg Ananda built in 1090 and the slightly later Thatbyinnyu. These are enormous structures which concede nothing in comparison with the many European cathedrals of that era which have achieved inscription. The latter is 61 mtrs (201ft) high. Construction was in brick and despite the ravages of time, earthquakes and robbers they still create a magnificent sight. Some are covered in gold leaf but all are still holy and, even if surrounded by dust and ruin, require that visitors remove their shoes!

I visited Pagan as it was then called before the Burmese (sorry Myanmar) government started on its renaming process, back in 1978. Things will have changed but I believe you can still make the 36 hour boat trip down the Irrawaddy from Mandalay sharing the deck with cheroot smoking nuns. The size of the site makes hiring some form of transport essential - I rented a wonderful horse drawn tonga for the day. The external architecture within the site can be stunning but the interiors are also worthwhile for their fine murals and atmospheric corridors and rooms. Generally there is a pleasant "rural" ambiance with fine vistas of Temples receding into the distance in all directions The place has however unfortunately seen its share of tragedy since my visit when the government forcibly removed all those living nearby and making a living from the limited tourism to far off unsatsifactory locations.

The site's credentials are on the UNESCO T List data base
http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/819/
Note that it is to be nominated against all 6 cultural Criteria. I believe that this is commensurate with its significance even if some get removed by ICOMOS during its review phase! The list already contains a fair number of "Buddhist sites" but I would place Pagan up in the very first tier with Borobodur and Angkor Wat for the size and grandeur of its architecture and its religious significance - historic and current. Its absence from the list is a major "gap" made worse by the presence of many less worthwhile sites

Does anyone want to support or disagree?

Author Assif
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#2 | Posted: 9 May 2008 16:23 
I support Bagan.

Author Solivagant
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#3 | Posted: 29 Mar 2011 02:32 
This depressing article about Myanmar suggests that incompetent Burmese restoration is destroying/ has destroyed its authenticity etc and that UNESCO has had to give up on it.
Shame - it was a magnificent destination when I was there in 1978 even if it was neglected.
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/peter-popham/peter-popham-a-land-th at-just-wants-to-hide-2254673.html

Author meltwaterfalls
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#4 | Posted: 29 Mar 2011 05:07 
That is very disapointing. I picked up the Myanmar guidebook last year in Bangkok and was keen to head out there, however the the book did raise concerns about the regime building kitscy resorts near the sites, but I didn't realise that it was affecting the site itself.

Real shame as it looks like a world class site.

Author Khuft
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#5 | Posted: 29 Mar 2011 17:32 | Edited by: Khuft 
I guess that UNESCO won't do anything as long as the junta lingers on (even under the current parliamentary veneer). However, if at any point in the future the regime changes and proves more conciliant (or blames the destruction of authenticity on the evil junta), maybe UNESCO will close both eyes and approve it anyway.

Let's just take two example from other countries:
- Macao: the old city is nicely restored, but the relentless transformation of Macao into an Eastern Las Vegas has really changed its "flair" a lot. I was there four years ago and last year; in those 3 years the city changed completely. Now it's virtually impossible to escape the sight of the giant Grand Lisboa casino, which can be seen from virtually every higher point in the old city. Has UNESCO done anything? Not really, to my knowledge... (Makes me wonder why Dresden or St Petersburg Gazprom skyscraper were such big deals then)

- Babylon: is on Iraq's tentative list and I guess we all agree it will squeeze into the WH List at some point because of its sheer importance as Mesopotamian site. Nevertheless, under the evil regime of Saddam Hussein, it lost a lot of its authenticity due to e.g. Saddam Hussein's building of a presidential palace right next to it, or the artificial reconstruction of the Ishtar gate (in a shoddy way and in smaller scale). [On a side note: the real Ishtar gate is already a WHS as it is located in Berlin's Pergamon museum - I can really recommend visiting it!]

So ultimately they might find a way of getting Bagan in - even if only by nominating several still authentic individual monuments. Preah Vihear (site is exactly equal to the size of the temple) or Kyoto (site consists of various individual temples and palaces, not of all / part of Kyoto) show possibe solutions.

Author meltwaterfalls
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#6 | Posted: 30 Mar 2011 12:05 
Wow, I had never seen the Grand Lisboa, which is a horrifically ugly building! And it really does seem to dominate the city centre. I can't see how that could have not been a concern for UNESCO. Dresden's bridge isn't particularly attractive but I would certainly think it has less impact than a 261 meter high faux mirror bronze monolith towering over the whole WHS. Jeepers, I am still getting over how ugly and overpowering that building is. It is slap bang between the 2 zones of the WHS as well!

Will second the recommendation for seeing the Ishtar gate at the Pergamon museum, it is wonderful.

Author Solivagant
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#7 | Posted: 30 Mar 2011 15:26 | Edited by: Solivagant 
I note that the WHC of 2008 discussed the developments in Macao (32COM 7B.68) and then again in 2009 (33COM 7B.67). At this latter, a report was requested to be delivered in Feb 2011 for discussion at this year's WHC !!!!!!!!! No great urgency there then - the matter wasn't discussed at all at the 2010 WHC!!

Apparently "The group (has) concluded that, while the Macau Government's measure to restrict the construction heights around the World Heritage sites and the Mount Fortress is welcomed, large and tall constructions such as Grand Lisboa are 'unacceptable'."
http://www.macaubusiness.com/blog/p_3283/2607/

Well that's nice to know now that it has been built!!! The casino opened in Feb 2007 and the hotel in Dec 2008. As you say Khuft - UNESCO hasn't exactly acted consistently on these matters. There can be no way that the Dresden bridge could be considered as having as significant an impact on the lengthy Elbe landscape as the Lisboa hotel has on the concentrated Macao city centre. What on earth can this year's WHC do with the report??
Perhaps China could demolish the hotel as they are doing to toher buildings as in this report
http://www.whatsonxiamen.com/news18262.html

Author winterkjm
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#8 | Posted: 14 Apr 2012 12:49 
With the new developments in Myanmar, it seems likely Bagan and perhaps a couple other sites in the country may soon be inscribed.

http://www.irrawaddy.org/archives/2478

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