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Visiting Destroyed/Damaged Heritage

Author KSTraveler
#1 | Posted: 15 Mar 2013 09:34 
While UNESCO and international parties usually restore or rebuild heritage that has been destroyed, can one truly say that they have visited a World Heritage Site if a main part of its OUV has been destroyed? For example, can one truly say that they have visited the Bamiyan Valley without seeing at least one of the giant buddhas?

I know that UNESCO has stated that neither statue will be rebuilt, with the large niche left open as a monument to destruction and the small niche being left open due to lack of feasibility and funds. Can one truly say that they have visited the Bamiyan Valley until at least the small buddha is restored?

Author kintante
#2 | Posted: 9 Apr 2013 05:00 
I think the question is, if rebuilt WHS still deserves the status. I haven't been to Bam yet so I can't actually confirm or deny that there is anything left of universal value that's worth protecting. In my opinion the main idea of this program is to protect these sites and if this fails and there is nothing left to protect the status of a world heritage site should be deprived. In case of Dresden a built bridge was enough to destroy the universal value, but in Bam blowing away the statues obviousely was not enough. Right now Bam seems to be a world heritage site dedicated to the glory, power and lack of culture of the Taliban.

What value lies in a completely rebuilt version of a destroyed site? If Greece could manage to rebuild the Colossus of Rhodes, would it become a world heritage site?

I exclude Warsaw, as the site was included after rebuilding and the rebuilding itself after WWII is part of the outstanding universal value. Further I'm totally ok with renovations and even partial rebuilds (especially for Roman sites, where one rebuilt house gets you an idea of what the whole city once looked like.

Author Solivagant
#3 | Posted: 10 Apr 2013 02:19 | Edited by: Solivagant 
If Greece could manage to rebuild the Colossus of Rhodes, would it become a world heritage site?

Not perhaps a "good" example, since no one really knows what the Colossus looked like! But there are plenty of examples of reconstructions on the "List" already (even putting to one side the example of Warsaw where the reconstruction itself was regarded as having OUV). Many were reconstructed before inscription and some since - but, apparently the sites are still regarded as having OUV in both cases. We have a number of them on our Connections - e.g Anastylosis, Damaged in WWII, Damaged by fire since inscription.

When one tries to "unpack" the concept of "Authenticity" it is very hard to pin down and contains a very large "cultural" element. It has long been recognised that structures in areas of the world where perishable materials such as mud and wood are used are always going to require frequent reconstructions in order to repair the damage of time and of fire -and such reconstructions have not always followed the original. The reconstruction of the Buganda Tombs in Uganda is an example - if a wooden and grass building can be reconstructed and still have "value" why can't a stone one?

And some of the buildings we "think of" as being authentic almost certainly are not - very early photos of Borobodur show that a large part of what we see has in fact been reconstructed - similarly with Bodh Gaya which I recently visited. The Archaeologists of the time may have done their best but almost certainly have "failed" to maintain "true" authenticity.
If Bamiyan had been destroyed 100 years ago and had been reconstructed then would it have "lost" OUV? But there are other sites on the list which were reconstructed in the past.

And what about e.g Abu Simbel - yes, the original statues (albeit cut into blocks and "stuck" together!), but now located in a "non authentic" position, sitting in front of a hollow man-made hill and overlooking a lake which shouldn't be there!!! I am not saying they shouldn't have been moved - clearly they should - but we make compromises on "Authenticity" all the time.

Modern techniques based on 3D analysis of photos could permit the Bamiyan Buddhas to be reconstructed as near "perfectly" as anyone would ever be able to tell. Since the location and surrounding landscape would be far more "authentic" than that at e.g Abu Simbel such a reconstruction would surely have as much "value" as it does?

There is of course tremendous debate among archaeologists about "Authenticity" and the current "anti" rebuilding view regarding Bamiyan may well reflect a "hardline" view about it which won't necessarily always be in the ascendent. I suspect however that other matters come into play also regarding the current unwillingness to commit to a reconstruction. There are more important things to do in Afghanistan (!!), who knows if the Taliban will ever get back and destroy them again (but no one would dare even consider this possibility publicly!!) and there seem to be tribal issues between Karzai and the locals who live at Bamiyan (who are convinced that the Afghan government is against their minority)

Author kintante
#4 | Posted: 12 Apr 2013 05:02 
Not perhaps a "good" example, since no one really knows what the Colossus looked like!

That is true, that was a stupid example :) but there are examples of historic buildings that were completely destroyed and we know quite well how they looked like. E.g. the medieval walls of my home town (removed on purpose to make space for streets). I could also mention Datong, where they currently rebuild the complete city walls and buildings within the walls. Looks pretty impressing, but all is completely new. I'm sure once they are done the city looks like 1000 years ago, but still I doubt Unesco will find OUV.

I guess we have to make a difference between heavy (and sometimes wrong) renovation and a complete reconstruction (copy) with new material. Abu Simbel was relocated. Even though I don't fully agree with that and would have preferred the dam was never built, at least it's the original structure with its original material.

I added Warsaw as an exception, as there the city was clearly rebuilt with new material but is still of OUV.

As for the Bamiyan Buddhas I am not able to evaluate if the OUV is given now (I read that despite the statues also 80% of the cave paintings have been destroyed) and if it's possible to reconstruct at least one of the statues using the pieces they found (which I could accept as "heavy renovation"). But in the unlikely event the country gets peace and safety I'd still visit the site only under the condition they "heavily renovate" one of the statues with at least a recognizable amount of original parts. Completely rebuilding the statues (with new material) would not be acceptable for me as I don't travel around the world to see a copy of something.

Author Solivagant
#5 | Posted: 12 Apr 2013 05:49 | Edited by: Solivagant 
with its original material

But why is it (particularly in the "West") that we/UNESCO assign so much value to "original material" when other cultures accept the replacement of wood etc? Particularly when that material is not in fact in its original state, having been eroded/damaged over the centuries compared with what the original artist(s) created. It is almost as if we, who in so many things claim to be supreme rationalists, assign some mystical value to the fact that the original creator's hand was involved in forming what WAS there originally EVEN THOUGH we may be perfectly capable technically of recreating something which is in fact going to be closer to what was originally created (and thus stay true to the creator's intention and ideas). There also seems to be an element in our approach of being less interested in the "form" as was originally created than in "value" added by time in the form of destruction/degradation. We seem to expect that old remains should look (and "be") old -even if this means that we don't actually "see" the original!!

I fully accept that many modern reconstructions are crass and fail to capture the artistic/architectural value of the original creation - in recent years China has been particularly culpable in this respect and I have no doubt that the walls of Datong are pale imitations of the originals. But context is important too - a reconstructiuon of the Bamiyan Buddhas would
a. be done to the highest standards
b. still be situated in their original location and surrounded by much the same countryside (providing a reasonable control were kept on developments)

If Warsaw's reconstruction can achieve OUV I still don't really see why a Bamiyan reconstruction couldn't also. But fully accept that everyone has to make his/her own decision on whether to see such re-creations. Maybe there are people who refuse to go to Warsaw to see it because it is a "copy" of the original!

Author Messy
#6 | Posted: 16 Apr 2013 14:42 

Author Khuft
#7 | Posted: 22 Sep 2017 18:06 
Maybe the recent destructions in Syria and Iraq have led to a rethinking of the merit of reconstructions. On 22nd Sept, there was apparently a symposium organised by UNESCO on potentially reconstructing the Bamiyan Buddhas.

The following sentence is particularly noteworthy:
The increasing destruction of cultural heritage that took place in recent years has triggered new thought on reconstruction, in particular regarding the cultural rights of local communities affected by the destruction of their cultural heritage.

Author clyde
#8 | Posted: 23 Sep 2017 02:31 
I agree with Solivagant's point on reconstructions. I would be keen to visit a reconstruction if the same materials are used but less likely to be impressed if concrete or worse iron-reinforced concrete is used as it spoils any chance of further studies or excavations and becomes uglier than the eroded original over time.

It's true that I sonetimes attach a sort of mystical value to an original site over a reconstruction perhaps because the fact that it withstood the passage of time is an outstanding feat in itself.

A great example of a reconstruction in Verona for example is the Ponte Scaligero or Castel Vecchio Bridge.

Author Zoe
#9 | Posted: 7 Nov 2017 06:02 
I fully accept that many modern reconstructions are crass and fail to capture the artistic/architectural value of the original creation - in recent years China has been particularly culpable in this respect and I have no doubt that the walls of Datong are pale imitations of the originals.

Funny you say that because I saw them redoing the walls in Datong specifically and there is nothing authentic about it anymore. Also the walls of Xi'an have air-condition fans coming out of them so I'm confused how authentic they are nowadays too. After all Mao told the people to remove these relics and use as building materials which happened to the Beijing city walls and I wouldn't be surprised if in other towns.

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