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Buddhist Remains of Bamiyan

Friday 28 December 2007

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Buddhist Remains of Bamiyan Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan A.D.600


In March 2001, the preservation world stood speechless as the Taliban destroyed the famous colossal Buddhas of Bamiyan, hewn out of living rock at the dawn of the seventh century A.D. and hailed as extraordinary examples of Gandharan sculpture in Central Asia, evident in their exquisite blend of Indian, Hellenistic, Roman, and Sassanian artistic influences. As a critical byway of the fabled Silk Road and important pilgrimage destination, the cultural landscape of the Bamiyan Valley, located some 2200 meters above sea level in the central highlands of Afghanistan, boasts numerous Buddhist monastic complexes and sanctuaries as well as fortified edifices of the later Islamic period.


In addition to the damage to the sculptures themselves, reverberations from the blasts that destroyed the Buddhas resulted in a series of lateral cracks within the niches, which have been exacerbated by wind and water erosion, further destabilizing the cliff and damaging surviving murals. Since 2002, ICOMOS has carried out emergency work at the site, documenting and conserving remains of the statues and fragments of painting that remain in situ and protecting them to the extent possible with provisional shelters. Salvaged remains found in the destruction debris have been documented and conserved and constitute a significant portion of the original figures in volume and surface material. Despite these efforts, surviving murals within the niches continue to erode while the niches themselves remain at risk of collapse. Afghan officials have expressed interest in reconstructing the Buddha sculptures, thereby restoring the tourism potential for the site. While ICOMOS professionals believe it is possible to reassemble the smaller of the two Buddha figures from the more than 300 surviving fragments, they also note that should this work be carried out, it must be done so using internationally accepted best practices in the field. Done carefully, such a restoration could provide important information that could inform the eventual preservation of the Large Buddha. Zealous reconstruction of both statues could, on the other hand, result not only in a loss of authenticity of the site but also further damage.


Inscribed simultaneously on both UNESCO’s World Heritage List and list of World Heritage in Danger in 2003, the site of Bamiyan has attracted substantial media attention since the attack. The nominators, representatives of ICOMOS Germany, have the expertise to carry out the additional work needed to stabilize the site, but also believe that continued international involvement in the long-term preservation and monitoring of the remains of Bamiyan will help to assure that future restoration efforts maintain the authenticity of the site and follow best practices.

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS PERTINENT TO WATCH LISTING Watch listing could call additional public attention to the efforts to conserve the remains of the Bamiyan Buddhas and to the fact that the site itself retains substantial cultural and historical value that remains in danger. Public awareness could also attract support for the project both in Afghanistan and abroad and help to deter irresponsible development or restoration of the site.

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