The ancient city of Bagan hosts the largest concentration of Buddhist temples, stupas and pagodas in the world, many of which are more than a thousand years old; yet despite its rich archaeological and historical significance, Bagan’s attempts to gain World Heritage Status have long been fraught with obstacles.
The main objection by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is the clutter of hotels, resorts, shops and other buildings within the site. The UN has also consistently challenged the Burmese authorities for shoddy renovation work on the temples.
Nonetheless, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture is taking steps to convince UNESCO that it has a long-term plan for Bagan that will fall in line with the world body’s strict heritage standards. The ministry aims to table that blueprint in two months’ time.
At the forefront of Burma’s proposal will be a pledge to relocate hotels and buildings that interfere with the ancient ruins. The first stage of the plan, which included mapping the site and compiling data on each monument, was submitted to UNESCO in September.
According to Bagan’s Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library, the second stage of the proposal will involve a structured management plan, which will only be submitted after consultation with local residents and hoteliers.
The Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library says it believes that to file a successful proposal at least six major hotels or landmarks would have to be relocated to the hotel zone in “New Bagan” or other areas outside the archaeological site.
What is UNESCO’s response likely to be?
UNESCO’s programme officer Ohnmar Myo told DVB this week that they have been in contact with Burma’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture regarding the relocation of the hotels. She also confirmed that UNESCO had been consulted about the possibility of allowing hotel owners 10-15 years to find alternative sites.
She said that UNESCO had not issued a response and that no decision had yet been made.
“If the government mismanages the plans again, Bagan will not become a World Heritage City,” she simply said.
The second stage of Burma’s proposal is due to be submitted to UNESCO in January. After that, it will be down to UNESCO to rule on whether to grant World Heritage Status to Bagan starting in 2019.