Practical Information

27

Nov
2021

A Historical Theme Park?

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The efforts of Myanmar’s military government to restore the ancient ruins of Bagan after centuries of wear from weather and earthquakes were described by UNESCO as “[a] Disney­style fantasy version of one of the world’s great religious and historical sites … [using] the wrong materials to build wrongly shaped structures on top of magnificent ancient stupas.” Since 1995, an estimated 1,299 stupas, monasteries, and temples have been speculatively rebuilt from piles of bricks scattered across the site of the medieval city, while another 668 have seen major renovations, funded largely by merit­making donations from wealthy Burmese. Archeologists, heritage architects, and UNESCO have been unanimous in their condemnation of the program, claiming that the results bear little relation to what the original structures would have looked like, and criticizing the use of cement and other modern materials. In reply, the Burmese authorities claim it is the government’s “duty to preserve, strengthen, and  restore” Bagan’s monuments, and have flown in the  face of foreign disapproval by permitting the con- struction of an unsightly observation tower and  gigantic museum complex that now dominate hori- zons where once only temple towers rose from the  plains. The controversy, however, seems not to have deterred tourists, and, since 2010, foreign visitors have flocked to the archeological zone in record numbers to view the spectacular reconstructions.

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