Bagan renews efforts to win World Heritage

Sri Kshetra, one of Pyu ancient cities/Unesco Bangkok

Sri Kshetra, one of Pyu ancient cities/Unesco Bangkok

The Nation

Myanmar Eleven October 7, 2014 7:28 pm

After the listing of Pyu ancient cities, Myanmar launches process for World Heritage nomination of Bagan

Myanmar is kicking off another campaign to reengage with the world and also draw more hard-earned foreign currency, this time involving the ancient city of Bagan.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), the process to nominate Bagan to its World Heritage List will begin with an international consultation meeting in Bagan from October 10-12.

“The ancient archaeological site is at the top of the country’s priority list for future World Heritage nominations. The meeting will bring together experts from around the world to discuss the future safeguarding of Bagan under the World Heritage framework with national and local stakeholders. These inputs will be particularly timely in the face of accelerated development at the site caused by a boom in visitor arrivals and tourism-related investment,” Unesco said in a statement.

Almost every traveller has heard of Bagan, or Pagan, the spectacular 11th to 13th-century ruins of more than 3,000 Buddhist temples and monuments spread over an 80-square-kilometre plain in central Myanmar. Myanmar nominated Bagan to the World Heritage Committee in 1996, but the submission process, which usually takes years, ran into problems with Myanmar’s ruling junta.

Instead of getting the prestigious listing for Bagan, Myanmar succeeded in winning the first World Heritage listing for Pyu ancient cities in June this year. Three ancient Pyu cities – Halin, Beikthano and Sri Khsetra – were added to the World Heritage List in June. The Pyu kingdoms flourished for more than 1,000 years, between 200 BC and AD 900. The three cities are partially excavated archaeological sites.

Remains of the palace citadels, brick Buddhist stupas and burial grounds at the site currently draw around 60,000 local and foreign visitors every year, according to Daw Me Me Khaing, director of the archaeology department at Myanmar’s culture ministry. She hopes the new status will bring many more.

“The situation of our heritage sites will improve as we gain experience from this,” she said.

Myanmar is busy working out plans to boost its tourism industry. A tourism master plan is being implemented in 12 areas – Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Kyaikhteeyoe, Ngapali, Ngwesaung, Putao, Myeik, Naga, Natmauk Mountain, Loikaw and Inle.

Tin Tun Aung, an executive from the Union of Myanmar Travel Association, said: “This is part of the master plan for the tourism sector. The plan has been realised in Inle, Kayah State and some other tourist attractions.”

The consultation meeting in Bagan is organised by Unesco and the Ministry of Culture. Culture Minister Aye Myint Kyu will preside at the meeting alongside the Italian Ambassador to Myanmar, Paolo Bartorelli.

The meeting is conducted within the framework of a project to increase the capacity of Myanmar to safeguard its cultural heritage. The project is funded by Italy, the lead donor country supporting Myanmar’s World Heritage efforts. Starting in 2012, the project was the first Unesco culture sector cooperation initiative in Myanmar in more than a decade. Through the project, leading international and national experts on Myanmar cultural heritage are working closely with Myanmar authorities to protect the nation’s important cultural heritage sites within the World Heritage framework and to leverage these assets to contribute to sustainable local development.

The project provided intensive support for Myanmar’s efforts to nominate Pyu ancient cities. Their inscription has been hailed by the international community as a major milestone for Myanmar’s re-engagement with the World Heritage Convention.

Besides Italy, the governments of Japan and Switzerland are also supporting Unesco’s work at Bagan.

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