By YE MON | FRONTIER
YANGON — Myanmar’s ancient city of Bagan has been approved for inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, more than two decades after it was first nominated.
The 21-member World Heritage Committee announced the decision on July 6 at a meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, based on the recommendation of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).
Bagan becomes Myanmar’s second addition to the World Heritage List, after the three ancient Pyu cities of Sri Ksetra, Hanlin and Beikthano, which were listed in 2014.
Myanmar first nominated Bagan for inclusion on the World Heritage List in 1995 but its efforts have been plagued by challenges and controversies, including over renovations that critics say have compromised the architectural integrity of the site, and inappropriate commercial development.
In Myanmar’s final dossier, submitted in January, it pledged to implement a management plan for the Bagan heritage zone that covers local businesses, social issues, agriculture, transportation and tourism, among other things.
Mr Kai Weise, a UNESCO expert, told Frontier in June that if the government wants the ancient city to stay on the list, it will need to meet strict conservation targets, including the implementation of a comprehensive management plan, and remove hotels from archaeological sites.
Bagan rose to prominence in the 10th century and until its fall in 1287 was the capital of an empire that stretched from near the modern border with China to Tanintharyi Region in the south.
A 2017 survey by the Association of Myanmar Architects showed that there were 3,822 monuments in Bagan, including temples, stupas and monasteries.
Many of Bagan’s ancient pagodas and temples were damaged in an earthquake in 2016, raising concern about the future of the site. At the time, the Department of Archaeology and National Museum announced that 300 monuments needed renovation.
Ko Thura Aung, secretary of the Myanmar Archaeology Association, said that the the Myanmar government face many challenges maintaining the site and would need to explain the value of Bagan’s heritage to businesspeople.
“The businessmen need to understand,” he said. “It can only be explained by the government. Others can’t do it.”