Twenty-five years after Myanmar first submitted Bagan for recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the country’s ancient, temple-strewn capital has finally been inscribed on the conservation group’s World Heritage list.
“The property bears spectacular testimony to the peak of Bagan civilization, when the site was the capital of a regional empire. This ensemble of monumental architecture reflects the strength of religious devotion of an early Buddhist empire,” UNESCO said in its announcement.
Historian and founder of the conservation group Yangon Heritage Trust Thant Myint U said on his Twitter feed that the move would “hopefully [be] a boost to proper conservation,” hinting at what critics say has been legacy of mismanagement and lopsided and uneven conservation efforts by the Myanmar military junta and the two civilian governments.
Myanmar’s medieval city of Bagan was today inscribed on @UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Hopefully a boost to the proper conservation of this sublimely beautiful and historically important site and a barrier to those who would prioritise tourist dollars above all pic.twitter.com/e7Bc4clzbR
— Thant Myint-U (@thantmyintu) July 6, 2019
However, the move also spells potential difficulties for Bagan’s hotels, restaurants and commercial stores as well as its residents, whose proximity to many temples and historical landmarks would appear to put them in direct violation of UNESCO World Heritage standards forbidding commercial activity near heritage sites, according to a story earlier this month in Frontier Myanmar.
A senior UNESCO official who spoke to the magazine for the piece said there would be strict conservation targets put in place, and that it would likely involve some existing hotels being forced to move. In other words, if Myanmar wants to maintain its UNESCO World Heritage status, it has its work cut out for them.
In recent years, more and more tourists have flooded into the city and its thousands of temples, damaging key sites. Moreover, a 2016 earthquake devastated Bagan, damaging more than 300 monuments.
Among the other sites making the cut this year were the ancient city of Babylon in Iraq and India’s famous walled city of Jaipur.
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