Myanmar's Bagan set to make World Heritage list after quake

A tourist takes a picture of the damaged ancient Tayoke Pyay Temple in Bagan.
A tourist takes a picture of the damaged ancient Tayoke Pyay Temple in Bagan.PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar's ancient city of Bagan is "very likely" to be listed as a World Heritage site, a Unesco official said Monday (Sept 26), promising a boon to a tourist attraction battered by a recent earthquake.

Bagan is home to more than 2,000 ancient Buddhist monuments that are among Myanmar's most venerated religious sites and is a major attraction for its nascent tourist industry.

The former military junta tried to get Bagan listed as a World Heritage site some 20 years ago but was rebuffed, seemingly because of haphazard renovations under its rule.

An earthquake last month destroyed many of those botched restorations.

That will allow fresh work more in keeping with the original design, Unesco said, boosting Bagan's chances of taking a coveted place on the list of the world's most prized cultural artefacts.

"The chances are very likely" that Bagan will be recognised as a World Heritage site in 2019, according to the head of Unesco's Yangon office, Sardar Umar Alam.

"The experts that are working on the site, they are confident that yes, the site stands a good chance," he told AFP.

The plan is to start the lengthy application process next year with an eye on making the list by 2019.

Experts said the bungled junta-era restoration, much of it hastily done with modern materials, significantly altered the original architecture and design of some monuments.

"They just used bricks and steel and started fixing them just like normal buildings and it really, really created an issue," said Alam.

Unesco Myanmar is now coordinating an international team to work on the monuments and is supporting the government in its bid to apply for World Heritage status next year.

The renovation of the first group of 41 "priority monuments" is expected to take around two years.

A total refurbishment of the 453 damaged monuments may cost up to US$12 million (S$16.3 million).

The citadels, burial grounds and Buddhist stupas of Myanmar's Pyu ancient cities, north of Mandalay, were added to the World Heritage list in 2014.