Buddhist Remains of Bamiyan

World Monuments Watch
Bamiyan, Afghanistan

2008 World Monuments Watch

In March 2001, the world watched in horror as the Taliban destroyed the famous colossal Buddhas of Bamiyan, hewn from living rock at the dawn of the seventh century and hailed as extraordinary examples of Gandharan sculpture. As a critical byway of the fabled Silk Road and an important pilgrimage destination, the cultural landscape of the Bamiyan Valley in the central highlands of Afghanistan boasts numerous Buddhist monastic complexes and sanctuaries, as well as fortified edifices of the later Islamic period. Since 2002, conservators have carried out emergency work, documenting and conserving the surviving fragments of the statues and paintings that remain in situ, and protecting them to the extent possible with provisional shelters. Despite these efforts, surviving murals within the niches that housed the Buddhas continue to deteriorate, while the niches themselves remain at risk of collapse. Vibrations from the blasts that destroyed the Buddhas caused lateral cracks in the stone, which have since been exacerbated by wind and water erosion, destabilizing the cliff face. In addition, unexploded ordinances are still occasionally found in and around the site. Afghan officials have expressed interest in reconstructing the Buddha sculptures, thereby restoring the site's tourism potential. While some believe it may be possible to reassemble the smaller of the two Buddha figures from surviving fragments, hasty reconstruction of both statues could result not only in a loss of authenticity of the site, but also cause further damage. The site of the Bamiyan Buddhas was inscribed simultaneously on both UNESCO's World Heritage List and List of World Heritage in Danger in 2003. Through Watch listing, WMF seeks to encourage continued international involvement in the long-term preservation of what remains at Bamiyan, and ensure that future restoration efforts maintain the authenticity of the site and best preservation practices are followed.

Since the Watch

A 2011 study led by a team from the Technical University of Munich revealed new details about the statues’ original color by analyzing the remains of the rubble. They found evidence of multiple layers of colorful pink, orange, pale blue and white paint. A UNESCO representative in Kabul has said that the current focus at Bamiyan is on stabilizing the niches and on preparing a modest open-air museum at the site rather than reconstructing the statues. November 2014

Last updated: June 2018.

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