“Bagan is actually a splendid site. You can imagine in only in this, like, fifty square kilometers, they have more than 3,000 monuments. And then all the monuments have different styles and different architecture”.
The ancient past of Bagan, Myanmar, is still visible today in the more than 3,000 temples, monasteries, and works of art and architecture that remain at the site. Beginning around 1000 CE, Bagan served as the capital city of the Pagan Kingdom. Many of the surviving monuments date from the 11th to 13th centuries. A number of these temples are still used by worshippers and pilgrims today. A 2016 earthquake, which damaged over 400 structures, brought renewed international attention to Bagan and its future.
In February 2020, a team from the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) returned from doing intensive preparatory work with international and local colleagues in Bagan to launch a long-term conservation project there. Soon after, the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 closed borders and halted travel. In February 2021, a coup d’état staged by the Burmese Military plunged the country into further uncertainty.
In this episode, Susan Macdonald, head of Buildings and Sites at the GCI, and Ohnmar Myo, the GCI’s consultant in Myanmar, discuss the history of Bagan, the demands and challenges of conservation there, and their hopes for the future of the site. Myo is a former project officer of the Cultural Unit, UNESCO, and was a principal preparator of the report that confirmed Bagan’s World Heritage Site status in 2019. This conversation was recorded in January 2021, under very different circumstances, but it captures the curiosity, ambitions, optimism, and collaborative spirit that guided the project at that time.