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Image when the taller of the two Bamiyan Buddhas was destroyed by the Taliban in 2001
Source Wikipedia
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai


Image when the taller of the two Bamiyan Buddhas was destroyed by the Taliban in 2001
Source Wikipedia
In a bizarre and unauthorised attempt to reconstruct the Bamiyan Buddhas, blown up by the Taliban in 2001, a team of archaeologists from the German branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), led by Michael Petzet, has been ordered by UNESCO to halt further work on the shattered statues.
Alessandro Martini and Ermanno Rivetti, writing for The Art Newspaper, reports –
The international community has reacted furiously to news that a German-led team of archaeologists has been reconstructing the feet and legs of the smaller of the two Bamiyan Buddhas, the monumental Afghan sculptures blown up by the Taliban in 2001. News of this reconstruction, which has taken place without Unesco’s knowledge or permission, was revealed during the 12th meeting of Unesco’s Bamiyan working group, in Orvieto, Italy, in December.
A team of archaeologists from the German branch of Icomos (the International Council on Monuments and Sites), led by Michael Petzet, who himself served as the head of Icomos from 1999 to 2008, spent most of last year rebuilding the smaller Buddha’s lower appendages with iron rods, reinforced concrete and bricks, an operation that Francesco Bandarin, Unesco’s assistant director-general for culture, describes as “wrong on every level”. He says: “Unesco has nothing to do with this project. It was undertaken without the consent of the Afghan government and has now been stopped.”
Meanwhile, one glimmer of good news in this sad saga –
The largest initiative is a cultural centre and museum devoted to the area’s rich Buddhist and Muslim history. This “goes beyond the missing Buddhas”, says Andrea Bruno. The building, inspired by the traditional Afghan “fortress-house”, will sit on a plateau that faces the cliff into which the statues were hewn. South Korea has said that it will foot the $5.4m bill. The building is expected to be finished in October 2016, if conditions on the ground permit.
The proposed Bamiyan Cultural Centre and Museum, designed by Andrea Bruno and to be funded by South Korea, will look towards the site from across the valley where the Buddhas once stood.
Full article here.
A nameless, sun-baked clay minaret stands against a flawless blue sky. Dating from the 12th century and missed by Ghengis Khan and his marauding armies
Image credit Lynne O’Donnell
The BBC News Magazine reports last month on the incomparable heritage sites in Balkh Province, northern Afghanistan.  The ancient city of Balkh was known as the mother of all cities. “More than a decade after her first visit, Lynne O’Donnell returns with a group of archaeologists, trying to uncover more of its treasures.”
Across the far northern Afghan plain, a hot wind blows the dun-coloured dust into blinding clouds, and the women’s burkas into blue billows. It is 40C in the shade, and even the small black goats being herded through the sand dunes look sapped by the heat. These are the lowlands of Balkh, where ancient trade routes attracted nomads, warriors, settlers, adventurers and evangelists, who left behind secrets that archaeologists are just beginning to unlock. This area places Afghanistan at the heart of political, economic, social and religious power across Asia, as far back as 4,000 years ago. The last time I drove across the Bactrian plain was in 2001. I had sailed down the Amu Darya river on a barge from Uzbekistan as British and American forces were pounding the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks in the US.
I have returned 12 years later with Afghan and French archaeologists to tour some of the oldest, most magnificent and historically significant sites in the world – sites that are shedding light not only on Afghanistan’s past, but on the development of human civilisation, from India to China and beyond. The Bactrian plain is the treasure house of Afghanistan’s secret history. Across this desert, Alexander the Great marched his army, killed the king of Balkh and married his beautiful daughter, Roxanne. Some 1,500 years later, Genghis Khan swept through and destroyed teeming cities that were melting pots of diversity. The philosopher Zoroaster, founder of the first monotheistic religion 3,500 years ago, lived and possibly died here. Rumi, the 13th Century poet who wrote in Persian, was born in Balkh – and is also, some Afghans like to think, buried here.
Full article by Lynne O’Donnell here. See also The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination exhibition now showing at the Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies, London until 14 December 2013.
A guest feature by Littlestone.
Looking at restoration projects across the globe one thing seems certain – there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, each site having ‘suffered’ differently, and sometimes at different times, in its history. That fact might influence any decision as to when (and how much) restoration should be applied to any given site (or to any given monument at any point in time). For example –
Statue of the taller of one of the two Bamiyan Buddhas in 1976 before being destroyed by the Taliban. Source Wikipedia. Image credit Marco Bonavoglia
The Bamiyan Buddhas.
Most of us know what happened to them and who was responsible for their destruction, but what should happen there next. There are three (maybe more) options –
1) Other than several thousand fragments of stone the statues themselves have gone and that’s it (at least that’s present UNESCO policy).
2) Try to reassemble the fragments and restore the statues.
3) Preserve the original fragments (perhaps in a museum and as near as possible to their original position) but commission the sculpting of new statues from appropriate sources.
Some arguments for and against various restoration options at Bamiyan are here.
Anyone who’s seen photos of the fragments will know what a monumental task it would be to put them together again (and is Afghanistan politically stable enough at present for that to happen). Commissioning new statues (eventually) however would provide work for both the local Hazara people, and others, while giving back to the area a tourist/pilgrimage attraction which it has so sadly lost. How far the (new) statues should reflect the originals is another matter (though nonetheless an important one). For example, should the face (destroyed in earlier times) on the main statue be re-sculptured.
The Euston Arch.
To quote from The Euston Arch Trust website
“The Euston Arch was a powerful symbol of the optimistic spirit of the Victorian railway. Its demolition in the 1960s confirmed that blandness and lack of imagination had replaced the heroic vision of the past. Completed in May 1838, it was the centrepiece of Euston Station, the world’s first main line terminus in a capital city. Built on a huge scale, it symbolized modernity and new links between London and the north. It was the first great monument of the railway age, which Britain pioneered.
Demolition of The Euston Arch in 1962
“The Arch was demolished in 1962 after a short and sharp campaign to save it. Sanctioned by a philistine administration, the demolition now seems shocking and is widely regarded as a terrible mistake. In a story stranger than fiction, most of the stones from the Arch ended up at the bottom of a river in east London. The survival of much of the original material from the Arch, as well as detailed drawings, means that it can be faithfully restored, returning to Britain a masterpiece of international significance. …rebuilding the Arch would regenerate Euston in the best possible way, attracting investment and creating a great heritage asset for the wider community.”
There really does seem to be only one option here. As most of the stones still exist, and there are both photographs and detailed drawings of the Arch before its demolition, it should definitely be restored to its former sate (if not exactly on its former site).
Is there any more to say about the restoration of Avebury – some say no restoration, others say a little, while others say it should be completely restored. To quote from The Euston Arch website again, but with Avebury in mind –“Sanctioned by a philistine administration, the demolition now seems shocking and is widely regarded as a terrible mistake. The survival of much of the original material from the Arch, as well as detailed drawings, means that it can be faithfully restored, returning to Britain a masterpiece of international significance.” Of course Avebury and the Euston Arch are not identical examples of monuments that have been partially or completely destroyed but there are similarities.
Fallen stone in the south-east quadrant of Avebury
I’ll leave it there as far as Avebury is concerned but surely, surely, if nothing else we can agree on the re-erection of just one stone at Avebury. That being the case which stone might we like to see re-erected and how best might we go about making that happen. My own preference is the one above in the south-east quadrant (number 78 in the map here I think (map from Avebury: A Present from the Past website).
Other people will naturally have their own preferences.
An Afghan archaeologist in 2010 examining Buddha statues inside an ancient monastery at Mes Aynak in eastern Logar Province
Image credit Shah Marai/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images
Writing in The New York Times, Sunday Review, Andrew Lawler reports that –

WHEN the Taliban blasted the famous Bamiyan Buddhas with artillery and dynamite in March 2001, leaders of many faiths and countries denounced the destruction as an act of cultural terrorism. But today, with the encouragement of the American government, Chinese engineers are preparing a similar act of desecration in Afghanistan: the demolition of a vast complex of richly decorated ancient Buddhist monasteries.

The offense of this Afghan monument is not idolatry. Its sin is to sit atop one of the world’s largest copper deposits.

The copper at the Mes Aynak mine, just an hour’s drive south of Kabul, is to be extracted under a roughly $3 billion deal signed in 2007 between Afghanistan and China’s Metallurgical Group Corporation. The Afghan finance minister, Omar Zakhilwal, recently said the project could pump $300 million a year into government coffers by 2016. But the project has been plagued by rumors of corruption; there was widespread talk of a $30 million kickback involving the former minister of mines, who resigned.

In 2009, archaeologists were given a three-year deadline to salvage what they could at Mes Aynak, but raising money, securing equipment and finding experienced excavators took up more than half of that time. So the focus now is solely on rescuing objects. An international team of archaeologists is scrambling to save what it can before the end of this month, when it must vacate the central mining zone, at the heart of the Buddhist complex. 

The task is herculean: more than 1,000 statues have been identified, along with innumerable wall paintings, fragile texts and rare wooden ornamentation. And the excavators can only guess at what may lie in older layers. There is no time to dig deeper.

Andrew Lawler is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to the magazines Science and Archaeology. Full article here. See also our earlier feature here.



An archaeologists’ camp sits beneath a recently excavated Buddhist monastery at Mes Aynak, Afghanistan. Source Wikimedia Commons. Copyright holder Jerome Starkey
The Khaleej Times reports on the 20 November that the ancient Buddhist site of Mes Aynak  in Logar Province, Afghanistan is threatened by mining activity –
Huge riches lie buried below the dusty plains and mountains of Afghanistan – both mineral wealth and historical treasures accumulated over thousands of years. As the country seeks to build a prosperous and peaceful future after more than 30 years of war, it is facing a dilemma between exploiting the resources that can make it rich and preserving its archaeological heritage.
At Mes Aynak, an ancient Buddhist site around 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Kabul, the Afghan government has chosen: in 2007 the China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) successfully bid for the rights to lease the area for 30 years and exploit an 11.5 million tonne copper ore deposit. The fourth-century site, home to ancient villages, temples and Buddhist statues, faces destruction as the mine project progresses.

Detail of a seated Buddha at Mes Aynak. If you feel strongly about this threatened site please consider signing The Petition to Save Mes Aynak 

Full article here.


Crumbling statues discovered inside an ancient Buddhist monastery in Mes Aynak, Afghanistan
Image credit Shah Marai © AFP


Asia’s architectural treasures are ‘vanishing’ reports Sebastian Smith (AFP) on 3 May 2012.

NEW YORK – Asia’s architectural treasures, from a Buddhist monastery in Afghanistan to an ancient city in China, are in danger of vanishing under a tide of economic expansion, war and tourism, according to experts. The Global Heritage Fund named 10 sites facing “irreparable loss and destruction.”

“These 10 sites represent merely a fragment of the endangered treasures across Asia and the rest of the developing world,” Jeff Morgan, executive director of the fund, said, presenting the report, “Asia’s Heritage in Peril: Saving Our Vanishing Heritage.”

The architectural gems from Asia’s ancient and sophisticated cultures are struggling in the face of economic expansion, sudden floods of tourists, poor technical resources, and areas blighted by looting and conflict — in other words, the pressures of rapidly modernizing Asia.

Full article here.


The Buddhas of Bamiyan by Llewelyn Morgan
The story of two Afghan sculptures, destroyed after a millennium and a half
Writing in The Guardian on 18 May, Samanth Subramanian reviews the book, The Buddhas of Bamiyan by Llewelyn Morgan. A new title in the Wonders Of The World series, the book looks at the remarkable statues of the Buddha which were carved in Afghanistan during the 6th century and completely destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Samanth Subramanian writes –

The Buddhas had stood for a millennium and a half; the smaller figure, 38m tall, was built around AD550, and the larger – at 55m only a little shorter than London’s Monument – around AD615. In The Buddhas of Bamiyan, Llewelyn Morgan, a lecturer in classics at Oxford University, explores not so much the heartbreaking demise of the statues as their remarkably long lives. How and why did the Buddhas survive more than a dozen centuries of an Islamic Afghanistan, only to meet their end at a particular political moment in 2001? The final downfall of these sculptures – their arms already snapped off, their surfaces pitted by erosion and minor vandalism – represented the nadir of a long and complex process of civilisation. In the plangent words of the Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, perhaps the Buddhas could take no more: “Even a statue can be ashamed of witnessing all this violence and harshness happening to these innocent people and, therefore, collapse.”

Full article here. See also Emma Graham-Harrison’s article in The Guardian here and our earlier feature here.


Statue of the taller of one of the two Bamiyan Buddhas in 1976 before being destroyed by the Taliban. Source Wikipedia. Image credit Marco Bonavoglia

The [5th century] statues were destroyed by dynamite over several weeks, starting on March 2, 2001 [and] carried out in different stages. Initially, the statues were fired at for several days using anti-aircraft guns and artillery. This caused severe damage, but did not obliterate them. During the destruction, Taliban Information Minister Qudratullah Jamal lamented that, “this work of destruction is not as simple as people might think. You can’t knock down the statues by shelling as both are carved into a cliff; they are firmly attached to the mountain.” Later, the Taliban placed anti-tank mines at the bottom of the niches, so that when fragments of rock broke off from artillery fire, the statues would receive additional destruction from particles that set off the mines.

Source Wikipedia.

 Image of the explosive destruction of the taller of the two Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban eleven years ago today. Source Wikipedia




June 2022
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