The Bamiyan Valley and Blowing Up Buddha
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The Bamiyan Valley and Blowing Up Buddha

Efforts of UNESCO to preserve the Bamiyan Valley archeological and cultural site after the destruction by the Taliban of the monumental Buddha statues of the 6th century.

The Bamiyan Buddhas, an example of the Gandhara school of Buddhist art, stood in Afghanistan for approximately 1500 years. In March of 2001 the Taliban dynamited the two monumental Bamiyan Buddha statues, leaving a gaping hole in the mountainside. At the same time, the Taliban had many smaller Buddhas in the Kabul Museum destroyed. One could almost hear the collective groan of the international community from artists to archaeologists. The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was an assault on culture and religion.

The Taliban’s reason for the destruction was that the Buddhas were idols which conflicted with the Islamic religion and would lead their people astray and into idol worship. As a result of this iconoclastic act, the International Coordination Committee for the Safeguarding of Afghanistan’s Culture was formed in 2002. In 2003 the Bamiyan valley was inscribed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger. UNESCO, in cooperation with the Afghan government, created a multi-phase operation to catalog, preserve, and safeguard the Bamiyan valley archeological treasures.

Phase I of the project, using funds donated by the Japanese government, was completed in 2005. A master plan was created in which the area was mapped and a 3D model was created of the site. The cliffs, niches and caves were identified for the purposes of identifying and conserving mural paintings and archeological artifacts.

Phase II included a management plan to conserve and document murals, preserve fragments of the Buddha statues and form a strategy for preserving cultural heritage in Afghanistan. The creation of work and income for the Afghan community among tradesmen, archeologists and engineers as well as the inception of a strategy of cultural tourism have had a positive impact on the economics of the region.

Phase III implemented the management plan that provided for the long term stability of the Buddha niches, completion of the conservation of the murals and the implementation of a protective zoning plan for the Bamiyan valley.

In March of 2011, marking the ten year anniversary of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, the Bamiyan Experts Working Group released a five page document with recommendations  for sustaining and preserving the Bamiyan site. Components of the Desired State of Conservation are detailed in four categories:

  • Ensuring site security
  • Safeguarding the remains of the Buddhas and their niches
  • Adequate state of conservation of archaeological remains and mural paintings
  • Implementation of the Management Plan and Cultural Master Plan (the protective zoning plan)

The niche of the Bamiyan Buddah statues will remain forever empty and preserved as evidence of the tragedy of iconoclasm that occurred in the Bamiyan valley of Afghanistan.

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Comments (8)

Thanks for this informative article. I got a lot out of it. Well done.

Ranked #22 in Archaeology

I remember watching this destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas on TV when it happened. I still feel nauseated when I watch it again.

I remember when that happened, it was possibly the first time I had really taken notice of the Taliban. I remember reading that even Iran asked them not to blow them up.

Ranked #22 in Archaeology

The international community was aghast. I just remember that many countries and the United Nations were begging them not to do it. I actually cried when I watched it. It was kinda strange the way the two Buddhas came to mind when the Twin Towers were attacked. Not that I am equating the horrible loss of life and that act of war with the Buddhas but both were cultural attacks and the fact that it was two Buddhas and two towers.

Such needless destruction of valuable ancient pieces. In wars terrible things occur for no reason. Thank you for your well done article. Promoted since I am out of votes.

excellent article on the fascinating the Bamiyan Buddhas. voting up!

What a terrible act of vandalism and religious intolerance.

Excellent information and video! Thanks for sharing!

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