Bagan on way to UNESCO listing as world heritage site


Finally, after 22 years, Myanmar submitted an application for Bagan – the heart of Myanmar – to join UNESCO’s world heritage list in September.

Since it first started the procedure in 1994-5, Myanmar is applying to include Bagan on UNESCO’s list for the first time.

Unfortunately, at first, Bagan was not eligible because of the many criteria required by UNESCO. 

There are 10 possible categories to join UNESCO’s list, out of which six concern the world heritage-cultural site section, to which Bagan has been submitted. 

Myanmar application targets 3 categories to which Bagan site is eligible. These three categories – numbers 3, 4, 6 – concern legacy “displaying a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or disappeared, outstanding building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape with illustrates, a significant stage in human history directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions with ideas or with beliefs with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance,” according to UNESCO.


“We expressed the traditional culture, civilization, arts, architecture in Buddhism, belief in Buddhism and traditional religious festivals [which are still taking place today] dating back to the 11th century to 13th century, with outstanding evidence for the nomination of Bagan,” U Than Zaw Oo, director of the division of world heritage sites under the Ministry of Religious Affair and Culture told The Myanmar Times.

In terms of world heritage procedures, the country must be a member of the United Nations and a signatory to UNESCO’s convention to be allowed to apply, which Myanmar already is. 

Furthermore, applicants have to submit the list of sites to be recognised as world heritage one year ahead of the submission of the dossier. In 1995, Myanmar had not finished delimiting the Bagan site and no legislation for heritage conservation existed at the time. 

“They [the military government] implemented a two-lane road and golf course within the heritage area, which is against world heritage conservation procedure. In 1996, experts from UNESCO’s heritage committee suggested to re-apply, with a detailed map of the cultural site as well as legislation to protect the heritage” said U Aung Aung Kyaw, director of the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library.

Accordingly, the government introduced a new legislation on heritage conservation in 1997 and enacted the cultural heritage conservation law in 1998. In 1990, they officially set up a perimeter delimiting the ancient heritage site of Bagan. The updated Bagan heritage area stretches on 4987.88 hectares of “Heritage zone” surrounded by 17,821.97 hectares of buffer zone. There are 3822 edifices in the heritage zone. 

The world heritage-cultural site application is split in two sections: the first one focuses on the heritage area, data on the monument and the mapping of land and cities within the zone. The second part requires a complete management plan.

“We already submitted part one. UNESCO will get back to us in November with suggestions. We will re-submit the first part in February, with the suggested corrections, along with the management plan. Then, experts from UNESCO will check the situation on the ground in June and July 2018,” U Aung Aung Kyaw said.

Issues may arise as the management plan must take into consideration the preservation of the site and the interest of local businesses. Several aspects of the management plan should be added after negotiations with locals, such as: hotels and tourism businesses, natural disaster, agriculture, transportation, electricity supply and so on.

“We have to implement the management plan we submitted. So we have to consider how to manage the cultural site for the next 5 or 10 years. 

“There have been managerial mistakes in the past in Bagan Heritage Zone. For instance, some hotels are located in old Bagan. How to deal with them must be included in the management plan,” added U Aung Aung Kyaw.

UNESCO’s world heritage committee has 21 member countries. Experts from these countries have been collecting applications yearly, based on standard criteria. The body provides technical expertise to current world heritage site applicants, which amount to US$30,000. Furthermore, should there be any natural disaster to the applying sites; it will support $100,000. Such support was allocated to Bagan following last year’s earthquake. Sites already listed as world heritage receive $1 million in technical support and expert assistance in case of natural disaster. 

The world heritage committee will adjudicate on the second submission of Bagan in June or July 2019. So we will continuously watch whether Bagan will become the next world heritage-cultural site of Myanmar.  

Myanmar already ascended to the UNESCO world heritage – cultural site status in 2014 for three Pyu ancient cities: Halin, Beikthano and Sri Ksetra.