Taleban gone, Bamiyan Buddhas come back

1500 years after their construction and destruction, on the orders of Mullah Omar, the giant statues of Buddha in the Bamiyan valley are to be reconstructed.

Their saviours are two Swissmen, Bernard Weber and Paul Bucherer, who are launching a campaign to gain funds to start the first phase of the rebuilding works. Weber is the founder of the New Seven Wonders Society, and Busherer is the Director of the Swiss Institute and Museum of Afghanistan, in Bubendorf.

The two are putting together a team of artists and art historians, who are examining descriptions of the statues made by travellers in the XII and XIII centuries. They will also use the photographs taken by Robert Kostkla, an Austrian, in 1970. These images will be fed into a computer, to give an accurate three-dimensional image of how the figures would have looked in their original state.

The first phase will be a model just 5.3 metres tall, which will allow the specialists to study torque and materials. Reproductions of this model, 25 centimetres high, will be sold to finance the next phase, the rebuilding of the gigantic statues of Buddha (38 and 53 metres tall) in their original place before Mullah Omar ordered them to be destroyed in March.

Omar justified this act of vandalism by claiming that “All we are destroying is stones. According to Islam, I am not worried about anything. My function is to implement Islamic order. The statues will never again be worshipped”. Islam forbids the worshipping of images and statues. However, these statues were considered na example of the finest Buddhist art and architecture of the time they were built, and were the unique example of the union between Asian and Greek culture.

On his web site, Bernard Weber claims that “This project will send a clear signal that in the future an act of intentional destruction cannot erase the memory of objects which are valuable to humanity and its heritage”. The money needed to reach the first phase of the project, which already has the collaboration of several Swiss, German and Austrian academics and institutions, is around 250,000 USD, while the value required to construct the giant statues has yet to be calculated.

Not all agree with this initiative. The Japanese Ikuo Hitayama, who was one of the main activists who spoke out to save the statues from being destroyed earlier this year, declared that in the present context, “Much more than rebuilding the statues, there are many humanitarian preoccupations which should be addressed first at this moment in time. The money could be used for hospitals, for example”.


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