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Reincarnation of a Buddha

Taliban soldiers stand before the empty shell of a destroyed Buddha statue in Bamiyan Keystone Archive

Two Swiss experts plan to reconstruct the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas, which were destroyed by Afghanistan's Taliban movement earlier this year.

This content was published on November 30, 2001 - 08:40

However, the campaign launched by Paul Bucherer, founder of the Afghanistan museum in Bubendorf near Basel, and Bernhard Weber, the founder of the Internet start-up New7Wonders.org, could be in jeopardy.

Christian Manhart, an Asia heritage expert at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), said an international agreement - the Venice charter - does not allow the reconstruction of destroyed monuments.

Weber isn't worried, since rebuilding the 1,800-year-old Buddhas would not be an unprecedented case. In June, Unesco gave the go-ahead to reconstruct the 16th century bridge of Mostar, which was destroyed during the 1992-1995 conflict between Croats and Muslims.

"As far as I am informed the bridge of Mostar is being rebuilt at the moment and there have always been efforts to save the world heritage. The Abu Simbel temples in Egypt were also saved by Unesco," he said.

In the case of the Bamiyan Buddhas, Weber thinks it is more than just the physical reconstruction of the statues, as they represent a link between the East and the West.

"The Buddhas were actually built by Greek artists and were one of the first representations of Buddha statues. They went first into India, China and Japan via the Silk Road. It was only later that Asian people started building Buddhas," he said.

Step by step

The team's project involves three steps, the first of which is to create a computerised 3D representation of the Buddhas. The second step is to build a scale model of the Buddhas, one tenth of their original size, in the Afghanistan museum.

The last, and most important step is to go to Afghanistan and rebuild the statues at their original site and to their original height of 53 and 35 metres.

Weber said that this project could not have been possible without the exact measurements of the statues, which were given to them by Robert Koska, a professor at Austria's Graz University.

Even though other countries have also voiced an interest in reconstructing the Buddhas, Koska's measurements, which were taken some 30 years ago, were a crucial part of the project.

"These highly accurate measurements are the basis of our project, without them it would be impossible to reconstruct the 3-D models," he said.

Economic value

Weber also emphasised that rebuilding the Buddhas would not only be of historic but also of economic value to the people of the Bamiyan valley.

"The Buddha statues were the last little infrastructure for the people of the Bamiyan valley to live on. The few visitors who went to Afghanistan, all went to see those statues, which was a source of income for these people," he said.

To finance the project, Weber has launched an appeal on his website (www.new7wonders.org) and invited his users to donate money towards the reconstruction.

He expects to raise some SFr2 million and is convinced that bigger organisations will also take an interest.

"Large organisations want to see that there is a big public interest. Once they have noticed that they might make offers. I have already been approached by companies, which are interested in sponsoring the project."

Once the money is raised, the reconstruction team will need a formal invite from the future government of Afghanistan, which, according to Weber, should not be difficult.

"I know that Mr Bucherer has already spoken to many Afghan officials, who would like us to come and build these statues. But of course, we would not just go there and rebuild the statues - we would have to wait for a formal invitation."

by Billi Bierling

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