Hotel construction has been halted in Bagan, as the Burmese government renews its pursuit of World Heritage Status for the national landmark.
A representative from the President’s Office, Soe Thein, said that while the government is committed to the preservation of the site, it could not dismiss construction agreements signed by the previous government.
Soe Thein blames the previous military regime for the construction of unsightly and potentially damaging hotels in the heart of the ancient complex, which, according to the Burmese government’s application to UNESCO, boasts over 2,500 individual temples, built between the 10th to the 14th centuries AD.
Over 20 years ago, the then Burmese government sanctioned the building of high-rise hotels in the heart of the ancient site, such as the 61-meter high Palace Tower Hotel. A viewing tower of a similar height, a golf course and a highway, cutting through the middle of the complex, also blight the otherwise picturesque location.
“Bagan Archeological Area and Monuments”, UNESCO’s official name for the site, has been on the “UN Heritage Site Tentative List” since 1996, when the military regime dropped their efforts for heritage listing after the UN’s cultural agency, which funds conservation efforts on hundreds of the world’s most prominent historical sites, asked for the government’s commitment to transparent maintenance and administration plans.
The use of modern materials and a lack of adherence to the original architectural style in maintenance work over time has invited criticism from UNESCO and held up a World Heritage Listing.
Currently, there are four hotel zones in and around the ancient city, which incorporate 75 hotels, motels and guesthouses. Seventeen hotels are currently under construction, with plans for a fifth hotel zone in the drafting stage.
It is estimated that around 200,000 tourists visited Bagan in 2013, a figure that could be increased exponentially as Burma gears up for a tourism boom in the coming years.