Afghanistan’s world-famous carvings were completely shattered, but one Swiss expert told journalists on Wednesday that it is possible to rebuild them in concrete.
Professor Armin Gruen has spent two years creating computer models of the two largest statues that awed travellers across central Asia for 15 centuries.
He says he could build copies correct down to the smallest detail.
“We can’t put the originals together again. They were exploded into thousands of pieces and some of the rubble has been dispersed or looted,” Gruen told a news conference. “I believe new ones in concrete would be the solution.”
Not everyone happy
Gruen, of the Institute of Geodesy and Photogrammetry in Zurich, is a key proponent of reconstruction – which backers say would get private financing and bring back tourists, and jobs, to the country’s devastated Khazara region.
But the idea is highly controversial and is rejected as profanation by the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO, which earlier this year declared the Bamiyan area in the highlands of central Afghanistan a World Heritage Site.
“At UNESCO, we think it would be double treachery,” said Muriel de Pierrebourg, spokeswoman for the Paris-based agency’s Japanese Director General Koichiro Matsuura who has travelled to Kabul to discuss the future of Bamiyan with Afghan leaders.
The view as it was in 2000 might
Reconstruction of the 58 and 38 metre-high Buddhas would mean applying “a technique that has been largely abandoned and is rejected by the vast majority of specialists”.
But for Gruen it is wrong to compare reconstruction with past attempts to rebuild ancient monuments.
“We have detailed photographs of what they looked like in the 1970s. Our computer imaging is accurate. This would not be guesswork,” he said.
However, UNESCO prefers to leave the Buddhas’ niches empty as a “memorial to destruction” and develop the Bamiyan area as a centre of cultural heritage, including a museum.
The two colossal standing statues and a sitting one were carved over 300 years out of the pink sandstone of a vast cliff, and completed around the year 500, archaeologists say.
At the time, the people of central Afghanistan – descendants of the Bakhtrian civilisation known to Alexander the Great and the ancient Romans – were Buddhists. Many however converted to Islam during the conquests of the 9th century.
Historians say that, apart from occasional efforts by Muslim rulers to destroy them, they were treated with reverence by local people until Taliban leader Mulla Umar declared them an affront to Islam.
When efforts to bring them down with artillery fire failed, Afghans say, sappers bored holes into the statues and shattered them with explosives.