Letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry on the Cultural Impacts of Earthquake Damage in Nepal

by SAH Heritage Conservation Committee | Jul 09, 2015
Letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry on the Cultural Impacts of Earthquake Damage in Nepal (9 July 2015) Read Letter

Durbar_Square_2010The Kathmandu Valley lies at a historic crossroads of Asian trade routes, religion, and cultures, and represents a rich tradition of art and architecture dating back centuries. Its internationally treasured monuments and cultural sites are of extraordinary quality and importance, mixing Indian and Tibetan styles as well as Hindu and Buddhist iconography. The Kathmandu Valley was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. Nepal was devastated by widespread destruction associated with the 25 April 2015 earthquake and its continuing series of aftershocks. The loss of these sites, many of which are numbered among the most significant in the world, will forever separate us from the priceless information that they contain and, by extension, from our collective past. While the humanitarian crisis, the need to care for the injured, and the demand for food, shelter, and medicine in one of the world’s poorest areas must take precedence, in the wake of these immediate losses great cultural damage has taken place, and continues to take place.

SAH position: 
SAH strongly endorses and supports all efforts to document, salvage, and restore the cultural heritage of the parts of Nepal damaged by the earthquake and its aftershocks. Several members of SAH are experts in the historic architecture characteristic of the areas currently under threat. SAH offered its assistance, either as an organization or by facilitating communication between Secretary Kerry’s staff and individual SAH members with particular expertise.

Some 8,000 people were killed, and more than 21,000 injured. The destruction of cultural and historic icons from the recent earthquake is staggering. In Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the 1690 Maju Deval temple was destroyed; the seventeenth-century King Pratap Malla Statue fell from its column and was smashed; and many historic buildings in and around the square were leveled. A portion of the Taleju Temple complex, one of Kathmandu’s most important Hindu sites, also collapsed. Elsewhere in Kathmandu, the Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple was destroyed. The Dharahara Tower, a nine-story brick structure constructed in 1832 which was recently restored and reopened to the public, was also destroyed. The losses were by no means confined to Kathmandu. Much of Patan’s Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage site south of Kathmandu, was reduced to rubble. In Bhaktapur, east of Kathmandu, the Vatsala Shikhara Temple was devastated. According to UNESCO, some 30 monuments collapsed, and another 120 were partially damaged. In total, some 1,000 monasteries, temples, historic houses, and shrines across the country were damaged or destroyed. UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture immediately began efforts to strengthen damaged monuments before the monsoon season; repair estimates begin at $160 million. [143]

More information: 
UNESCO Office in Kathmandu

Founded in 1940, the Society of Architectural Historians is an international nonprofit membership organization that promotes the study, interpretation and conservation of architecture, design, landscapes and urbanism worldwide. SAH serves a network of local, national and international institutions and individuals who, by profession or interest, focus on the built environment and its role in shaping contemporary life. SAH promotes meaningful public engagement with the history of the built environment through advocacy efforts, print and online publications, and local, national and international programs.

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