UNESCO World Heritage Sites - Bangladesh

Historic Mosque City of Bagerhat

Situated in the suburbs of Bagerhat, at the meeting-point of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, this ancient city, formerly known as Khalifatabad, was founded by the Turkish general Ulugh Khan Jahan in the 15th century. The city’s infrastructure reveals considerable technical skill and an exceptional number of mosques and early Islamic monuments, many built of brick, can be seen there.

Brief synthesis

The Historic Mosque City of Bagerhat is an important evidence of medieval city in the south-west part of present Bagerhat district which is located in the south-west part of Bangladesh, at the meeting-point of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. The ancient city, formerly known as Khalifatabad, sprawls over on the southern bank of the old river Bhairab and flourished in the 15th century BC.

The magnificent city, which extended for 50 km2, contains some of the most significant buildings of the initial period of the development of Muslim architecture of Bengal. They include 360 mosques, public buildings, mausoleums, bridges, roads, water tanks and other public buildings constructed from baked brick.

This old city, created within a few years and covered up by the jungle after the death of its founder in 1459, is striking because of certain uncommon features. The density of Islamic religious monuments is explained by the piety of Khan Jahan, which is evidenced by the engraved inscription on his tomb. The lack of fortifications is attributable to the possibilities of retreat into the impenetrable mangrove swamps of the Sunderbans. The quality of the infrastructures - the supply and evacuation of water, the cisterns and reservoirs, the roads and bridges - all reveal a perfect mastery of the techniques of planning and a will towards spatial organization.

The monuments, which have been partially disengaged from the vegetation, may be divided into two principal zones 6.5 km apart: to the West, around the mosque of Shait-Gumbad and to the East, around the mausoleum of Khan Jahan. More than 50 monuments have been catalogued: in the first group, the mosques of Singar, Bibi Begni and Clumakkola; and in the second, the mosques of Reza Khoda, Zindavir and Ranvijoypur.

Criterion (iv): The Historic Mosque City of Bagerhatrepresents the vestiges of a medieval Muslim town in the northern peripheral land of the Sundarbans. It contains some of the most significant buildings of the initial period of the development of Muslim architecture in Bengal. Shait-Gumbad is one of the largest mosques and represents the flavour of the traditional orthodox mosque plan and it is the only example of its kind in the whole of Bengal. The second important monument, Khan Jahan's tomb, is an extraordinary representation of this type of architecture as well as calligraphic parlance.

The site exhibits a unique architectural style, known as Khan-e-Jahan (15th Century A.D.), which is the only known example in the history of architecture.

Integrity

The original picturesque location and the natural setting of these densely located religious and secular monuments along with the medieval form and design are intact. The property of the Historic Mosque City of Bagerhat contains and preserves all the necessary elements which include not only mosques but also residences, roads, ancient ponds, tombs, chillakhana (ancient graveyard). Therefore, the attributes of the city are still preserved.

The threat of the unauthorized activities by the community and the extreme salinity of the soil and atmosphere, which can potentially threaten the physical integrity of the attributes, are being closely monitored by the site managers. In particular, interventions are needed to preserve the Shaitgumbad Mosque.

Authenticity

In order to preserve the authenticity of the monuments, conservation and restoration actions have respected the use of original materials (lime and mortar). Notwithstanding,  some of the original features, such as stone pillars inside the mosques, reticulated windows, pediment, upper band of cornice, were lost in earlier interventions.

Many of the structures continue to be in religious and secular use contributing to the social and communal harmony by the way of retaining the original features of traditional practices.

Protection and management requirements

The property is managed under the Antiquities Act, 1968 (Amendment 1976). In addition the Department of Archaeology protects the property under the Antiquities Export Control Act (1947), the Immovable Antiquities Preservation Rules (1976), the Conservation Manual (1923) and the Archaeological Works Code (1938).

The Department of Archaeology ensures that inappropriate activities which may affect the Outstanding Universal Value of property such as buildings or infrastructure cannot be constructed within or close to the property, and no one can alter or deface monuments within the property.

The Government of Bangladesh has worked on the implementation of recommendations set out in the Master plan prepared by UNESCO 1973/74-1977/78 for the conservation and presentation of the Historic Mosque City of Bagerhat. Though the financial efforts have been made to address the conservation problem derived from salinity, this has not been comprehensively solved and deterioration has continued. The implementation of the management plan, including conservation provisions, will need to be monitored so as to evaluate achieved results and provide new action plans in response to emerging conditions.

Conservation of the historic landscape, buffer zone and the property has yet to be addressed. A number of issues have recently been identified and will constitute the basis for a new project named “South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development Project” (Bangladesh Portion), which is going to be shortly implemented. Challenges to sustainably manage these concerns, along with the conservation of the property, will need to be taken up to ensure the long term preservation and protection of its Outstanding Universal Value. (Source: UNESCO Website)

 

Ruins of the Buddhist Vihar at Paharpur

Evidence of the rise of Mahayana Buddhism in Bengal from the 7th century onwards, Somapura Mahavira, or the Great Monastery, was a renowned intellectual centre until the 12th century. Its layout perfectly adapted to its religious function, this monastery-city represents a unique artistic achievement. With its simple, harmonious lines and its profusion of carved decoration, it influenced Buddhist architecture as far away as Cambodia.

Brief synthesis

Geographically located to the north-west of Bangladesh in the district of Naogaon, the heart-land of ancient “Varendra”, close to the village of Paharpur the extensive ruins of the Buddhist monastic complex are the most spectacular and important pre-Islamic monument in Bangladesh.

The first builder of the monastery was Dharmapala Vikramshila (770-810AD), the king of Varendri-Magadha, as inscribed on a clay seal discovered in the monastery compound. The plan of the monastery can be described as a large square quadrangle measuring approximately 920 feet, with the main entrance, an elaborate structure, on the northern side. The outer walls of the monastery are formed by rows of cells that face inwards toward the main shrine in the centre of the courtyard. In the last building phases of the Monastery these cells, which formed the outer wall, totalled 177. The main central shrine has a cruciform ground plan and a terraced superstructure that rises in three terraces above ground level to a height of about 70 feet. The upper level is a massive rectangular central block which forms the central brick shaft. The intermediate terrace is a wide circumambulatory path which passes four main chapels or  mandapas architectural plan, it is in fact a simple cruciform that has been elaborated with a series of projections at the re-entrants, a form that is copied at all levels on the main shrine. At the intermediate level there were originally two bands of terracotta plaques running around the full perimeter of the shrine, out of which half are still preserved in situ.

The ground level today is 3 feet above the original  pradakshinapatha  or main circumambulatory path, below the base of the lowest band of terracotta plaques. Archaeological excavations have revealed a 15 feet pathway that follows an elaborated cruciform shape, a feature that can be discerned from the foundations of the outer wall that enclose the pathway and that still exist. At the base of the shrine, there are over 60 stone sculptures which depict a variety of Hindu divinities. The main entrance to the monastery was through a fortified gate on the northern access to the central temple. The majority of the ancillary buildings, such as the kitchen and the refectory, are located in the south-east corner, but there were also a few structures to be found in the north-east corner.

Epigraphic records testify that the cultural and religious life of this great Vihara, were closely linked with the contemporary Buddhist centres of fame and history at Bohdgaya and Nalanda, many Buddhist treatises were completed at Paharpur, a centre where the Vajrayana trend of Mahayana Buddhism was practiced.

Today, Paharpur is the most spectacular and magnificent monument in Bangladesh and the second largest single Buddhist monastery on south of the Himalayas.

Criterion (i) :  This monastery-city represents a unique artistic achievement. The symmetrical layout and massively built single unit of the monastery was perfectly adapted to its religious function. Its simple, harmonious lines and its profusion of carved decoration, in stone and terracotta, are important artistic masterpieces.

Criterion (ii) :  The striking architectural form introduced at Paharpur on a grand scale for the first time in Asia, profoundly influenced the subsequent construction of temples of Pagan in Myanmar and Loro-Jongrang and Chandi Sewer temples in central Java. It also continued to influence Buddhist architecture as far away as Cambodia. The craftsmanship of Paharpur terracotta still endures since the 8 th  century A.D. in the whole of deltaic lands around.

Criterion (vi) :  Somapura Mahavihara, the Great Monastery evidences the rise of Maharaja Buddhism in Bengal from the 7 th  century onwards. It became a renowned centre of Buddhist religion and culture during the royal Patronage of Pala Dynasty and was a renowned intellectual centre until the 17 th  century.

Integrity

At present, only the archaeological boundaries have been established at the site, which could be regarded as the boundaries of the property. These boundaries include all required attributes to express its Outstanding Universal Value. However, the potential of mining activities in the vicinity of the property, as noted by the Committee at the time of inscription, highlights the urgency of establishing the boundaries of buffer zone for the property, which would need to take into account the natural environment surrounding the monument to maintain visual relationships between the architecture and the setting. Provisions for the management of the buffer zone need to be identified and implemented.

Concerning to the material integrity of the property, the still uncovered part of the central shrine, as well as some terracotta plaques, are gradually deteriorating due to environmental element such as salinity and vegetal germination. This constitutes a threat to the physical integrity of the fabric and needs to be attended to.

Authenticity

The authenticity of the property in terms of materials and substance and character has been compromised by interventions, including consolidation, substantial repair and reconstruction of the facial brickwork of the walls, which have prioritised presentation. In addition, the introduction of slat laden bricks and mortar as far back as in the conservation works of the 1930’s has further aggravated the situation. Vandalism, theft and increasing decay of some of the terracotta plaques have been the reasons for their removal from the main monument. The interventions can no longer be reversed so all future conservation and maintenance works shall focus mainly on the stabilisation of the monument to ensure that it is preserved in its present form. To ensure that authenticity is not further compromised, conservation policies need to be developed and implemented, to ensure that structural conservation meets current standards and promotes the use of traditional materials and local craftsmanship.

Protection and management requirements

The whole complex, perimeter along with lofty central shrine, lies within an area protected by the government and supervised regularly by the local office. National legislation includes the Antiquities Act (1968, amended ordinance in 1976), Immovable Antiquities Preservation Rules, the Conservation Manual (1922) and the Archaeological Works Code (1938).

Management and conservation of the World Heritage property and other related monuments in the vicinity is the responsibility of the Department of Archaeology. Besides, for the regular maintenance of the site, the responsibilities of the site management is carried by an office of the custodian under the overall supervision of a regional director guided by director general of the Department of Archaeology, People´s Republic of Bangladesh.

A comprehensive management plan including conservation policies and provisions for a buffer zone will be drafted under the project "South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development Project- Bangladesh portion 2009-2014". Adequate human, financial and technical resources will need to be allocated for the sustained operation of the identified management system and for the continuous implementation of the conservation and maintenance plans so as to ensure the long term protection of the property. (Source: UNESCO Website)

 

The Sundarbans

The Sundarbans mangrove forest, one of the largest such forests in the world (140,000 ha), lies on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal. It is adjacent to the border of India’s Sundarbans World Heritage site inscribed in 1987. The site is intersected by a complex network of tidal waterways, mudflats and small islands of salt-tolerant mangrove forests, and presents an excellent example of ongoing ecological processes. The area is known for its wide range of fauna, including 260 bird species, the Bengal tiger and other threatened species such as the estuarine crocodile and the Indian python.

Brief synthesis

The Sundarbans Reserve Forest (SRF), located in the south-west of Bangladesh between the river Baleswar in the East and the Harinbanga in the West, adjoining to the Bay of Bengal, is the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the world. Lying between latitude 21° 27′ 30″ and 22° 30′ 00″ North and longitude 89° 02′ 00″ and 90° 00′ 00″ East and with a total area of 10,000 km2, 60% of the property lies in Bangladesh and the rest in India. The land area, including exposed sandbars, occupies 414,259 ha (70%) with water bodies covering 187,413 ha (30%).

The three wildlife sanctuaries in the south cover an area of 139,700 ha and are considered core breeding areas for a number of endangered species. Situated in a unique bioclimatic zone within a typical geographical situation in the coastal region of the Bay of Bengal, it is a landmark of ancient heritage of mythological and historical events. Bestowed with magnificent scenic beauty and natural resources, it is internationally recognized for its high biodiversity of mangrove flora and fauna both on land and water.

The immense tidal mangrove forests of Bangladeshs’ Sundarbans Forest Reserve, is in reality a mosaic of islands of different shapes and sizes, perennially washed by brackish water shrilling in and around the endless and mind-boggling labyrinths of water channels. The site supports exceptional biodiversity in its terrestrial, aquatic and marine habitats; ranging from micro to macro flora and fauna. The Sundarbans is of universal importance for globally endangered species including the Royal Bengal Tiger, Ganges and Irawadi dolphins, estuarine crocodiles and the critically endangered endemic river terrapin (Batagur baska).  It is the only mangrove habitat in the world for Panthera tigris tigris species.

Criterion (ix): The Sundarbans provides a significant example of on-going ecological processes as it represents the process of delta formation and the subsequent colonization of the newly formed deltaic islands and associated mangrove communities. These processes include monsoon rains, flooding, delta formation, tidal influence and plant colonization. As part of the world’s largest delta, formed from sediments deposited by three great rivers; the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna, and covering the Bengal Basin, the land has been moulded by tidal action, resulting in a distinctive physiology.

Criterion (x): One of the largest remaining areas of mangroves in the world, the Sundarbans supports an exceptional level of biodiversity in both the terrestrial and marine environments, including significant populations of globally endangered cat species, such as the Royal Bengal Tiger. Population censuses of Royal Bengal Tigers estimate a population of between 400 to 450 individuals, a higher density than any other population of tigers in the world.

The property is the only remaining habitat in the lower Bengal Basin for a wide variety of faunal species. Its exceptional biodiversity is expressed in a wide range of flora; 334 plant species belonging to 245 genera and 75 families, 165 algae and 13 orchid species. It is also rich in fauna with 693 species of wildlife which includes; 49 mammals, 59 reptiles, 8 amphibians, 210 white fishes, 24 shrimps, 14 crabs and 43 mollusks species. The varied and colourful bird-life found along the waterways of the property is one of its greatest attractions, including 315 species of waterfowl, raptors and forest birds including nine species of kingfisher and the magnificent white-bellied sea eagle.

Integrity

The Sundarbans is the biggest delta, back water and tidal phenomenon of the region and thus provides diverse habitats for several hundreds of aquatic, terrestrial and amphibian species. The property is of sufficient size to adequately represent its considerably high floral and faunal diversity with all key values included within the boundaries. The site includes the entire landscape of mangrove habitats with an adequate surrounding area of aquatic (both marine and freshwater) and terrestrial habitats, and thus all the areas essential for the long term conservation of the Sundarbans and its rich and distinct biodiversity

The World Heritage property is comprised of three wildlife sanctuaries which form the core breeding area of a number of species of endangered wildlife. Areas of unique natural beauty, ethno botanical interest, special marine faunal interest, rivers, creeks, islands, swamps, estuaries, mud flats, and tidal flats are also included in the property. The boundaries of the property protect all major mangrove vegetation types, areas of high floral and faunal values and important bird areas. The integrity of the property is further enhanced by terrestrial and aquatic buffer zones that surround, but are not part of the inscribed property.

Natural calamities such as cyclones, have always posed threats on the values of the property and along with saline water intrusion and siltation, remain potential threats to the attributes. Cyclones and tidal waves cause some damage to the forest along the sea-land interface and have previoulsy caused occasional considerable mortality among some species of fauna such as the spotted deer. Over exploitation of both timber resources and fauna, illegal hanting and trapping, and agricultural encroachment also pose serious threats to the values of the property and its overall integrity.

Protection and management requirements

The property is composed of three wildlife sanctuaries and has a history of effective national legal protection for its land, forest and aquatic environment since the early 19th century. All three wildlife sanctuaries were established in 1977 under the Bangladesh Wildlife (Preservation) (Amendment) Act, 1974, having first been gazetted as forest reserves in 1878. Along with the Forest Act, 1927, the Bangladesh Wildlife (Preservation) (Amendment) Act 1974, control activities such as entry, movement, fishing, hunting and extraction of forest produces. A number of field stations established within Sundarbans West assist in providing facilities for management staff. There are no recognised local rights within the reserved forest with entry and collection of forest products subject to permits issued by the Forest Department.

The property is currently well managed and regularly monitored by established management norms, regular staff and individual administrative units. The key objective of management is to manage the property to retain the biodiversity, aesthetic values and integrity. A delicate balance is needed to maintain and facilitate the ecological process of the property on a sustainable basis. Another key management priority is the maintenance of ongoing ecological and hydrological process which could otherwise be threatened by ongoing developmental activities outside the property. Subject to a series of successively more comprehensive management plans since its declaration as reserved forest, a focus point of many of these plans is the management of tigers, together with other widlife, as an integral part of forest management that ensures the sustainable harvesting of forest products while maintaining the coastal zone in a way that meets the needs of the local human population. The working plans for the Sundarbans demonstrate a progressive increase in the understanding of the management requirements and the complexity of prescriptions made to meet them.

Considerable research has been conducted on the Sundarbans wildlife and ecosystem. International input and assistance from WWF and the National Zoological Park, the Smithsonian Institution as well as other organisations has assisted with the development of working plans for the property, focusing on conservation and management of wildlife.

The Sundarbans provides sustainable livelihoods for millions of people in the vicinity of the site and acts as a shelter belt to protect the people from storms, cyclones, tidal surges, sea water seepage and intrusion. The area provides livelihood in certain seasons for large numbers of people living in small villages surrounding the property, working variously as wood-cutters, fisherman, honey gatherers, leaves and grass gatherers.

Tourism numbers remain relatively low due to the difficult access, arranging transport and a lack of facilities including suitable accommodation. Mass tourism and its impacts are unlikely to affect the values of the property. While the legal protection afforded the property prohibit a number of activities within the boundaries illegal hunting, timber extraction and agricultural encroachment pose potential threats to the values of the property. Storms, cyclones and tidal surges up to 7.5 m high, while features of the areas, also pose a potential threat with possible increased frequency as a result of climate change. (Source: UNESCO Website)

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