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Japanese cultural experts report on status of Ayutthaya World Heritage site

In a press conference hosted by the Thai Ministry of Culture’s Fine Arts Department on 22 December 2011, a team of 8 Japanese experts reported on their recent technical mission to Ayutthaya.


H.E. Mr. Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak, Thai Vice Minister for Culture, opened the conference thanking UNESCO and the Japanese Government for their continuous support and cooperation in the salvage of the Ayutthaya World Heritage site. Ms Somsuda Leyavanija, Director of Fine Arts Department, Ministry of Culture, joined her Vice Minister by conveying her gratitude to the Japanese Government in “protecting the invaluable heritage of Ayutthaya”.

Etienne Clement, Deputy Director, UNESCO Bangkok, affirmed UNESCO’s continuous commitment and support to protect and safeguard the World Heritage Site of Ayutthaya after the tremendous flood in 2011. “UNESCO is concerned about the recovery of Ayutthaya both in the short-term and the long-term. A multi-disciplinary effort will be needed to ensure that the historic site and its larger urban and natural context will be sustainably managed in the future”, he said.

“From UNESCO’s perspective, it will be important to comprehensively address all the issues necessary for this long-term sustainability of the site. The issues range from very specific technical concerns, such as mural conservation to very large-scale issues such as disaster response and integrated urban and environmental planning”, he said.

“Like at other sites in Asia and around the world, UNESCO plays a key role to support governments to mobilize the needed expertise across all these different specializations to react quickly and plan strategically in response to these kinds of disasters”, Mr. Clement closed.

H.E. Seiji Kojima, Ambassador of Japan to Thailand expressed his gratitude to the Thai people in their support to Japan in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake this year and confirmed the Japanese flood recovery support for Thailand. In regard to Ayutthaya, Mr. Kojima confirmed “the importance of Ayutthaya not only for Thailand but for the whole world”, which hugely justifies the intervention of international and Japanese experts in assessing and restoring the site. In relation to the mutual help and support of the two countries in the aftermath of their respective disaster situations, Mr. Kojima said: “We can understand the feelings of Thai people and Thai people can understand the feelings of the Japanese”.

A first international expert mission had taken place from 30 November to 1 December to assess the status of key monuments after the flooding in 2011 with temporary water levels up to 3 meters. On 18-21 December another mission followed by the team of 8 Japanese experts, composed of conservation specialists, architects, painting restoration specialists and photographers of the National Research Institute for Cultural properties in Tokyo, Japan, and the Japan Agency for Cultural Affairs. The experts undertook damage analysis, emergency stabilization, restoration and long-term management assessment. 

This survey, like the previous one from late November, again focused on key monuments such as Pompetch, Wat Phra Srisanpetch, Wat Mahathat, Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Chai Wattanaram, Wat Ayothaya, Wat Maheyong, Wat Ku Deedao, Wat Pradoo, Wat Choeng Ta and Wat Phuttaisawan. The scientists assessed the monuments’ upper and sub-structures, and the murals in Wat Pradoo, Wat Choeng Ta and Wat Phuttaisawan.

For the expert team, Mr. Wataru Kuwanobe, Director of the National Research Institute for Cultural properties in Tokyo, Japan, debriefed on the status of the inspected monuments, confirming that the flood did not directly produce major damages and that the site’s main monuments are not at immediate risk.  However, the floods have exacerbated underlying vulnerabilities of the site, which show a series of damages and general deterioration due to past floods and environmental and human influences over time. The site will need a long-term conservation and management plan and, in reply to a question from the press, the status of the site’s sub-structures and the ground will need further analysis and measuring.

The entire historic island of Ayutthaya and its surrounding area was flooded for more than a month starting in early October 2011, with a total of 157 historic monuments in and around Ayutthaya World Heritage Site affected. Ayutthaya was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1991. Founded c. 1350, the historic city was the second Siamese capital after Sukhothai.