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UNESCO Concerns Over Flooded Ayutthaya World Hertage Site

Bangkok, 9 December 2011 – International experts visiting the site indicated concerns about stability of monuments, foundation and decorative works at the Ancient City of Ayutthaya in Thailand after it was hit by the country’s most disastrous flooding in decades.

Tim Curtis, Chief of Culture Unit, UNESCO Bangkok said: “There is a need to closely monitor the condition of the sites and the affected monuments, especially in the next few months as foundation and structures dry out, as well as, of course, over the long-term.”

The entire historic island of Ayutthaya and its surrounding area was submerged by floods for over a month since 4 October 2011. In some areas, the flood waters reached a level of approximately 3 meters high. While the water has receded in the inner island, a number of monuments in the outer periphery remain flooded to this day. More than 100 historic monuments in and around Ayutthaya World Heritage Site have been affected by floods, according to the Ministry of Culture’s Department of Fine Arts.

In response to the flooding crisis, the first official international expert mission to Thailand on the restoration of the Ayutthaya Historical Park and cultural monuments in Ayutthaya, on request by the Thai Government, was organised last week in order to plan for the post-flood recovery. It included damage assessment, emergency stabilisation, restoration, and long-term mitigation planning.

With support from UNESCO, the mission included Mr Carlo Giantomassi, mural painting expert from Italy and Dr Zoran Vojinovic, water management specialist from UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands.
Mr. Giantomassi said the situation of the murals is of serious concern. The murals have been damaged by water and salt, and also show cracking. Due to capillary action, the water has risen up from 80 cm to 2 meters high. Based on rapid field testing, both sulphate and nitrate salts were found.

“The situation is very bad in 90% of the cases, because of the humidity from the 80 cm to 2 meters levels and the presence of sulphate and nitrate. A great problem in Thailand is the humidity and capillarity. Every Wat [temple] I visited was affected by this problem. If you don’t stop it completely, there will be a lot of damages in the future,” he said.

Dr. Vojinovic provided suggestions that water management needs to be carried out at both micro and macro level. The flow capacity of the waterways in Ayutthaya is approximately 1,500 cubic meters per second. As the measured inflow of 4 October 2011 was 3,300 cubic meters per second, flooding occurred.

“A combination of both structural and non-structural solutions needs to be considered; one without the other will not be sufficient,” he said.

Dr. Vojinovic also suggested that in the short-term, existing dykes can be improved or raised, canals should be dredged and portable dykes and pumps can be deployed. In the mid-term, some of the channels can be widened, multi-purpose ponds can be built for water retention during the rainy season, and monuments can be flood-proofed. In the long-term, measures may be needed to counteract the mega-scale of water, such as construction of diversion channels, he said.

Through the assistance of the Japanese government, Ms Yoko Futagami, conservation specialist and Dr Tetsuo Mizuta, flood risk management specialist also joined the mission.

Ms. Futagami from Japan Consortium for International Cooperation in Culture Heritage said the monuments show salt efflorescence and accumulation of salt and mud which leads to growth of algae and scaling of the brick surface.

The field survey mission was undertaken on November 30 and December 1 to key monuments in Ayutthaya, some of which are still partly flooded, such as Pom Phet Fort and Wat Chaiwattanaram, while others are already dry, such as Wat Phra Si San Phet. Detailed assessment will be required to determine the extent of any damage. The water management experts went to survey the existing permanent and temporary waterways and water management infrastructure in the historical island and the outside area. The mural conservation specialists went to inspect temples with important murals such as Wat Pradoo and Wat Puttaisawan.

The international experts were working alongside Thai specialists from the Asian Institute of Technology, Department of Public Works and Town Planning, Engineering Institute of Thailand, ICOMOS Thailand and the Association of Siamese Architects. The mission was accompanied by specialists from the Fine Arts Department and representatives of the Embassies of Portugal and the Unites Stated of America.

“We have two issues at hand: First is the heritage conservation of Ayutthaya as a World Heritage Site in a living urban landscape; second is the flood water management issue of the whole flood plains. We need to link those two together,” concluded Mr. Curtis of UNESCO Bangkok.

The historic city of Ayutthaya was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1991. Founded c. 1350, Ayutthaya was the second Siamese capital after Sukhothai. Its remains, characterized by the prang (reliquary towers) and gigantic monasteries, give an idea of its past splendour. For more information, http://whc.unesco.org/

ENDS

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