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New perspectives to save cultural heritage
Altan, M. Orhan

A.Gruen, F.Remondino, L.Zhang
Institute of Geodesy and Photogrammetry
ETH Zurich, Switzerland
e-mail: @geod.baug.ethz.ch
In the valley of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, almost 2000 years ago, two big standing Buddha statues were carved out of the sedimentary
rock of the region. They were 53 and 35 meters high and the Great one figured as the tallest representations of a standing Buddha. In
March 2001 the Taleban militia demolished the colossal statues, as they were considered an insult to Islam. After the destruction, a
consortium was established to rebuild the Great Buddha of Bamiyan at original shape, size and place. We performed the computer
reconstruction of the statue, which can serve as basis for the physical reconstruction. In this paper we report the results of our
photogrammetric work on the Great Buddha of Bamiyan.
KEYWORDS: Cultural Heritage, Close Range Photogrammetry, Orientation, Matching, Reconstruction, Modeling, Visualization
The region of Bamiyan, ca 200 km North-West of Kabul,
Afghanistan, was one of the major Buddhist centres from the
second century AD up to the time that Islam entered the area in
the ninth century. For centuries, Bamiyan lay at the heart of the
famous Silk Road, offering rest to caravans carrying goods
across the area between China and Western Empires.
Strategically situated in a central location for travellers from
North to South and East to West, the village of Bamiyan was a
common meeting place for many ancient cultures. In the
Bamiyan valley, at 2500 meters altitude, three big statues of
Buddha and a series of caves were carved out from the
sedimentary rock of the region. The Emperor Kanishka ordered
the construction of the statues around the second century AD.
Some descendants of Greek artists who went to Afghanistan
with Alexander the Great started the construction that lasted till
the fourth century AD. There were two big standing Buddha,
which stood about one kilometre apart, while in the center there
was a smaller image of a seated Buddha (Figure 1).
Figure 1 : The three Buddha statues of Bamiyan.
The larger statue (Figure 1, left) was 53 meters high while the
smaller standing Buddha (Figure 1, right) measured 35 m. The
Great Buddha represents Vairocana, the "Light Shining
throughout the Universe" Buddha, while the small one repre
sents Shakyamuni. They were cut from the sandstone cliffs and
they were covered with a mud and straw mixture to model the
expression of the face, the hands and the folds of the robe. To
generate these folds of the dress, cords were draped down onto
the body and were attached with wooden pegs (see Figure 7).
The lower parts of their amis were constructed on wooden ar
matures while the upper parts of the faces were made as
wooden masks. The two giants were painted in gold and other
colors and they were decorated with dazzling ornaments. They
are considered the first series of colossal cult images in Bud
dhist art. In China, India and Thailand are present many other
great representations of the Buddha, as in Leshan, South-West
China, where there is the world's largest statue of a seated Bud
dha carved in rock: it measures 71 meters in height and 28 me
ters in width.
The statues of Bamiyan were demolished in March 2001 by the
Taleban, using mortars, dynamite, anti-aircraft weapons and
rockets (Figure 2). The Buddhists, the world community, ONU
and UNESCO failed to convince the Taleban to leave such
works of cultural heritage. The fundamentalist Islamic militia,
which has governed most of Afghanistan from 1996 to Decem
ber 2001, followed an edict of its supreme leader who ordered a
campaign of destruction to rid the land of all non-Islamic
graven images. The Taleban refused also an offer to build a big
wall in front of the statues to cover them and they blasted into
dust the two giants. For the Afghanistan militia "... the Buddhas
violate the Islamic prohibition against sacred images. They are
false idols that must be destroyed. The statues should be de
stroyed so that they are not worshipped now or in the future ...".
Figure 2: The explosion of the big statue (left) and the
empty cave left after the destruction (right).
After the destruction, a consortium was established with the
goal of rebuilding the Great Buddha of Bamiyan at original
shape, size and place. This initiative is led by the Internet-based
organization New7Wonders Foundation, with its founder Ber
nard Weber and the Afghanistan Institute & Museum, Buben-
dorf, Switzerland, with its director Paul Bucherer. Our group
has volunteered to perform the required computer reconstruc