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Saving Ayutthaya, brick by brick

14 November 2016 - Since its heyday as the capital of the Thai kingdom, Ayutthaya has always been vulnerable to the forces of nature. Now as the
crown jewel of Thailand’s cultural tourism, and a UNESCO world heritage site, Ayutthaya’s brick monuments need constant attention as they face
up to the perennial threats of seasonal flooding, rain, humidity and bio-growth. Despite exemplary conservation work by the Fine Arts Department,
Ayutthaya needs to refresh its conservation perspective and learn from international perspectives, according to conservation experts who attended a
symposium held in Ayutthaya last month. “The International Symposium on the Conservation of Brick Monuments at World Heritage Sites”,
organised by the Fine Arts Department in conjunction with UNESCO and the Netherlands Funds-in-Trust for UNESCO, brought together a vast
array of international experts in archaeology and conservation from Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, France, Germany and the United
States. They shared views on how to best conserve the brick monuments of Ayutthaya, drawing upon professional experiences from each of the
participating countries. Since Ayutthaya was designed from the start to cohabit with the tropical climate – the rains and seasonal floodwaters –
damage from natural threats is inevitable. The old city’s major temples were partially submerged in the great flood of 2011. Since then levees and
floodwalls have been built, resulting in complete protection of the famed temples against seasonal flooding. Add to this the ever-present scourge of
humidity and soil subsidence during the rainy season and it’s clear why the historical park’s brick monuments are under constant threat. Ayutthaya’s
conservation work dates to 1908 when governor Phraya Boran Ratchathanin Samuhathesa-piban improved the landscape within the ancient palace,
resulting in protection against private ownership within the designated area. In 1991, UNESCO’s inscription of Ayutthaya as a World Heritage Site
gave rise to the city’s first 10-year conservation master plan. It stipulates that the standard of archaeological intervention has to rely on the principles
and standards of UNESCO and the International Scientific Committee on Archaeological Heritage Management (ICAHM). The current master plan,
which contains some revisions, sets out to introduce advanced research data to conservation work, as well as revitalise the historic physical
characteristics of the city for modern use. Planned regulations will tackle such unresolved problems such the growing population’s and street vendors’
encroachment on the archaeological sites and lax zoning policy. - Apichat Suwan, a specialist art researcher based at the department’s Conservation
of Paintings and Sculptures Division, notes that conservation work in Ayutthaya is mainly about tapping into the Ayutthaya-period traditional
construction wisdom as well as modern techniques.  For stucco, conservation involves traditional materials with the same or similar characteristics
and properties to the original materials used to build monuments. Lime mixed with molasses or animal skin is preferred to cement.  Substitute
materials like certified synthetics from scientific methods can be used to replace traditional materials in some processes of conservation. To restore
damaged murals, conservators use certified Paraloid B-72 that acts as glue connecting the foundation and paint layers to the lime plaster. It replaces
the tamarind-seed glue, a traditional adhesive material.  However, conservation work has been hampered by two major problems. "We lack skilled
craftsmen and budget. Our contractors tasked with restoring some historical structures usually lack a proper knowledge in traditional construction
methods and in restoring brick monuments of Ayutthaya. They tend to use modern construction materials like cements as their solutions," lamented
Pratheep Pengtako, director of the 3rd Regional Office of the Fine Arts Department based in Ayutthaya. The symposium provided Ayutthaya with
some solutions as it exposed local technicians to new and familiar perspectives in conservation. Foreign speakers from Cambodia, Vietnam, India,
Japan and Germany shared somewhat similar views. - Dr Ly Vanna, Director of the Department of Conservation of Monuments in the Angkor Park,
said the use of traditional materials and techniques ensures the durability of a brick monument’s authenticity. “New materials and techniques are only
allowed in case old materials are no longer usable, and traditional techniques cannot secure the structure,” he said, adding new bricks are great as
interlocking pieces. Current brick conservation in Angkor involves partial structural intervention, consolidation and water infiltration prevention. Tests
and experiments on brick, mortar, plaster and stucco are needed to determine mechanical properties and similar compositional properties. - Dr
Christophe Pottier, head of Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient (EFEO) in Siem Reap, agreed, adding that Angkor is facing broadly similar
challenges. Some 100,000 tourists visit Angkor each day yet because Siem Reap remains one of the poorest cities, many monuments are vulnerable
to seasonal flooding. “We need to control urban development, improve the city’s irrigation system, and take local communities into consideration,” he
said.- Dang Khanh Ngoc, from Vietnam’s Institute of Conservation of Monuments, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, presented an update on
conservation work at the World Heritage Site of My Son. He is of the view that monuments should be preserved as they were found. “Only partial
reconstruction by anastylosis can be initiated using the original materials found on site. The introduction of traditional or new materials different from
the original ones (as steel, concrete, cement mortars, etc) should be in principle forbidden to avoid incompatibilities,” said Ngoc.- Dr Gurmeet Rai, a
conservation architect and director of the Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative (CRCI), has directed restoration projects throughout India,
including the Moghul Empire’s Serai Lashkari Khan and Qila Patti of Tarn Taran District. She recommended removal of vegetation on archaeological
sites using organic products like a mixture of asafoetida and lime putty instead of herbicides. Experts from Japan and Germany have undertaken
restoration work at temples in Ayutthaya in collaboration with the Fine Arts Department- Dr Hans Leisen, a professor emeritus at the University of
Applied Sciences, Cologne, has led a four-year safeguarding project at Wat Ratchaburana since 2012. The project, to be completed early next year,
aims to slow down the temple’s damage process through a systematic procedure: anamnesis, diagnosis, and therapy. “This approach is necessary as
every intervention is also a risk to the preservation of the monument,” he asserted. Leisen introduced in-depth scientific investigations into the state of
the temple, which was greatly damaged by the 2011 flooding, and developed individual conservation concepts for each part of the temple: from
stucco to brickwork. Through scientific analysis, Leisen found that the stucco showed a different weathering behaviour compared to brick or laterite.
Besides the material properties (water transport, water storage, water vapour diffusion), external damaging factors like moisture, mechanical stress or
load played an important role in development of damage at an individual monument. Leisen tried different traditional materials for mortar such as a
mixture of lime and river sand, and a mixture of lime, sand and molasses. He found the latter recipe resulted in the surface darkening over time.
-Masahiko Tomoda from the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, found that salt weathering at Wat Mahathat occurred as a
result of water evaporation from the surface and subsequent salt crystallisation. During the restoration process, he experimented with the use of
hydrophobic resin to prevent water penetration into the surface. The method ensured durability of the treated brickwork but resulted in darkening of
the surface over time.
- Dr Nishiura Tadateru, head of the Asian Cultural Heritage Conservation Division, Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties,
provided broad-brush recommendations for Ayutthaya. “Bring back the protective city walls. Then construct a drainage system within the walls.
Plant bamboos, which grow quickly, or other trees at places where water is expected to flow.Pratheep was full of praise for the symposium, saying
that such meetings provide instructive forums for exchanges of views. “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to any conservation work. I like the fact
that foreign experts were on hand to give advice and new ideas. Whatever techniques are introduced; they need to be adjusted to the local context.
Our concept is that Ayutthaya has to co-exist with communities, people and water,” he said. [The Nation, 14 November 2016, by Manote Tripathi]

Urban sprawl threatens Thailand's Ayutthaya world heritage site

24 November 2016 - Sprawling urban growth and water management problems are threatening conservation efforts at Thailand's ancient city of
Ayutthaya, experts say. The UNESCO World Heritage site located some 80 kilometers north of the capital, Bangkok, was once among the world's
wealthiest cities and a major trading port from the 14th to 18th centuries. Today, the city attracts tourists from around the world who come to admire
he ruins and stone Buddha statues at Ayutthaya, once the ancient capital of Thailand, then known as Siam. However, poor urban planning and its
impact on water management in the low-lying area pose a threat to the historic park, said Montira Horayangura Unakul, National Professional
Officer with UNESCO's Culture Unit. "Half the island is protected as a historic park and is also a world heritage site and the eastern half is where a
lot of the modern development has taken place," Montira told Reuters in a telephone interview. Rapid development has fuelled concern over the
area's capacity to defend against floods. Devastating floods in Thailand in 2011, which killed more than 900 people and cost billions of dollars, hit
Ayutthaya. Dozens of temples were inundated for weeks, although most suffered little damage. "Once the waters receded there didn't seem to be too
much damage," said Montira. "However, after that we found residual effects for example to mural paintings." A lack of knowledge about traditional
materials used at some sites is another problem that besets Ayutthaya and other heritage sites, including the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat temple
complex in neighboring Cambodia. "An issue we are trying to address now is knowing what the ancient materials used in Ayutthaya were and what
the composition of them was," Montira said. Thailand held an international conference, in collaboration with UNESCO, last month to discuss
conservation of brick monuments at the site.  [Source: Reuters]

Panel to draft new regulations for managing Ayutthaya Historical Park

24 November 2016 - The national committee on the World Heritage Convention will draft new regulations to control urban expansion inside the
Ayutthaya Historical Park as well as promote Phra That Phanom in Nakhon Phanom as a new world heritage site. The committee, which is led by
Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon, met at the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning yesterday to
discuss the issue of managing world heritage sites in Thailand. On the agenda were seeking solutions to improve and regulate the Ayutthaya Historical
Park in line with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)’s suggestions and adding Phra That Phanom to a
tentative list to be proposed as a new world heritage site in future. Culture Minister Veera Rojpojanarat explained that the historical park in
Ayutthaya had suffered a lot of damage from the 2011 flooding and had encountered numerous problems including improper repair of historical
structures and unregulated expansion within the park. He said UNESCO had raised many concerns about the management and regulation of the
area. “The main concern of regulating the historical park is that it is part of the city, so new regulations are required to restrict the construction of
buildings in the area in terms of height, density and distance from historical sites,” Veera said. “UNESCO has provided us with six suggestions in
improving the management of the Ayutthaya Historical Park and we are complying with the advice.” The minister said UNESCO’s key suggestions
included the training of specialists to take care of the historical site, creating a new master plan to manage the park and relying on archaeologists for
help. As for repairing the damaged sites, he said the Fine Arts Department was working on fixing buildings that were improperly repaired after the
2011 floods. All new repairs made to the Ayutthaya Historical Park will have to be reported to UNESCO by next Thursday, so it can present the
report at the 41st World Heritage Committee meeting next year. [The Nation, 24 November 2016, by Pratch Rujivanarom]