...nature takes a toll
rain water pouring from gallery walls
But during the 19th century, as Borobudur's past became more clear, its future grew much less certain. The climate of Java is particularly ruthless to man-made structures. In the words of Professor Soekmono, former head of the Archeological Service of Indonesia: "For over a thousand years, the rigours of the tropical climate have probed the latent weaknesses of the edifice. Sudden changes of heat and cold between day and night, where temperatures may vary by 40 degrees Fahrenheit in twenty-four hours, cause stones to crack. But the worst havoc has been caused by the heavy rains, over eighty inches a year on average, with torrential downpours of up to half an inch in five minutes. They overwhelmed the inadequate drainage system, percolating down into the central core where they washed away the earth and weakened the foundations."
sagging walls at Borobudur

"Moisture on the stones had also corroded many of the beautifully carved reliefs and favored the growth of disfiguring patches of mosses and lichens. The terrace walls sagged and tilted at crazy angles and the floors sloped inwards. Had the lower terrace walls collapsed, the whole colossal structure would have come tumbling down in a great slithering avalanche of earth and masonry."

Nature itself was destroying the monument, literally tearing Borobudur apart. Despite repeated efforts at restoration throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, major decay and structural disintegration plainly threatened Borobudur with inevitable and irreparable collapse. Several interesting suggestions for protection of the monument were made during that time. One of the preservationists suggested that Borobudur be covered by a giant umbrella to keep the rain off. Another proposal was to demolish the entire edifice and deposit the reliefs in a museum.

sagging stupas
In 1907, Theodore Van Erp, a Dutch engineering officer, led a major restoration project. He rebuilt the crumbling stupas and heaving floors of the upper terraces, cleaning the sculptures of moss and lichen. But after four years, the limited funds were exhausted before work could begin on the lower galleries, and the basic problem of drainage had not been solved. Carvings were rapidly disintegrating; walls were crumbling.

By 1948, when the Republic of Indonesia came into existence, Borobudur was on the brink of ruin. According to Soekmono, "Deterioration was so widespread all over the monument that no partial restoration could effectively ensure its safeguard. Since the Indonesian people were determined to pass on the best of their cultural heritage to forthcoming generations, drastic but deliberate action was called for in the form of a gigantic project."

But it would be several decades before attention would again turn to Borobudur.

historical records | Borobudur revealed | Enlightenment | building Borobudur
nature takes a toll | saving Borobudur | timeline

Mona Lisa
detail from Guernica
Lilies of the Valley Faberge Egg
Hope Diamond
Taj Mahal
scene from Borobudur

Treasures Homepage
| The Series | Education | Home Video | Soundtrack
Crossword Puzzle | Producers' Notebook | Site Map