...saving Borobudur
story panel
There was once a terrible drought, and a Brahman told the King he would have to sacrifice one hundred living beings to bring it to an end. Unable to do this, the King proclaimed that he would select the necessary victims from among his worst subjects. At this news, his subjects all became virtuous, and the drought stopped. (a story told in the panels of Borobudur)

In 1948, in the face of imminent disaster, the newly formed Republic of Indonesia made preservation of its deep and diverse cultural heritage a central priority. In 1965, Indonesia asked the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for advise on ways to counteract the problem of weathering at Borobudur and other monuments. In 1968 Professor Soekmono, then head of the Archeological Service of Indonesia, launched his "Save Borobudur" campaign, persistent in his efforts to organize a massive restoration project.

workers restoring Borobudur
In the 1970's, with the help of UNESCO, money, resources and professionals from twenty-seven countries were gathered together for the monumental effort to save the ancient temple. A bold plan was developed: to dismantle and rebuild the five square terraces from the base up; to clean each of the stones; and to reinforce the foundation, at the same time installing an efficient drainage system behind the walls and under the floors of the galleries.
cleaning stone blocks
The top levels of the monument would remain in place, but every other terrace, gallery, carved panel and decorative detail was to be taken apart – stone-by-stone.

In 1975, the actual work began. Over one million stones were moved during the course of restoration, and set aside like pieces of a massive jig-saw puzzle to be individually identified, catalogued, cleaned and treated for preservation. Borobudur became a testing ground for new conservation techniques, new procedures to battle the microorganisms eating away at the stone. Using state of the art techniques, experts in engineering, chemistry, biology and archeology all shared their skills to solve the multitude of problems.
cleaning panels

The monument was closed to public for ten years. The restoration cost twenty-five million dollars and took eight years of labor and unprecedented international cooperation to complete. The day-to-day work was led by Soekmono, who personified the spirit of Borobudur and international cooperation as he worked with his colleagues.

"Indonesia was lucky to have such an outstanding scholar as head of this whole operation," says Asian art historian, Jan Fontein.
moving Buddha statue
"He resigned from the archeological service to spend ten years of his life on the restoration of Borobudur. He always had his eye on the future, on the training of Indonesian archeologists to rebuild the other temples, and when you see what has been achieved in the last fifteen years in the restoration of monuments in Indonesia, one cannot fail to be enormously impressed. But all this started with the restoration of Borobudur."

"It's kind of unusual, you know, that you should start with the toughest and the most difficult of all the tasks. But that was the program in which the people who now restore monuments got their training. I have seen most of the other great Buddhist monuments in Asia, and I still think that the combination of spirituality, intellect, design and architecture have been welded together so harmoniously and so flawlessly that there is no other monument that is as beautiful as Borobudur."

The modern restoration techniques learned at Borobudur set the standards of preservation for future efforts throughout the world. Today at Borobudur, the work of archeologists and local stone carvers continues, using traditional Javanese methods to repair and replace the many damaged sculptures, including more than a few headless Buddhas.


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

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