Borobudur Temple

Borobudur Temple
When engineers began a $16 million restoration of this famous Buddhist temple in central Java in 1975, the biggest challenge was simply keeping track of the more than one million stone blocks comprising the 1,200-year-old monument. The team harnessed computers to help them take down, label, dry, conserve, and put back up the stones, many of which are intricately carved with scenes from the Buddha's ten-fold path to enlightenment. Computers also helped them replace fallen stones in their proper places and reunite decapitated Buddha heads with their torsos on the ten-leveled monument.

Preserving the stones was as elaborate as keeping tabs on them. First, workmen washed them with chemical cleansers and rinsed them with fresh water. Then, wielding steel sewing needles, they picked off tiny bits of lichen and moss that remained before placing the stones in a giant, $400,000 oven, which dried the stones at 104°F. Finally, they gave them a second chemical bath, this one intended as a prophylactic against future fungal infestations.

Perhaps the most laborious task was installing a new drainage system in the ten-tiered monument, which looks like an ice-cream cake on the verge of melting. The original gargoyle-headed drain pipes, installed in the solid structure when Buddhists first built it about A.D. 800, proved unable to cope with the tropical monsoon downpours common to this island just south of the equator. Water seepage damaged several stone terraces, which workers restored after first building protective concrete floors beneath them.

Principal source: "All the Buddhas Together Again," The Washington Post, June 5, 1977.

Photo: Peter Tyson



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