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.