Vat Phou: Charting a new course on the banks of the Mekong

Le mar 30, 2012 dans la categorie Initiatives par Emmanuelle Robert | 0 Commentaire »

Resting on the banks of the Mekong River in Champasak province,  southern Laos, the Vat Phou natural heritage site embraces a vast cultural landscape dating from the period between the 6th and 13th centuries CE. Within it, a network of temples, sanctuaries and waterworks stretches along the axis linking Phu Kao Mountain to the river’s embankments, from which the ruins of two ancient cities can also be sighted in the alluvial plains.

The World Heritage Committee has expressed its concern over the construction of a new North-South road cutting through the site, and has requested that the roadworks be halted and an environmental impact assessment be conducted. At the request of the Laotian government, a technical assistance mission, comprising F. Delmont (architect & urban planner), C. Savourey (urban planner), Y. Dauge (deputy mayor of Chinon, France) and A. Sivigny (of the town of Chinon), was formed and deployed from 10 to 12 November 2011 within the framework of the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement.

The mission has recommended the permanent suspension of the roadworks and the removal of the sections already laid. Construction of the road, which had reached 25 km, is currently on hold. The project threatens the archaeological and visual integrity of the cultural landscape. Its purpose – to provide a road link to Cambodia – is incompatible with the site’s preservation.

An alternative solution has been proposed: to extend the existing Highway 16, which skirts the mountain to the West. This route would lie outside the flood-risk area and be less costly to build.

A twin strategy to provide access to the site is recommended, which consists of developing a passageway around the mountains from the South (via Highway 16), and a waterway along the Mekong river (via a pier at Pakse, the capital of Champasak province). This approach would enhance the site’s commercial value and preserve its historical integrity by concentrating the tourist trade in Pakse.

Experts are finally outlining a development plan for the site, based on remedying the waterworks in the plains, raising the development profile of Champasak (city) as a river town, and highlighting the symbolic and mystical significance of the ceremonial axis linking the mountain to the river.

The assistance brought by the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement complements the bilateral cooperation between the French and Laotian governments. France’s foreign ministry is extending additional technical and financial assistance for the site’s conservation through a second bilateral development agreement (FSP). Elsewhere, the French Development Agency (AFD) is sponsoring the preliminary study and preparation of the surrounding areas. In light of the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement’s contribution to the project, development of the drainage areas may fall under the oversight of the Rivers and heritage program.

(translated from French by Wolf Draeger)

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