The Talk of the Town: Buddhas for Bamiyan

By Mead, Rebecca | The New Yorker, October 29, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Talk of the Town: Buddhas for Bamiyan


Mead, Rebecca, The New Yorker


Earlier this year, after the Taliban blasted into dust two giant statues of the Buddha that had stood for the better part of two thousand years in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, a Swiss filmmaker and entrepreneur named Bernard Weber met with Paul Bucherer, the director of the Afghanistan Institute and Museum. The museum, which is based in Bubendorf, Switzerland, houses cultural treasures salvaged from Afghanistan; Weber is the founder of New7Wonders.org, an Internet project that invites participants to cast votes to nominate the seven wonders of the contemporary world. Although the Bamiyan statues had not registered significantly in voting patterns--the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, and Chichen Itza were among the leading contenders, nominated by more than five million voters--Weber nonetheless asked Bucherer whether there was anything he could do to help restore the statues, or, at least, preserve their memory.

As it turns out, there was: Bucherer had in his possession a set of precise photogrammetric measurements of the statues, which had been taken in 1970 by a scientist named Robert Kostka. Using these, and other photographic evidence, Weber and Bucherer intend to create a three-dimensional image of the Buddhas, which will be made available on the Internet. Next, they hope to rebuild the statues at a tenth of their original size, and install them at the Afghan museum in Bubendorf. They expect to draw on the resources of a prominent Afghan construction engineer, who, along with several other members of the pre-Taliban ruling class, lives in Switzerland. Fund-raising for the project will be conducted through the New7Wonders database of voters, and the virtual statues are expected to be completed by early next year. Speaking last week by telephone from Switzerland, Weber said, "I am sending a million people E-mails."

Weber says he came up with the New7Wonders concept a couple of years ago, while searching for a suitable subject for an Imax film. …

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