Yet it’s important to highlight the devastation to cultural heritage as well. UNESCO’s head representative said Monday that she was not aware of any modern natural disaster that had inflicted so much damage to heritage sites. The entire Kathmandu Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
At present, many of the damaged buildings, monuments, statues, and other artifacts are being cast aside hastily in the search for bodies or to clear areas of debris. Photographs have shown pieces of historical structures being used as tools in the rescue process as well. In some cases, looting has occurred: parts of buildings have been taken for what may be sentimental reasons, and artifacts have been discovered en route to being offered for sale. Looting has been difficult to protect against because authorities on the ground are needed for more urgent reasons—and the damage is extensive.
According to UNESCO, the valley’s cultural heritage is an exceptional testimony to the region’s traditional culture, which flourished from 1500 to 1800 C.E. The culture uniquely combined Hindu and Buddhist traditions and developed one of the world’s most advanced uses of stone, timber, brick, and bronze. Such artistry influenced Mongolian and Tibetan societies, which hired artisans from the Kathmandu Valley to share their expertise.
The region’s most important structures are located in what are referred to as the seven “monument zones” of the valley: the urban centers (“Durbar Squares”) of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur, and the four religious ensembles of Swayambhu, Bauddhanath, Pashupati, and Changu Narayan.