Nepal will rise again! Preliminary Summary of Austrian-Nepalese conservation efforts after the 2015 earthquakes Martina Haselberger + Gabriela Krist

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Re-erection of the Pillar of King Yoganarendra Malla on the Patan Durbar Square © Institute of Conservation, University of Applied Arts Vienna

Almost two years have passed since two devastating earthquakes hit the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal in April and May 2015. They caused losses and severe damage to its World Heritage Sites, which had already temporarily been listed as endangered by UNESCO. Immediate emergency response and conservation support of the affected sites were of utmost importance. These actions were not only essential to prevent further damage to the cultural heritage through loss, theft and weathering, but also to help local people to return to their daily routine.

Following in the footsteps of famous Austrian scholars, who dedicated their lives to the preservation of Nepal’s cultural heritage, the Institute of Conservation of the University of Applied Arts has been involved, since 2010, in the conservation of the Royal Palace in Patan. Together with its long-term partner, the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT), various projects were implemented in the aftermath of the earthquake.
The earthquakes required the setting of new priorities - beside first-aid and stabilisation measures, the conservation of earthquake-damaged monuments were highlighted in the campaigns of the Institute for 2015 and 2016. Financial support has been provided by the Austrian Development Agency, the Austrian Federal Chancellery, the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Eurasia Pacific Uninet. Generally, reconstruction and rebuilding are rather slow processes but success can be achieved by pursuing a strategy comprised of small but steady steps.
In the spring of 2016 the partly-collapsed Lion Statue on the Patan Durbar Square was conserved and re-assembled. The earthquake-damaged stone sculpture of the god Hari Shankar, the central element of the eponymous collapsed temple, a stone throne with Patan oldest inscription and metal pinnacles from the temple roofs could also be conserved.

One of the main efforts of the team in the summer of 2016 focused on the treatment of the tallest free-standing pillar on the Durbar Square, the Pillar of Yoganarendra Malla. After having survived the devastating earthquake in 1934 unscathed, the upper part of the stone pillar, including its precious fire-gilded metal sculpture, collapsed in 2015.

A detailed assessment of the stone parts allowed the drawing up of conclusions on the original method of construction: a simple plug system, whereby the upper three stone parts were placed above each other on the pillar shaft, kept in place by small dowels. For the re-assembly, this original concept was re-used whereby missing stone dowels were replaced and stainless steel pins partly inserted to strengthen the structure. Simultaneously, too rigid and stiff connections were avoided to allow the whole structure to be more resistant in the case of future seismic activity. A thorough preparation of the individual parts preceded the re-erection of the structure. This included detailed assessment of the cracks in the pillar using ultrasound velocity measures to evaluate their depth and propagation and decide on necessary conservation treatments.
In the space of one day the pillar was then re-erected whereby the single parts were lifted by a crane and carefully positioned in place.

Extremely deformed metal sculptures were treated in cooperation with local coppersmiths. The original gilding was preserved as much as possible, corrosion layers on the surface were reduced and cracks closed. Final treatments will be carried out by a small team from the Institute in February 2017, before the

Fragment of the king can be placed back on his ancestral seat on top of the pillar surveying the reconstruction and rebuilding progress on the Patan Durbar Square.

About the Authors:

Dr. Gabriela Krist
Professor and head of the Institute of Conservation at the University of Applied Arts Vienna since 1999. Following her studies in conservation at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and taking a PhD in Art History and Archaeology at the Universities of Vienna and Salzburg she worked for many years at ICCROM in Rome and at the Austrian Federal Office for the Protection and Care of Monuments. Council member of IIC and ICCROM.

Martina Haselberger
Stone conservator and staff member of the Institute of Conservation at the University of Applied Arts Vienna since 2014. After her studies in conservation at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, she has been involved in a research project on East Asian Cabinets in Schönbrunn Palace and in the conservation project of the Institute in Patan in Nepal.