Cultural Heritage Sites Destroyed by Earthquakes: Background information when reading Here I Am

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Here I Am

by Jonathan Safran Foer

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer X
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2016, 592 pages

    Jun 2017, 592 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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Cultural Heritage Sites Destroyed by Earthquakes

This article relates to Here I Am

Print Review

In Here I Am, a severe earthquake destroys practically all of Israel's (and its neighboring countries') cultural heritage sites. While this situation is fictional, there have been real instances of prized world heritage sites being destroyed or damaged by catastrophic seismic events. Here are a few examples of many:

The Erwang Temple, China
Erwang TempleChina's Sichuan province, home to a number of cultural heritage sites, is prone to earthquakes. When a major one struck in 2008, one of the primary treasures that suffered severe damage was the Erwang temple, built almost 2,000 years ago. The temple complex, situated on the eastern banks of the Dujiangyan dam on the Minjiang River, was built in harmony with the surrounding nature, and the associated irrigation system is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The dam is studied by engineers for its architecture that controls water flow without use of a firm wall.

The earthquake destroyed the temple's entrance gate and several shrines and halls in the complex, as well as many valuable historic artifacts. The Chinese government, with additional international financial aid, restored the temple, an important part of China's cultural heritage.

Bam, Iran
BamIn 2003, an earthquake of magnitude 6.6 struck Iran, killing thousands. Its epicenter was located at the ancient city of Bam, a popular tourist spot and home to a 2,000-year-old citadel. Built of mud bricks and the trunks of palm trees, the ancient monument and surrounding city are believed to be one of a kind in the world and are part of UNESCO's World Heritage sites. In 2004, they were listed by UNESCO as "in Danger." Such a designation allows diversion of monetary aid for protection and reconstruction of destroyed properties, as well as proactively launches international campaigns to prevent further damage to sites. Most of the monuments in Bam date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when the city was an important stop on the Silk Road. UNESCO is directing international efforts to salvage this ancient treasure.

Kathmandu's Durbar Square
Durbar Square in KathmanduMore recently, in 2015, a severe earthquake of magnitude 7.6 shook Nepal, taking more than 8,000 lives. The country as a whole is a fusion of Hinduism and Buddhism, and many cultural treasures celebrating this diversity, built in the Kathmandu valley, were destroyed in the earthquake. According to World Monuments Fund, a UK-based nonprofit dedicated to "preserving the world's most treasured places,": "In the Durbar Squares of Hanuman Dhoka in Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur, many buildings collapsed completely, while others sustained major structural damage. Other religious sites, such as Swayambhunath temple, one of Buddhism's most important shrines, were also damaged. Throughout the country, around 750 monuments were affected by the earthquake, according to Nepal's Department of Archaeology." Specifically, in Durbar Square, sections of the Hanuman Dhoka, the city's oldest palace - built by the Malla kings in the 16th century - collapsed, in addition to the pagodas of several temples.

Durbar Square in Patan UNESCO has launched a special rehabilitation project in Nepal. In a statement, Director General Irina Bokova lauded the endeavor as having "a unique potential to create jobs, improve livelihoods and foster economic development and cultural tourism."

"In all this, we do not seek only to rebuild heritage," she added, "We aim to ensure the continuity of cultural practices, the transmission of local knowledge, the continuity of the identity of communities."

Erwang temple
Dujiangyan irrigation system
Durbar Square of Kathmandu
Durbar Square of Patan

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

Article by Poornima Apte

This "beyond the book article" relates to Here I Am. It originally ran in September 2016 and has been updated for the June 2017 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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