Nepal Struggles With the Loss of Lives, Cultural Treasures After Earthquake

Historic sites were damaged and destroyed in the 7.8 quake

Dharahara Tower
The rubble of Dharahara Tower, which was once the tallest building in Nepal. Sunil Sharma/Xinhua Press/Corbis

Rocked by aftershocks and stunned by the rising death toll (more than 3,700 so far, according to the Associated Press’s Katy Daigle and Binaj Gurubacharya), Nepal is digging out of the rubble and assessing the damage of the April 25 earthquake. And the quake, which injured thousands and left tens of thousands homeless, had other victims, too—some of Nepal’s most treasured historical sites.

The earthquake, which the USGS measured at a magnitude 7.8, was centered near the capital city, Kathmandu. The valley surrounding the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site revered for its historic monuments, temples and stupas.

Perhaps the most visible destruction was the Dharahara Tower, a 200-foot tower first constructed in 1832 at the command of Nepal’s queen. Designed as a watchtower, the structure became an iconic lookout over Kathmandu and was the country’s tallest building. During the earthquake, the tower toppled amidst a tour, burying hundreds. This is not the the first time an earthquake has leveled Dharahahra: PTI and Reuters report that the tower was damaged during an 1834 earthquake and completely destroyed in 1934 before being renovated.

The tower’s destruction was so significant, it can be seen from space:

Plazas nearby royal palaces, called Durbar Squares, were also heavily damaged in the quake in Kathmandu and elsewhere. The squares host temples, shrines and other holy structures, many of which were destroyed by the tremor and aftershocks. Richard S. Ehrlich reports for CNN that Kathmandu’s Shiva and Narayan temple pagodas have been reduced to “pathetic piles of rubble,” with the destruction sparking “a sense of irreplaceable visual and spiritual loss.”

After the quake, rumors circulated about the fate of Nepal’s holiest stupa, Boudhanath. The world-famous structure, which is an important pilgrimage destination, was feared to have been lost. But the BBC reports that “the iconic central stupa, with its gazing eyes of the Buddha, still stands.”

Right now, all efforts are focused on rescue and recovery of the thousands of people still missing and buried in the rubble. It will take time before conversations about whether, (and how) Nepal will rebuild its historic landmarks. As the nation prepares to tackle the long task ahead, UNESCO has pledged its support:

Nepal earthquake: Our Director-General, Irina Bokova, has expressed her profound sympathy to the government and people...

Posted by UNESCO on Saturday, April 25, 2015

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