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Borobudur Temple Compounds

A woman walks among the bell-shaped spires of Indonesia's Borobudurthe world's largest
Buddhist temple.
Photograph by Nigel Pavitt, Corbis Images

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Site: Borobudur Temple Compounds
Location: Indonesia
Year Designated: 1991
Category: Cultural

Criteria: (i)(ii)(vi)
Reason: Borobudur is the worlds largest Buddhist monument and a priceless ancient center for
pilgrimage and education in Mahayana Buddhism.
The worlds largest Buddhist monument draws pilgrims from around Southeast Asia to a remote
hilltop in central Java, surrounded by lush green vegetation and ringed by volcanoesone of which
remains active.
Some 1,200 years ago builders carted two million stones from local rivers and streams and fit them
tightly together without the aid of mortar to create a 95-foot-high (29-meter-high) step pyramid.
More than 500 Buddha statues are perched around the temple. Its lower terraces include a
balustrade that blocks out views of the outside world and replaces them with nearly 3,000 bas-relief
sculptures illustrating the life and teachings of the Buddha. Together they make up the greatest
assemblage of such Buddhist sculpture in the world.
Climbing Borobudur is a pilgrimage in itself, meant to be experienced physically and spiritually
according to the tenets of Mahayana Buddhism. As the faithful climb upward from level to level,
they are guided by the stories and wisdom of the bas-reliefs from one symbolic plane of
consciousness to the next, higher level on the journey to enlightenment.
Borobudur was constructed in the eight and ninth centuries during the golden era of the Sailendra
dynasty, which held sway on Java and neighboring Sumatra. This ruling clan came from South India
or Indochina and helped to establish Java as a center of Buddhist scholarship and worship.
The magnificent site drew pilgrims for hundreds of yearsChinese coins and ceramics found there
suggest that the practice continued until the 15th century. (In fact it has been revived today.)
But Borobudur was mysteriously abandoned by the 1500s, when the center of Javan life shifted to
the East and Islam arrived on the island in the 13th and 14th centuries. Eruptions deposited volcanic
ash on the site and the lush vegetation of Java took root on the largely forgotten site.
In the early 19th century Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, British governor of Java, heard of the site
and took an interest in having it excavated. While this process revealed Borobudurs treasures it
also triggered a process of decay by exposing them to the elements. Villagers liberated stones for
building materials, and collectors removed Buddha heads and other treasures for private and public
collections around the world.
Fortunately, the decline of Borobudur was arrested by tighter regulations and one of the most
ambitious international preservation projects ever attempted. The Save Borobudur campaign was
launched in 1968 through the government of Indonesia and UNESCO.
The massive monuments lower terraces were dismantled and their priceless relief panels were
cleaned and treated against weathering. During this process an extensive drainage system was put in
place to prevent the erosion that had taken such a toll on the temple. Over eight years a million
stones were removed and later reassembled.
The result is that Borobudur remains today what it was 1,200 years agoa unique treasure to rival
any site in Southeast Asia.

How to Get There

Borobudur is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Yogyakarta, where many day-trip tours can be
booked. Those wishing to visit independently, or stay in Borobudur village outside the park
entrance, can travel to the site by bus or taxi.
When to Visit
Though Borobudur teaches Buddhists to look inward, there are fantastic views from the temple over
green fields and trees to distant hills and volcanoesincluding active Merapi. Sunrise and sunset
are particularly special times to be at the site. Weekends tend to be especially crowded.
How to Visit
Borobudur was designed to be climbed, and visitors able to follow the path of enlightenment to the
top can experience the site as pilgrims did a thousand years ago. Its well worth hiring a guide to
explain the significance of statuary and the incredible bas-relief scenes along the way.