- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

DHAKA, Bangladesh — The country opened its first heritage park this week featuring scale models of the country’s most famous monuments and architecture connected with historical lore as it tries to awaken interest in the delta nation’s past.

“Thousands of years of heritage have been virtually forgotten today because of the speed of development and change in Bangladesh,” said Anup Kumar Sarker of the Concord Heritage Park that opened Thursday near this capital.

“Through a mixture of history and entertainment we will revive the country’s sagging interest in its own past and culture,” he said.

Historians welcomed the new park — built on a 30-acre site about 18 miles from Dhaka — saying that Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest and most disaster-prone nations, has neglected its heritage.

The sprawling Ahsan Manzil palace, once home to Dhaka’s wealthiest landowners and now a museum, is among 11 buildings featured at the $12.5 million park.

“This is a developing nation, and so the government has other priorities for funding such as hospitals that give quicker benefits to the country,” said park official Mohammad Alamgir.

“But history is important, because if you lose it you lose your identity,” he added.

Other architectural treasures featured include Dhaka’s 17th-century Satgumbad (Seven-domed) mosque.

The remains of the vast 8th-century Paharpur Buddhist monastery and the 18th-century Hindu Kantanagar temple famed for its fabulous terra cotta embellishments, both in northwest Bangladesh, are also featured.

Although most of the structures are centuries old, the park also has a replica of Bangladesh’s modern National Assembly building, designed by Louis Khan, an American architect of the Chicago school.

The National Assembly building, opened in 1982 and considered an architectural masterpiece, is situated in the middle of an artificial lake. Its exterior is dominated by circular and rectangular concrete masses crisscrossed with white marble strips.

All the monuments were visited by masons who painstakingly created the reduced-size models.

Historians say poverty aggravated by natural disasters, the drive to modernize and political instability over recent decades have left the people of Bangladesh with little time to learn and appreciate their history.

But they also say the country has a rich heritage that should not be forgotten.

“For a long time, many of our historical buildings have been left to become derelict, but this is a step in the right direction and we can hope that it may encourage the younger generation to take an interest in preserving some of these buildings,” said Kazi Shahidullah, a history professor at Dhaka University.

“Some of these sites are in far-flung corners of the country, so a park like this will allow many more people to take pride in the glory of our past,” he added.

Bangladesh, relatively new as a separate country, was once part of the Mogul empire that preceded British rule in India. Under the British, Bangladesh was part of India’s Bengal region.

After the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, it was known as East Pakistan, becoming Bangladesh in 1971 after a bitter independence struggle with West Pakistan, now simply Pakistan.

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