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The Transformation of a Royal Palace



Above Left: Lost in the 1934 earthquake, the wooden benches in front of the palace have been reconstructed, providing a welcome resting place for the elders of the local community. The square in front is again free from motor traffic after many years.
Your Majesties, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!

It is a great privilege to say a few words at this august occasion - just as it was the greatest privilege of my professional life to see this palace regain its historical beauty - over a span of almost 15 years.

With the lighting of a sacred lamp in front of Lord Vishnu, to whom this shrine is dedicated, His Majesty the King has honoured an ancient tradition of invoking the blessing of the Divine to such works of man, and at each new beginning.

And a new beginning it is, in the cyclical nature of time, to use this building as a museum, and to display some of the finest art treasures of Nepal in a palace which once was the residence of the Kings of Patan. It has been used for other purposes in the meantime, and only ten years ago, the back wing of this courtyard still was part of a public school (I know some of our distinguished guests who first came here when they were schoolboys).

There is an old inscription on that stone tablet over there which is dated more than a thousand years ago, and which indicates that this site was a centre of royal power already before the Malla dynasties. But even earlier than that, a Buddhist monastery must have been located here, according to the still living tradition of a public ritual which every year places a Buddha image in front of the golden door, and thus recalls the ancient sanctity of this place.

Patan Museum (Keshav Narayan Chowk), drawing by Thomas Türtscher, 1989

Unfortunately, history has neither recorded the architects and master craftsmen who created this building, nor the artists who created the treasures now in the galleries inside. But even if their names will remain unknown, their work is now honoured and accessible as part of the cultural heritage of the world.

That this result was possible–and at such quality–we owe foremost to the descendants of these Nepalese artisans whose craftsmanship has been passed down through generations. To name only two of the project's many carpenters and masons and at the same time to honour them all: Tulsi Silakar from Bhaktapur was the project's head carpenter and wood carving artist for many years, and Purna Maharjan from Patan was the head mason.

Next in line to be honoured are Thomas Schrom, construction and project manager for six years, and Suresh Shrestha, our main project assistant. They were personally responsible not only for each object installation but also for the graphic design, layout and production of all museum information visuals.

While they did all this physical and visual work, the scientific "brain" behind the museum's exhibition concept was the eminent historian of Nepalese cultural anthropology, Dr. Mary Slusser of America's Smithsonian Institution. To her we owe the tremendous task of selecting the exhibits from existing national collections and of providing the abundant information for each object and for each of the galleries.

One particular section of the museum was prepared by Dr. Niels Gutschow, giving insight into one of the world's most mystical architectural symbols, the Buddhist chaitya or stupa.

Another special section, curated by James Giambrone, demonstrates the traditional metal crafts and techniques of "repoussé" sculpting and of the so called "lost wax" casting process for which the many workshops of Patan are famous.

However, none of all this would have been possible without the support of our home agency, the Institute for International Cooperation in Vienna and without our friends and partners in the Department of Archaeology here. In particular I would like to honour the continuous encouragement of its Director General, Dr. Shaphalya Amatya and his unfailing trust in our endeavours.

Finally, an homage is due to Professor E. Sekler: once, for the very personal reason that he was one of my eminent teachers in architectural history in Vienna long ago. And, secondly, because it was Prof. Sekler who, some 20 years ago, persuaded our Government to renovate this palace with bilateral Austrian assistance. Thus Eduard Sekler is the true "spiritus rector" of this project.

Thank you all. Namaskar!

--- address by Götz Hagmüller at the Museum’s inauguration

Patan Durbar Square as seen from the South. Engraving after a photograph by Gustave le Bon, 1885

In 1982 this significant project of bilateral technical cooperation with His Majesty’s Government of Nepal was approved by the Austrian government, entrusting the Institute of International Cooperation (IIZ) with project implementation. His Majesty’s Government of Nepal Department of Archeology, the government agency responsible for cultural preservation, has acted as the key partner agency for this endeavor.

What started as a modest conservation scheme to repair the north wing of the venerable Patan Palace grew steadily over the years to encompass plans for the rehabilitation of the entire palace compound including the north-east wing and the adjacent palace garden. In parallel, adaptive reuse plans for the complex grew to include a new museum by 1986 and by 1992 the necessity for rethinking the institutional and operational set-up of this museum was identified. Institution-building, including the development of semi-autonomous, income generating, and sustainable activities thus became a new project focus. In 1996 the Patan Museum Board as the museum’s governing body was legally established.

This gradual transformation over fifteen years thus brought together cultural and development issues in a compelling and self-reinforcing manner.

We are particularly grateful to our Nepalese counterpart institutions, the Department of Archaeology and the Patan Museum Board, for their enthusiastic contributions, support and counsel. Their key inputs, participation, and readiness to take up new ideas were all-important to the success of this ambitious project.

IIZ wishes to express its gratitude to all colleagues and contributors, particularly to the staff members responsible for project conception, administration and implementation. Special thanks go to Gertrude Leibrecht in Vienna and to Götz Hagmüller, Thomas Schrom and Ludmilla Hungerhuber in Nepal. Their commitment and untiring efforts made it possible not only to conceive and develop these project goals, but also to achieve them in an effective way.

As an essential and continuously encouraging link between Austria and Nepal, we acknowledge the support of the Austrian Embassy, New Delhi.

Furthermore, IIZ is grateful for the ongoing confidence of the Austrian Government in their stewardship and development of such projects. We were not only allowed great freedom to develop new project paradigms, but could also count on official and financial support for successful implementation.

Herwig Adam, Director of the Institute of International Cooperation (IIZ)

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