A Quick Guide to Bagerhat's Climate Crisis

The medieval city has survived over 600 years, but how can it adapt to the impacts of climate change?

By CyArk

Where is Bagerhat?

Almost 600 years ago, the city of Khalifatabad in Bangladesh arose from the marshy forests on the Sundarbans’ edge. Today, the remains of that medieval city are known as “The Historic Mosque City of Bagerhat”. The city extends for over 50 square kilometers and contains 360 buildings including mosques, mausoleums, bridges, roads and water tanks. 

World Map, 5 heritage sitesCyArk

When did Bagerhat become a World Heritage Site?

Today the Old Mosque City is recognized as one of the most important religious sites in Bangladesh and in 1985 the site’s global significance was acknowledged when it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Shait Gombuj Masjid in BagerhatCyArk

What are the most harmful climate issues affecting Bagerhat?

Among the most insidious climate change impacts in coastal Bangladesh and at Bagerhat is the problem of rising water and soil salinity. 

Standing on a Mosque Pillar in Bagerhat (2019-05) by CyArkCyArk

Access to fresh water and salinity is not a new issue for Bangladesh, and the Historic Mosque City of Bagerhat was designed to ensure a consistent supply of fresh water through a network of reservoirs and cisterns.  

Bagerhat reservoirCyArk

How are rising sea-levels exacerbating the problems?

The recent IPCC report on the impacts of climate change on natural and human systems, stressed the increasing impacts of sea-level rise and changes in salinity on vulnerable coastal and island communities like those in Bangladesh, making much of the water undrinkable. 

Bagerhat rising ground waterCyArk

How is soil salinity damaging Bagerhat's structures?

Increased salinity also damages structures through a process called efflorescence. This is the migration of salt to the surface of a porous material, where it forms a coating. 

Bagerhat efflorecenceCyArk

Efflorescence

When salt crystals lodge between rock grains within these structures, they can expand in the presence of moisture and result in aggressive weathering and disintegration over time. There is a general perception that there is increased efflorescence at Bagerhat, but the exact nature of this dynamic is not well documented.  

Bagerhat Monument DecayCyArk

How is Bagerhat adapting to these issues?

Bangladesh has already taken strides on adaptation planning over the last decade, by implementing the National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA), setting-up climate change trust funds, and pioneering community-based adaptation approaches.

Holding a Ladder in Bagerhat (2019-05) by CyArkCyArk

In Bagerhat, the Department of Archaeology as well as faculty from Khulna University are working to investigate the root causes of the deterioration of the monuments and are endeavouring to understand how climate change may worsen these impacts. 

Group Picture Outside a Mosque in Bagerhat (2019-05) by CyArkCyArk

Examine the 60 Dome Mosque up close:

3D model of Shait Gumbad Mosque - Bagerhat, CyArk, From the collection of: CyArk
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Discover how CyArk uses 3D documentation to empower local experts.

Find out more about ICOMOS' efforts to increase engagement of cultural heritage in climate action here.

Credits: Story

Andrew Potts, ICOMOS Working Group on Cultural Heritage and Climate Change.

This project was made possible through a collaboration between the Department of Archaeology, Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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