Italian Archeologists discover ancient Buddhist Temple in Swat Valley

The new discovery is proving the presence of Buddhist since the third century BC in the northest part of Gandhara

Italian Archeologists discover ancient Buddhist Temple in Swat Valley
Professor Luca Olivieri (left) briefing media Italian Ambassador Andreas Ferrarese sittnig next to him

ISLAMABAD: The Italian Archeological Mission in Pakistan has discovered an ancient Buddhist temple, which dates back to 3rd century BC in the Swat region, in northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) of the country. During this year’s excavation, the mission unearthed “Shahi Vishnuite temple in its entirety” at Bir-kot-ghwandai (Bazira) in Swat region.

“This is an astonishingly important discovery, which can be described as revolutionary, as it is proving the presence of Buddhist since the third century BC in the northest part of Gandhara,” said Professor Luca Olivieri, director of the Italian Archeological Mission in Pakistan during a presentation in Islamabad.

The remains of the temple include the podium, the related floors and the conspicuous part of the decoration with pilasters with pseudo-ionic capitals, which is an example of the original marble decoration of the Turki Shahi period.

According to Dr. Olivieri, the discovery also confirmed the claim that Greek ruler Menander “supported Buddhist” which was the subject of “heated debate” prior to this discovery.

Mr. Olivieri said that the mission has proved with archeological evidence that by the time of the Maurya Empire in the 3rd century BC, Buddhist were already well established to have a place at the center of the ancient city, adding, “That’s what we actually discovered this year”.

The new discovery brought to light the “wonderful temple” from the middle of the third century BC to the beginning of the fourth century when the city of Bazira was abandoned after a devastating earthquake erased it completely.

According to Mr. Olivieri, the Greek fortified the ancient city of Bazira on their arrival. They found a structure that existed there during the time of Maurya period. They enhanced and reconstructed the very monument and kept it functional until the earthquake occurred.

The Italian Archeological mission is working with the collaboration of the Directorate of Archeology of KP. During this year’s excavation, the mission also discovered a row of graves of unknown age and other archeological features at Bazira. The graves contain pottery shards and other rare finds, which could date back (typologically and preliminarily) to the Indo-Greek and Saka-Parthian period. The mission handed over 2700 objects including sculptures, coins, inscriptions, ceramics, ornaments, iron weapons and stone tools to the government of KP.

The Italian archeological mission is one of the longest-lived in South Asia having been permanently established in 1955, but the first excavations of Professor Tucci dell'Isiao date back to the distant 1933.

During the militancy period in Swat valley between 2007 and early 2009, the archeological mission of Italy stopped excavation in the region. The excavation work was resumed in 2009, which continues till date. The Government of Italy spent 2.45 million euros under the Archeology Community Tourism project, which included the reconstruction of the Swat Museum and the restoration of the colossal Jahanabad Buddha (partially destroyed by Taliban).