A home that once belonged to a former United Nations secretary-general, the late U Thant, is being restored and will open as a new museum in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
Government officials, diplomats and members of U Thant’s family gathered Saturday at a ceremony at the home, a two-story yellow villa built in the 1920s and where he lived in the 1950s before serving as the U.N. chief. It is being renovated as part of an effort to preserve the colonial-era cityscape of one of Asia’s last untouched cities.
The museum is scheduled to open to the public in the coming months, said a statement from the Yangon Heritage Trust, which is chaired by Thant Myint-U, a Harvard-educated historian who is also U Thant’s grandson.
“I hope that this is both about celebrating his life and his work, but also about reclaiming our past so that we can think a different way about (our) future,” Thant Myint-U said at the ceremony in front of the house, which sits in a leafy Yangon neighborhood.
Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital, has been bypassed by the rapid modernization that has bulldozed the past in virtually every other Asian metropolis. Its cityscape is studded with hundreds of grand and humble buildings from the colonial era.
Now, as Myanmar opens its long-closed doors to the outside world after half a century of military rule, a major effort has been launched to preserve both Yangon’s architecture and atmosphere from rampant development and decay.
There are more than 180 structures on Yangon’s official heritage list, most of which are churches and Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries.
“The Yangon Heritage Trust hopes that this will be just the first of many similar projects to remember and recognize the contributions of the many Myanmar men and women who have worked for the betterment of the country,” the group said in a statement.
U Thant lived in the home from 1951 to 1957, prior to his role as an international diplomat. At the time he was a top adviser to then-Prime Minister U Nu and wrote numerous books and articles while living there, the statement said.
From 1957 to 1961, U Thant served as Myanmar’s representative to the United Nations, before serving as U.N. secretary-general from 1961 to 1971.
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