The restoration of Banteay Chmar

The New York Times features the restoration work going on at Banteay Chmar, some four hours away from Siem Reap. This temple was built by Jayavarman VII whose architectural credits also include Angkor Thom. Owing to the site’s proximity to the Thai border, many of the wall reliefs have been looted, although some of the stolen artefacts have been recovered. The restoration is being undertaken by the Global Heritage Fund. The article doesn’t carry much by way of images, so I should direct you to Alison’s post on the site where you can see some famous wall reliefs.

Coaxing a Khmer Temple From the Jungle’s Embrace
The New York Times, 03 June 2009

Banteay Chhmar is returning to the spotlight, but now the news is good. In 2008 the Culture Ministry handed control of the temple to Global Heritage Fund, an organization in California that tries to safeguard the world’s most endangered sites. Established in 2002, the fund has a budget of $6 million and 44 employees to rehabilitate the temple, the eventual aim being its inclusion on Unesco’s World Heritage List.

John Sanday is leading the project. He is a British architect who first set foot in Cambodia in 1992 to work on the 12th-century Preah Khan, a temple famous for its outer wall of garudas, the mythic birds of Hindu legend. To help attract financing, the savvy Mr. Sanday, a former employee of the World Monument Fund, managed to persuade a number of private individuals to “adopt” a garuda for $30,000.

Like Preah Khan, Banteay Chhmar was built as a monastic complex by Jayavarman VII, the king who converted Cambodia to Buddhism. But the paucity of surviving inscriptions make it unclear exactly when and why. Writing in 1949, the historian Lawrence Palmer Briggs claimed the temple “rivaled Angkor Wat in size and magnificence.” It has four enclosures surrounded by a moat, a vast artificial lake, or baray, and could sustain a population of at least 100,000.

Romantic it may be, but much of Banteay Chhmar today consists of piles of lichen-stained rubble. Of 400 meters (1,300 feet) of bas-relief wall, only 25 percent still stands. Faced with collapsed or collapsing structure, Mr. Sanday and his team must decide what should be rebuilt or merely stabilized. Whether to replace the missing stones with newly quarried or recycled stone is another question.


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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