Angkor Wat being loved to death

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12 April 2007 (The Daily Telegraph) – Every now and then, this blog features another article about how the massive number of visitors is a cause of concern to the Angkor Archaeological Park. This article further talks about one of the main sources of concern about the stability of Angkor – not the wearing down of stone, but the destabilisation of the underlying sand because of the rampant growth and water usage of nearby Siem Reap. The role of water management in the fall of medieval Angkor is an archaeological research question currently looked into (see here, here and here). I am planning a short trip up to Siem Reap in the middle of the year, and hopefully I can document first-hand the amount of tourist hordes and deterioration to the temples there.

Angkor Wat being loved to death

However, the battle to preserve Cambodia’s temples won’t necessarily be fought in their stone breezeways and intricately carved sanctuaries.

Rather, the bigger threat comes kilometres away, along Siem Reap town’s increasingly congested thoroughfares, where more than 250 guesthouses and hotels, including several sprawling resorts, have sprung up in recent years.

Some 500 years after a failing irrigation system forced Angkor’s rulers to abandon the sprawling Khmer capital, a lack of water is again threatening Cambodia’s most famous temple complex.

Just as the ancient city’s waterways collapsed under the demands of a population of as many as a million, an unprecedented tourism boom is again sucking the area dry and risking the collapse of many of Angkor’s temples.

The sinking foundation and widening cracks between the carefully carved stones of Bayon temple, famous for the serene faces carved on its 54 towers, confirm what experts have long feared: one of Angkor’s best-known monuments is collapsing into the sandy ground around it.


Related Books:
Ancient Angkor (River Book Guides) by C. Jaques
The Treasures of Angkor: Cultural Travel Guide (Rizzoli Art Guide) by M. Albanese
Uncovering Southeast Asia’s Past: Selected Papers from the 10th International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists by E. A. Bacus, I. Glover and V. C. Pigott (Eds)

Ancient temples face modern assault

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6 February 2007 (MSNBC)

Ancient temples face modern assault

Built by a mighty 9th-century Khmer king, the soaring temple of Phnom Bakheng stands atop the highest peak of ancient Angkor. With a sweeping view that takes in Angkor Wat — the world’s largest religious structure — the monks stationed here were probably among the first to glimpse the approaching Siamese troops that snuffed out this city’s centuries-long domination of much of Southeast Asia.

So perhaps it is not surprising that more than 500 years later, Phnom Bakheng has become the ideal perch from which to watch another assault on Angkor — by marauding armies of tourists.

Preservationists and archaeologists here increasingly fear that the frenzy to commercialize Angkor, now also a hot set location for films such as Angelina Jolie’s “Tomb Raider,” is winning out over the need for preservation.

Nowhere is that clearer than at Phnom Bakheng, where a number of new guidebooks advise visitors not to miss the sunset from the temple’s summit. Tips like that have led to a daily siege by an armada of tour buses around dusk. On a recent afternoon, about 4,000 visitors, speaking Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, English and a host of other languages, scampered to the top of the temple, stepping on pictorial stones and manhandling ancient statues as one lonely guard sat on the sidelines, overwhelmed.

“The problem we’re facing is that the pace of visitor growth is accelerating far faster than the ability to manage such huge crowds,” said Teruo Jinnai, UNESCO’s top official in Cambodia. “There is no doubt that this is beginning to cause damage to the temples and that it has the potential to become much worse if nothing is done.”