19th-Century Bridge Recreated on Norodom Blvd

Crossing over what used to be a canal and is now solid ground, a portion of the French colonial-era Naga Bridge, newly recreated along Phnom Penh’s Norodom Boul­evard, was blessed by monks Wed­nes­day.

The decorative sides of the bridge, reconstructed near Wat Phnom complete with four Naga heads, were originally designed by French architects in the late 19th century, according to art historian Darryl Collins.

The official inauguration is scheduled for today, said Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema, add­ing that the project and development of surrounding gardens be­tween streets 106 and 108 are part of a plan that has cost the municipality $2.25 million. Stone from Preah Vihear prov­ince known for its high quality was used to build the original bridge, Kep Chuktema said.

“The [new] bridge is a celebra­tion of Khmer heritage,” said Kep Chuktema, “and is also for future generations.”

The canal over which the original bridge traversed was part of a system of waterways that enclosed the area around Wat Phnom, Col­lins said. These provided transport and a drainage system prior to the 1930s, when the French administration filled in the canals and dismantled the bridge, he said.

“It is slightly whimsical to reconstruct the top of the bridge without the bottom,” he said. But he added that the replica bridge, made of cement and stone, is a public sculpture and part of a larger plan for municipal beautification.

Vann Molyvann, the Cam­bo­dian architect who design­ed many of the capital’s landmarks in the 1950s and 1960s, said he encourages the emergence of sculptural works in Cambo­dia, especially in traditional Khmer styles.

But he added: “It is probably quite strange for tourists to find a sculpture which in Khmer tradition would normally be reserved for over a river.”

Nagas are believed to have protective powers, Vann Moly­vann said, and those on the replica bridge can be seen as “protecting the site of [Wat Phnom], not to be sold, not to be altered by ugly architecture.”



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