siem reap – In a colorful ceremony featuring royalty, Apsara dancers and monks, the completed restoration of Bayon Temple’s northern library was held out Wednesday as symbolic of the efforts to rebuild the war- and weather-torn Angkor monuments.
“Our illustrious ancestors have left us countless temples which constitute a true priceless heritage for our future generations,” said Queen Norodom Monineath, who led the ceremony. “We have the duty to preserve and protect this precious heritage.”
Project director Takeshi Nakagawa, director-general of the Japanese Government Team for Safeguarding Angkor (JSA) said the group hopes to use the experience as a step toward restoring the entire Bayon complex and other Angkor monuments.
Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Bun Rany Hun Sen and ambassadors from the Japanese, US and Indonesian embassies were among others who attended the ceremony at the Bayon Temple.
Monks gave their blessing, and a group of Apsaras performed a traditional dance. The area was decked out with Japanese and Cambodian national flags. Nakagawa presented the Queen with two photo albums illustrating the progress made during the restoration.
The Bayon Temple, built in the 13th century in the center of Angkor Thom, is renowned for its four faces representing the north, south, east and west. The carvings on the outer wall of the first level depict scenes of life in 12th-century Cambodia.
Like other monuments in the Angkor region, the Bayon Temple has deteriorated greatly over the years. The northern library was in the most critical condition, with its foundation subsided, roof lost and wall inclined.
“These temples have suffered serious damage because of natural erosion and successive wars,” Queen Monineath said.
In 1991, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization had made an international appeal for help in rebuilding the monuments of Angkor.
The JSA began the project to restore the northern library in November 1994 with the help of the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, Unesco and the Apsara Authority.
Part of the purpose in involving staff from the Royal University of Fine Arts was to teach Cambodians about restoration and preservation techniques, so in the future they can be the ones to take care of the Angkor monuments, officials said.
When a preliminary survey of the library structure was done in July 1995, a wall in the southeast corner of the structure began to collapse, and workers had to dismantle the upper structure of the building.
The JSA was able to reuse 30 percent, or 1,700 stones of the original sandstone of the library structure, Nakagawa said.
A survey was done of Cambodia to obtain material closest to matching the original structure.
The restoration of the Bayon Temple is part of the $10 million first-phase project to also restore areas of Angkor Wat and the Royal Plaza. The second phase, also expected to cost $10 million, will establish a master plan to restore the whole Bayon complex, as well as continuing rebuilding efforts for Angkor Wat and the Royal Plaza.
“Now we assure that you can see the northern library…harmonized with original parts around it,” Nakagawa said.
However, workers had to abandon the restoration of the roof because one piece of the original material crucial to the peak of the roof could not be found.
As a result of the restoration efforts, “we will undoubtedly arrive at new understandings of the Bayon’s structural and symbolic history, and so Buddhist beliefs and practices specific to Cambodia,” said Vann Moulyvann, executive director of Apsara Authority, the government agency in charge of managing the temples.
Permanent preservation of Bayon’s northern library is now possible by cleaning and doing simple repairs once every 50 years and by partially dismantling and doing more extensive repairs every century, Nakagawa said.