siem reap town – A year ago, the central sanctuary at the Ta Som temple was so choked with fallen rock it was impassable.
The rest of the temple wasn’t in much better shape. For years it moldered quietly in the woods, a crumbling, rarely visited site east of Neak Poan and north of the East Mebon.
The temple dates from the end of the 12th century and was built by Jayavarman VII. Like the much larger Preah Khan, it is dedicated to his father, Dharanindravarman II.
Since last March, a team from the World Monuments Fund has been working to partially restore Ta Som. Today, the central sanctuary is clear and tranquil, a cool spot to stand and think about the artistry of the Khmer empire.
Fund officials are particularly proud that the restoration team is entirely composed of Cambodians.
“The World Monuments Fund decided to extend the work we had been doing at Preah Khan to preserve and protect a partial ruin,” WMF field director John Sanday told a group of visiting experts.
“This is being run totally by our Khmer staff, working closely with the Apsara Authority.”
They have already accomplished a great deal. About half the courtyard has been cleared of fallen stone, which is being catalogued and in some cases reassembled into the original structures.
The rebuilt structures present interesting contrasts. Some stone has been blackened by years of exposure to the elements, while newly excavated pieces are pale, almost creamy.
The teams working at Ta Som have a decade’s experience in excavating and reconstruction, gained at the Preah Khan site. Workers sift through the earth slowly, with tools about the size of a spatula, to avoid damaging hidden stones.
As the site is cleared and reorganized, the team may gather clues as to why Jayavarman built a second temple dedicated to his father so close to the first one. Preah Khan lies at the western end of what was the Northern Baray (it is now dry) and Ta Som is at the eastern end.
One of the tougher jobs was clearing a giant termite mound that had completely blocked an eastern entrance. The team is trying to decide what to do about a huge ficus tree that has grown up over the entrance. It’s very picturesque, but it’s wrecking the stonework.
“When the wind blows, the tree moves, and so does the structure,” said Chang Chamroeun, project archeologist. “We need your help in deciding whether to kill the tree or not.”
He was speaking to members of the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor, who were in Siem Reap to learn about ongoing preservation projects.
The ICC also learned of plans by the government of Switzerland to help the Apsara Authority restore and landscape the heavily visited Banteay Srei monument.
A team headed by Swiss architect Ueli Salzmann and archeologist Rolf Grossenbacher will study the site for four months before physical work starts.
The three-year project is expected to cost $650,000, with the Swiss government paying $515,000 and Apsara paying for the rest. Salzmann said his government became interested in the project thanks to Dr Beat Richner, a Swiss national who has founded three children’s hospitals in Cambodia.
Project goals include restoring damaged portions of the monument, archeological research, and landscaping the surrounding area. Researchers will also install information panels to tell visitors the religious and historical significance of the site.
Apsara has long planned to reconfigure the entrance to Banteay Srei, which now simply abuts on the main road to Anlong Veng.
Authority members would like to surround the temple with a screen of forest, and move the road farther east from the temple entrance so that visitors will approach it via a wooded drive.