Visitors Given View of Angkor’s Baphuon Site

siem reap – For the first time since the 1960s, visitors now can see the Angkor park’s biggest monument af­­ter Angkor Wat, and get a glimpse of what the Baphuon pyr­amid may have once looked like.

Even though full restoration of the Baphuon may take until the end of 2008, the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient has set up an observation platform, which was officially inaugurated on Friday, allowing tourists to both look at the 35-meter-high monument and watch restoration workers go about their task.

The EFEO—a French government agency that started restoring Angkor more than a century ago—launched the latest restoration of the Baphuon in 1995, said Pas­cal Royere, the EFEO architect in charge of the site.

The Baphuon was Angkor’s first monument entirely built of sandstone, he said.

When its construction started around 1060, during the reign of King Udayadityavarman II, “overconfidence resulted in building the temple higher and bigger than the technology of the time warranted,” Royere said.

This was probably a case of a vi­sionary Khmer architect refusing to listen to Khmer engineers—the eternal conflict be­tween artists and engineers, he said.

The sand filling the pyramid soon could not support the structure, especially when rainwater started to seep in, Royere said. Pain­ful lessons learned at the Ba­phuon were used for Angkor Wat, whose construction began about 70 years later, he said.

In the 1960s, the gigantic Ba­phuon was in a dire state, which led the EFEO to dismantle it stone by stone, in order to rebuild it later with re­inforced walls.

By the time the Khmer Rouge took over the country in the 1970s, about 300,000 stones had been removed from the Baphuon and laid on the ground, carefully identified and numbered. But the notebooks that held the key to this coding system and the lo­cation of each stone disappeared from Phnom Penh when the EFEO of­fice was ransacked in 1975.

Twenty years later, Royere took on this enormous puzzle and started identifying and organizing the stones with the help of Jacques Du­marcay, the EFEO architect in charge of the Baphuon in the 1960s, and 30 Cambodian workers who had worked at the site in the 1960s and 1970s.

Since every centimeter of the pyramid was carved, including the top part of each step on the pyramid’s staircases, the decorations made it possible to match the stones, Royere said.

But there will probably be be­tween 3,000 to 5,000 stones left out of the restored structure, as their surfaces were too damaged to permit identification, he said.

Over the last 11 years, rain has been the cause of most restoration-work delays, as it led to cave-ins, Royere said. For instance in 2002, a portion of the face of a massive reclining Buddha collapsed during the rainy season.

The 12-meter-high Buddha stretches 75 meters along the py­ramid’s second level on the west side and was probably added to the Baphuon in the 16th century.

The restoration of the Buddha, one of the largest in the world to have been built from stones, is still in the works.

Royere’s team consists of 180 Cambodians—most of them from villages within the Angkor park—working in cooperation with the Ap­sara Authority, the government agency managing Angkor. The pro­ject is funded by the French Min­istry of Foreign Affairs as part of French Cooperation programs in Cambo­dia.

French Ambassador Yvon Roe D’Albert noted that monuments are not for experts alone, but for the public to enjoy, which is the purpose of the observation deck that also enables visitors to watch restoration work in progress.

The next step will be to allow Cam­bodians to hold religious ceremonies in front of the Buddha, said Ros Borath, deputy director general in charge of Monument and Archeology for Apsara.

“This must be a living monument,” he said.

 

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