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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rescue work begins on oldest temple

Rescue work begins on oldest temple

A 16-strong international team has begun work on

saving Angkor's oldest temple Prah Ko, which dates back to 879.

Urgent

repairs are needed on the temple, which unlike Angkor Wat and other better-known

monuments at the complex, was made of brick and stucco, which still remains.

The Royal Angkor Foundation (RAF) is organizing the work.

Its

founder Janos Jelen, a Hungarian, said: "At Prah Ko we have to deal with urgent

intervention first. Only cobwebs were holding it together."

In a written

statement the RAF said it was saving "the last centimeters of the remaining

stucco decorations from the dawn of the Angkor empire."

The repairs are

the first since 1927 and plant growth, microbes and heat have been taking their

toll, Jelen said. In addition there are big cracks in the buildings, and bat

droppings have been causing decay.

Jelen has been joined by experts from

Hungary, Guatemala, Italy and England.

The team will be working in three

phases, over three years, to conserve and repair the terrace and six towers with

their ornate lintels and doorways.

Built under the rule of Indravarman I

(877-889), Prah Ko was constructed of clay bricks and adorned with stucco -

plaster decoration.

During the first phase of their work the team will be

injecting grout behind the stucco to keep it adhered to the walls.

They

will also clean and remove algae and repoint the brick work to consolidate the

stucco, mixing filler and binder to the right color and texture.

Work

will also be carried out to fill cracks which cause the building to leak,

further eroding the edifice.

Khmer bricks were well manufactured and

fixed with an unknown binding material, probably vegetable. Sandstone was used

for decoration, built block upon block, without any binder.

In the second

phase the team will consolidate the decorative elements.

Each tower has

four doorways, one is open and three are blind with fixed doors depicted in

stone and octagonal pillars.

The lintels contain elegant foliated scroll

motifs, lions heads and garlands sprouting horses and riders, nagas and

celestial spirits.

Not until the third phase will the team tackle

structural problems.

Two photographers are helping the team document

their work and prepare for future projects.

Funding of $125,000 for the

first phase at Prah Ko has come from the German Ministry of Foreign

Affairs.

One of the aims of the RAF, which was established in June 1992

by His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk and Hungarian President Arpad Goncz, is to

train Khmers to carry on the work.

Student Ly Vanna is one of them. He is

in the final year of his degree at the School of Fine Arts and was called on by

the team after he worked on another temple at the Angkor complex, Banteay

Kdei.

Hungarian Laszlo Nagy, chief technical adviser of the Prah Ko

project, made a special request to the Minister of Culture for him. "We fought

to get him. He is very good," he said.

Vanna's father died under the

Khmer Rouge regime and he lives with his disabled mother and his sister.

He said: "I was always interested in the richness of my country and the

exuberance of these monuments."

The student is writing his dissertation

on stucco and 9-10th century motifs and will spend two months working on the

temple.

Vanna, 25, is gaining experience alongside Guatemalan stucco

expert Rodolfo Lujan, who worked on the temples at Pagan, Burma which date from

the same period.

The Foundation is also training five other Khmer

artisans from Conservation d'Angkor, the authority which runs the temple

complex.

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