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92-year-old temple ‘condemned’

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The demolished structure at Svay Pope pagoda in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district on Monday. Hong Menea

92-year-old temple ‘condemned’

The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts said it approved the demolition of the 92-year-old temple located at Svay Pope pagoda in Phnom Penh at the request of the pagoda’s chief monk after inspections revealed that it was heavily damaged and structurally unsound.

The demolition went through despite concerns of some architects who said the “rare Buddhist structure” should have been preserved.

A clarification by the culture ministry on March 7 said a working group had found that the temple was an old, tall structure which had been partially renovated and refurbished. It said some parts of the temple had scratches, cracks, rust, faded colouring and the temple itself was occupied by people who were living there in an unclean manner without proper hygiene.

“The temple has two floors. On the upper floor around the hall there are people [who are squatting there without authorisation].

“The ground floor is even worse [with people] staying in a dirty and unsanitary environment,” it said.

According to the ministry, the pagoda’s chief monk had insisted on demolishing the structure.

“Monks and students from the provinces live there and study together. With these old buildings that are dilapidated, cracked and crumbling, there is a real fear that they could pose an eventual danger to people in the future,” it said.

The ministry noted that in 2018, a working group took pictures and made sketches of the temple’s architecture. Recently, it said an inter-ministerial working group also visited and collected art items and some other objects from the temple to store them at the National Museum.

Venerable Suon Teng, assistant to the pagoda’s chief monk, said the temple was 92 years old, originally having been built in 1929.

Teng said the pagoda needed space to build a new building that would be more useful and serve its common interests.

“I acknowledge that critics have a point, but please also think about the difficulties the pagoda faces. In fact, we have a school here and we need the space to build a place for monks and students to stay. This temple is too old, it cannot be used,” he said.

A Cambodian architect who asked not to be named told The Post on March 8 he regretted that the post-Angkorian sculptural temple were being demolished because it was very rare. He said only three in this style remained: one at the Svay Pope pagoda and another two in a pagoda in Kampong Cham province.

“I don’t want the temple to be demolished because the architecture is rare in terms of post-Angkorian Buddhist structures, so it should be maintained. Buddhist structures were very badly affected during the Khmer Rouge period, so it should be preserved as it is during this peaceful era,” he said.

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