A restoration team from the APSARA National Authority’s (ANA) Department of Conservation of Monuments and Preventive Archaeology is currently working to restore a naga balustrade on the ground floor in the southern part of the famed Angkor Wat Temple.

The naga, usually in the form of a five or seven headed serpent, represents a divine or semi-divine spirit in much of the Buddhist world.

Conservation department head Say Sophearin described the balustrade and sandstone pedestals at the southern staircases as almost 1,000 years old. About 10m long, parts of the supporting structure have been affected by water damage and there is a high risk that several sections, including the head, could collapse.

He explained that at the beginning of July, the team temporarily dismantled the balustrade, with the support of ad hoc experts. Since the beginning of August, the team has been dismantling the staircase platform to remove any cracked stones, clean and restore them, and return them to their original positions.

“Our team carries out a lot of specialised work, like removing built up salt deposits from the stones. For the body of any broken naga, we use careful, precise techniques to reconnect the pieces we have, and carve replacements for any that is lost. Nearly all broken pedestals also need to be reinforced, to ensure they are safe for visitors,” said an ANA statement.

Sophearin estimated that the repairs may take up to three months. There are currently a number of naga balustrades at the entrances of Angkor Wat, many of which were in danger of collapse, but work is now underway on the eastern and southern entrances. The remaining balustrades will be inspected once the current work is complete.