The World Monuments Fund has sent experts to help drill the natural rock of the ancient staircase north of the Preah Vihear temple, which was damaged by water pooling under the stone. Steel will be added to strengthen the foundation.

At the request of the National Authority for Preah Vihear (NAPV), the monument fund sent Sokha – a specialist in drilling natural rock – to assist in the drilling of the seventh staircase.

The natural rock foundations are cracking apart, but by drilling 12 two to three metre deep holes in the structure, steel reinforcing bars and cement will be able to be used to reconnect the steps. Experts spent May 13 and 14 completing the complex operation.

NAPV director-general Kong Puthikar told The Post on May 16 that the project to renovate the staircase was part of phase three of the programme funded by the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFPC).

He said the third step was a complicated one because the Khmer ancestors built the staircase base from the actual stone of the mountain.

“When we began examining the site, we encountered the use of rock as a foundation of the staircases. When we removed the rock we realised that the whole structure was built on natural stone that had suffered water damage underneath it over thousands of years. The water had led to the decay of the stone,” he said.

He said the work required rebuilding the foundation to render it strong enough before repairs to the stairs above could be begun.

“This conservation work required specialists to drill holes so that steel beams could be used to create a solid foundation. This was a challenging task, but we completed drilling on May 14,” he said.

He added that the NAPV was currently working to complete the steel foundations in the drilled holes. Phase three is scheduled to be completed in August this year, but due to heavy rain in the area of Preah Vihear temple, it may be postponed to October.

Puthikar said the team has repaired just six of the 26 handrails of the stairs, in four years of work.

“According to the estimates of our specialists, the project may take another six to eight years to complete,” he said.

He stressed that the repair work is complicated as there is limited access to the site, because of the steepness of the stairs. The team is forced to work slowly and carefully, often working blind and with only one arm able to reach the surface which needs attention.

He added that the damage to the foundations was an especially complex problem, as the evolution from one stage of the work to the next required a lot of attention to ensure the stairs remained strong.

The AFPC has provided more than $400,000 since 2018 for the repair of the staircase. The project is now entering its third phase at the sixth level and work has begun on number 7 of the 26 handrails.