MANY of Siem Reap’s downtown government buildings have been razed in recent months, ostensibly so that our small army of proud civil servants can be housed in superior surrounds – but well out of town.
Cynics have observed that the real reason for the relocation of the government buildings is that they are situated bang in the middle of prime real estate, begging to be developed.
There have also been fears that older buildings in Pub Street and the Old Market area may also be demolished, but happily these concerns were allayed by the Apsara Authority late last week with the announcement that buildings in the Old Market area will be National Heritage-listed “in the near future”.
Siem Reap deputy governor and Apsara Authority director Bun Tharith told 7Days that Siem Reap was a historical city with creative architecture, and it was recently decided to list the Old Market and nearby buildings under National Heritage protection laws.
But he added the authority did not know exactly when the buildings would be included on the list.
The buildings due for protection in the Old Market area were built during France’s colonisation of Cambodia, and some are nearly 100 years old.
In 1910, under the French protectorate, plans were drawn up for construction between 1920 and 1930 of important buildings as Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor and Old Market.
Unfortunately, some old buildings have been destroyed by developers and investors.
Bun Tharith said this was regrettable but that Siem Reap was now joining the intentional push toward conservation and cultural preservation.
Cultural resources such as this were an effective way to attract tourists, he said.
“Besides the ancient temples, and as well as natural and manmade resources, we have many old buildings that could be attractive to visitors.”
He added that preserving such buildings also helped new generations of Cambodians to better understand their culture and history.
During a recent International Coordinating Committee (ICC) meeting at Sokha Hotel, the heritage-listing motion was supported by Agence Française de Development.
This followed a plan initiated over the last year by the deputy director of the Apsara Authority to improve heritage in Siem Reap province.
The Public Heritage Centre, which is directed by the Cultural and Art-Entertainment Ministry, will be responsible for the listing.
Bun Tharith said: “We have three different stages to listing. The first step is to start with all the land around the market. The second step is to start with other nearby land, and the third step will continue with land near Preah Prohm Rorth pagoda.”
This large, magnificent pagoda is on prime riverside land and has already been affected by development, with complaints at one stage that the Angkor Trade Centre next door overlooked the pagoda.
Bun Tharith said that at the ICC meeting, there was also discussion about old houses built from bamboo or wood and raised on stilts.
Some of these houses still exist south of Siem Reap, en route to Phnom Krum.
Department of Culture and Fine Arts of Siem Reap deputy director Ri Anhjali told 7Days that some of these houses that are older than 50 years would be listed as heritage buildings but not come under National Heritage protection.
He said the buildings would be conserved like some houses along the Siem Reap River.