Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Preah Vihear : Repair work needed

Bangkok Post
Tuesday February 19, 2008

11th century temple in a bad state

Not only the people's fate is hanging in the balance, but also the fate of the Preah Vihear temple itself.

Preah Vihear was built over a steep cliff on the Dangrek Range during the 11th century. It comprises a succession of courtyards and key buildings including gopuras, or gateway towers, connecting each building by stairways and pavements.

The innermost group of buildings, surrounded by galleries, is where the prasat is located to keep a sacred lingam for worshipping the god Shiva.

Being situated on the top of a high cliff, the temple's sandstone-based buildings have long been exposed to the sun, monsoon rains and wind, causing much damage.

Archaeologists from various agencies such as the Office of Archaeology, the SPAFA, a regional archeological umbrella organisation under the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation, and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), have inspected the site and found that most of the temple's main buildings remain intact.

But its outermost gopura has only some parts of the walls and columns left, while the prasat has virtually collapsed. The decorations of Hindu art have been eroded with some details unrecognisable. Some lintels and columns have fallen out and are scattered.

According to Icomos, conservation work has rarely been done at the site, partly because of adjacent minefields left by the wars in Cambodia. A comprehensive conservation programme is urgently needed to help preserve the site, the agency noted.

The Thai Archaeology Office's director Tharapong Srisuchart said it may not be necessary to reconstruct all the damaged parts, except for the prasat, which may require anastylosis _ removing all the parts and putting them back together as they once were.

This can be done only when Cambodia gives its consent because the site is under its sovereignty, he said. Mr Tharapong also voiced his concern about the boundary problem that has hampered preservation work at the site.

''In the field of arts and culture, we all know that the work has no frontier because the site belongs to humanity,'' said Mr Tharapong.

At the temple site, there are red ropes hung around some stones to prevent visitors disturbing the unstable structure.

The inscriptions of the Kings like Suriyavarman I telling important stories, including the installation of a God representing the lingam on some door frames, are fading away. The only thing that can be clearly seen is a small blue sign that reads ''Don't touch'' on them.

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