Angkor Wat: An Announced Disaster

One of the major architectural gems in the world, Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is falling apart. 

A recent documentary aired on ARTE rang the alarm (you can see it here, "Angkor Redécouvert", in French - if your country allows it, here in Italy, it can't be streamed, a real pity). 

Time is running out on the Khmer temples. Even the "better preserved" ones are threatened with collapse:

(Photo by Bill Pfeffer, see here)
One speaks of "best preserved" in the sense that, unlike other temples, they retain most of their statues: during the civil war and Khmer Rouge control of the country in the 1970s and 1980s, the temples were stripped bare and statues routinely stolen and sold abroad.

Wikipedia will tell you that little damage was done to the temples in the course of that dark period, but this is not true at all. The stolen art was not some unimportant "post-Angkorian statues". Indeed, many were the real thing, as beautiful as the ones that French 19th century explorer Louis Delaporte brought back to France and that can now be seen at the Musée Guimet in Paris, like this one:

Khmer Art at the Guimet; Vishnu God, 12th century
Recently the Musée Guimet has rediscovered in one of its warehouses the casts Delaporte had commissioned of statues and other Angkor Wat artwork. An exhibition showing them opens on 16 October and for the first time we are able to see them since the Indochina Museum in the Trocadero closed in 1936 (for more info, click here). 

In fact, Delaporte was not only an archeologist but also an artist, capable of a perfect rendering of the majesty and beauty of Khmer artwork, as, for example in this engraving of Khmer statues shown in 1878 at the Exposition Universelle held in Paris:

I love the way he shows the crowd's surprise and interest in the statues. Also note the dramatic size of the statues compared to the people around them.

If it weren't for the hard work and dedication of someone like Louis Delaporte, we would have no idea today of the real beauty of Angkor Wat. Wondering what the man looked like? Here he is:



He doesn't look too happy, does he? No doubt because he had a hard time getting people interested in the Khmer art he'd brought back. The Louvre refused to house it and he ended up creating his own museum in the Trocadero Palace. It was only after he died that the artwork was finally sent to the Musée Guimet.

It is odd that it has taken so long for everyone to realize the importance of Khmer art...And now Angkor Wat is collapsing, once again in the general indifference of the public. How sad.

If you're in Paris, make sure you don't miss that exhibition of Delaporte's casts at the Guimet, it's called "Birth of a Myth. Louis Delaporte and Cambodia”. Let me know what you think. What can be done to save Angkor Wat? Any suggestions? But please spread the word, the more people hear about this, the better chance for the temples to be saved...



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