At Angkor, World Monuments Fund hands Preservation of Three Sites to Cambodian Authorities

Friday, February 2, 2024
At Angkor, World Monuments Fund hands Preservation of Three Sites to Cambodian Authorities

The announcement coincides with the 35th anniversary of WMF’s ongoing work at the archaeological park as the organization begins a new phase of conservation efforts at Phnom Bakheng.

World Monuments Fund (WMF) recently announced the full transfer of future preservation work at three longstanding project sites within Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia, to the Authority for Protection and Management of Angkor (APSARA) where conservation work has been completed. The event marks a new chapter for Ta Som and Preah Khan Temples and the Churning of the Ocean of Milk Gallery in Angkor Wat as APSARA fully takes over maintenance of the sites. The news comes as WMF celebrates 35 years of ongoing conservation and capacity-building work at the park, assuring appropriate techniques and methodology are used for generations to come. WMF and APSARA will also enter a new phase of work at Phnom Bakheng and build on conservation efforts already underway.

“This transition is a historic moment for Angkor,” said Bénédicte de Montlaur, President and CEO of World Monuments Fund. “At the beginning of this project in 1989, international intervention was necessary to help redevelop the conservation skills of local technicians in order to carry out necessary work. Over the years, reliance on international expertise has declined significantly across WMF projects at Angkor, and we are delighted to see APSARA reclaim full responsibility for day-to-day maintenance and future conservation work at these three sites.”

Founded by the Khmer Empire, Angkor is considered by UNESCO to be one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia, having deep ties to the region’s Hindu and Buddhist traditions. During French colonial rule in the early 1900s, revitalized interest resulted in a commission to restore the temples for tourism purposes. Efforts intensified after Cambodia’s government transitioned to a limited constitutional monarchy. With the Cambodian Civil War in the 1970s, however, work halted, and many of those with training and experience at Angkor Archeological Park and other heritage sites perished or were forced to flee the country under Khmer Rouge rule.

WMF’s involvement with Angkor began in 1989 with a field mission to evaluate the condition of the temples. At the behest of King Norodom Sihanouk, a partnership was formed to create a comprehensive conservation and training program, complementing the efforts of the newly reopened Royal University of Fina Arts (RUFA). Angkor was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list three years later and flagged as being “in danger.” The establishment of APSARA in 1995 and subsequent improvement in site management contributed to Angkor's removal from the list of endangered heritage sites in 2004 and provided WMF with a dedicated local partner.

“Our impact has gone beyond physical conservation work conducted over 35 years,” said de Montlaur during a commemoration held at Preah Khan Temple on Friday, January 26, 2024. “Our capacity-building work has provided skills, income, and stability to the local team, which is now led by a majoritarian Cambodian leadership team. We also have developed tourism management strategies to enrich the visitor experience and prevent the harms of overtourism to the sites. WMF’s work will continue at the Archaeological Park with the restoration of Phnom Bakheng and the creation of new education programs in cooperation with the Cambodian authorities.”

Since 1992, WMF has allocated $14.6 million towards work in the Siem Reap area. With the high proportion of resident employment, the total local economic impact of WMF’s activity is estimated to be in the region of $20-$25 million. Over the past 35 years, well over 100 full-time conservation technicians have been trained and employed, with many mentoring younger apprentices. As this community of professionals continues to grow, WMF is developing a formal certification to standardize training and support future employment.

At the commemoration held on January 26, local monks blessed the workers, followed by a performance of “Nokor Reach,” the national anthem of Cambodia, and the national anthem of the United States. President and CEO of WMF Bénédicte de Montlaur, Project Coordinator of WMF Cambodia Phally Cheam, and Her Excellency Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Dr. Phoeurng Sackona all gave speeches highlighting Cambodia’s notable cultural heritage and progress in protecting it for the future. A plaque featuring a hammer that symbolizes the restoration work was given to APSARA, and commemorative pins were given to the local conservation staff. Attendees celebrated the event with a traditional Khmer feast held in Prasat Kravan and dance and musical performances from the Sacred Dancers of Angkor.

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Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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