Friday, October 30, 2009

Cambodian temple puzzle nearly complete

On a muggy afternoon in Cambodia’s ancient Angkor complex, workers in hardhats hunch over the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle, painstakingly assembling sandstone blocks. Walled- off from camera-toting tourists, they are finally close to completing an astonishing reconstruction of the fabled 11th century Baphuon Temple. “This is not easy to plan like a construction project is,” says architect Pascal Royere from the French School of Asian Studies, who is leading the rebuilding team. Restorers dismantled Baphuon in the 1960s when it was falling apart, laying some 300,000 of its stone blocks in the grass and jungle around the site. But before the French-led team of archaeologists could reassemble the 34-metre tall temple, the hardline communist Khmer Rouge swept to power in 1975. Up to two million people died from overwork, starvation and torture as the regime tried to re-set Cambodia to ‘Year Zero’ by eliminating reminders of its past - including the records to put Baphuon back together. “The archive of the numbering system (for scattered stones) was stolen and destroyed by the Khmer Rouge,” Royere says. “We had to face a kind of jigsaw puzzle without the picture how to rebuild it.” Chinese envoy Zhou Daguan, who visited the Khmer kingdom in 1226, described Baphuon as a “an exquisite site” with a bronze tower. Baphuon was the largest monument in the Khmer empire when it was built under King Udayadityavarman II as a Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Shiva. In the kingdom which at one time spanned parts of modern-day Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Malaysia, Baphuon’s size was only eclipsed by the famed Angkor Wat temple. “I believe that when the restoration of the temple is done, a lot of visitors will climb to see it,” says Soeung Kong, deputy director general of the Apsara Authority, which oversees Cambodia’s ancient temples. “It is high, so they can have nice views of surrounding temples.” afp

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