Friday, March 19, 2010

Angkor mystery

A stupa-style construction, located in a remote part of the Angkor Park
On my trip to Isaan last October, I photographed a series of lotus crowns that I came across and posted them in this blog post. These are usually found at the very pinnacle of the massive sandstone towers that dominate many ancient Khmer temples. Occasionally, you can find them on the floor, usually if the temple has undergone renovation and the crown is simply too large or heavy to return to its original location. The two sandstone items shown here, that I spied in a remote area between the Bayon and the Baphuon in the Angkor Park, aren't lotus crowns in that sense, though one is a stupa-like construction with a lotus-crowned top whilst the other resembles a bell-shape; perhaps part of a similar object as its close neighbour. If you have an idea as to what they represent and why they are there, feel free to share it.
A bell or dome-shaped sandstone construction located between the Bayon and the Baphuon

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Calling time

These restaurants near the Bayon may soon be a thing of the past
On my whizz around Angkor Thom on Saturday with my pal Now, we parked her moto at the shop of a family she's known for many years. They are located in the area north of the Bayon and east of the entrance to the Baphuon. There are a row of souvenir shops selling all manner of items and behind them are a row of small restaurants, the kind you find all over the Angkor complex and beyond. Quite often the area in front of the shops is where buses and tuk-tuks park themselves. The family we spoke to have been there since just after UNTAC moved out in 1993 and they've just been told by the police that they must move out/vacate/clear off by the 20th of this month. That's in 5 days time. No alternate site to move to, no recompense, just take your shop and/or restaurant and move out. No reason has been given. After 17 years, Apsara have decided that the area will have another use. It remains to be seen whether the police enforce their order on the 20th with their normal bully-boy tactics and what Apsara will put in their place. Probably it'll be designated a car park, to cater for the ever-increasing number of vehicles visiting Angkor each day. However if you want a bite to eat or to to buy a krama, then you'll have to look elsewhere.
Update: The shop owners have been told that the Royal Ploughing Ceremony will be held on that spot in early May and that's why they have to move. No suggestion that they will be allowed to return later on.
This area, with shops in front, cafes behind, is scheduled to be cleared on the 20th of this month


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Angkor interlude

A demon and his giant hands hang onto the naga at the south gate of Angkor Thom
Many of the heads at the south gate of Angkor Thom are copies, as you can see from this fresh sandstone demon head above
Cock-fighting and betting in action on the walls of the Bayon
One of the faces of the Bayon

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Commaille's corner

The plaque on the tomb of Jean Commaille at Angkor
Angkor isn't all temples and children trying to sell you guidebooks, kramas and "cold drink mister." In the quiet south-west corner of the road that runs around The Bayon, at the very center of Angkor Thom, lies the tomb of Jean Commaille (right), the first curator of Angkor. He was 48 years old when he was murdered by bandits on 30 April 1916 on the road to Angkor Wat. Jean Commaille was the first of several Frenchmen to make a significant contribution to the conservation of Angkor as the first curator of Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient, better known as EFEO, the authority responsible for maintenance and protection of the temples in the Angkor area. It was he who began the mammoth task of clearing the temple sites from the jungle that had consumed them and wrote the first guidebook - Guide aux ruines d'Angkor - to the temples in 1912.
The granite tombstone of Jean Commaille, Angkor's first curator
Commaille was a painter who went to Indochina with the French Foreign Legion. He was in Angkor painting in 1898, and was then employed by the public works department in a variety of jobs before becoming curator in March 1908. His pioneering work and lifestyle - his home was a straw hut beside the Angkor Wat causeway - evidently suited him. Not so his wife. Apparently unable to live without her piano, she packed her bags and left. Commaille's initial task was to clear Angkor Wat of vegetation before beginning on Angkor Thom. He opened up the great avenues leading to the five gates, cleared the Bayon's courtyards of rubble - stacking the blocks of stone in huge piles, where his successors would search for missing fragments from the bas-reliefs - and cut down the trees in the square framed by the Royal Terraces. It was a slow job and one that was never finished. At the time he lamented that "Every month, perhaps every day, some stones would fall. The complete ruin of the temple was only a matter of time, and it was necessary to consider how to halt it without further delay." Today Commaille's tomb, granite rock crowned by a lintel containing Indra astride his three-headed elephant, sits forlornly in its silent corner, surveying the Bayon as tourists flock to his Angkor Park in ever-increasing numbers.
Commaille's tomb, crowned by an Indra lintel and two colonettes

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