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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Cambodia's second Angkor coming to life

Archeologists have started their work at one of Cambodia's grandest monuments, reviving the Southeast Asian site after 800 years of isolation.

Built by Jayavarman VII of the Angkorian Empire, Banteay Chhmar started welcoming visitors in 2007 after years of neglect and isolation during the civil war.

In 2008, the California-based Global Heritage Fund began work at the Buddhist temple under the supervision of Cambodia's Ministry of Culture.

Called the "second Angkor Wat," Banteay Chhmar approaches the world famous monuments in size, but only attracts an average of two visitors a day compared with an average of 7,000 daily tourists visiting Angkor.

A veteran British conservation architect has assembled a team of 60 experts and workers to revive the collapsed shrines and galleries scattered within the 12-square-kilometer archaeological site.

"We've been struggling away with this gallery for nearly two years now," says Sanday at a bas-relief, depicting a figure believed to be Jayavarman VII leading his troops into battle.

"My philosophy is to preserve and present the monuments as I found them for future generations without falsifying their history. So often people tend to guess what was there," he added.

Cambodian computer experts of Sanday's team are contributing to the project by using three-dimensional imaging in reconstructing one of the temple's 34 towers recently damaged in a severe storm.

"We hope that with one push of the button all the stones will jump into place to solve what we are calling 'John's puzzle,'" says Sanday.

Sanday prefers Banteay Chhmar is not registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and hopes its remote location will protect it from a mass tourist influx.

"I often come here in the late afternoons, when the birds come alive and a breeze stirs," he said. "It's peaceful and quiet here, like it used to be at Angkor. This is a real site."

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