Conservation of the Reliefs at the Temples of Angkor

5 May to 29 July 2007

With a view to coincide with the Angkor – Sacred Heritage of Cambodia exhibition, Cologne Polytechnic is showing the German contribution to the preservation of Cambodia’s temples. Entitled “Conservation of the Reliefs on the Temples of Angkor”, the exhibition presents the German Apsara Conservation Project (GACP) in Angkor and its work in connection with the international aid operation to preserve this World Heritage site under the patronage of UNESCO. Subsidized by funds from the Cultural Conservation Programme of the German Foreign Office, the GACP has been studying and conserving the famous bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat and many other temples since 1995.

In the temple complex of Angkor, which was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1992, over 100 major temples have been preserved on an area of about 400 square kilometres. They were built by god kings during the period of the Khmer Empire (9th–13th centuries). In 1860 they were rediscovered for Europe in the Cambodian jungle by French explorers. Since then a large number of conservation experts and scholars have been striving to preserve and restore these monumental structures which are ornamented with elaborate stone carvings of the finest workmanship.

The Angkor Wat temple, which dates from the first half of the 12th century and is one of the world’s largest religious buildings, is almost entirely covered with valuable stone bas-reliefs; the graphic depictions occupy a surface area of several thousand square metres.

The over 1,850 bas-reliefs showing the celestial dancing girls and goddesses Apsara and Devata and the gable bas-reliefs above the portals are under acute threat of destruction by the elements. But sections of the world-famous, up to 100-metre-long flat bas-reliefs in the galleries are also endangered. The rapid progress of the damage and the far advanced destruction of large parts of the bas-reliefs led to emergency measures being taken immediately.

Following extensive scientific investigation and documentation the conservation work began in 1997, and large areas of the bas-reliefs have since been saved from final ruin. At the same time the sculptures in the Angkor Wat temple, such as the “Ta Reach” (the large statue of Vishnu at the entrance), are being inventoried and conserved.

For some time now the geographical focus of the GACP’s work has been considerably expanded. Preservation work on stone and stucco bas-reliefs is going on at many other temples (e.g. Baphuan, Bayon, Preah Ko, Pre Rup, Lolei, East Mebon, Trapeang Phong, Bat Chum, and in connection with objects on Mount Kulen, in Ko Ker and at Phnom Bok). The wall paintings discovered by the project team in the 10th century Ko Ker temple located far to the east which were of almost sensational significance for art historians’ evaluation of the architecture, have now been photographed. Materials and the damage they have suffered have been documented and investigated in detail.

Meanwhile 27 Cambodian restorers and documentation specialists have been trained under the project to do the practical work. German scholars from various disciplines provide their expertise, while students from various institutions of higher education in Germany and other European countries – of whom there are now over 60 – are taking part in the project as part of their practical semesters, internships or degree work.

On the basis of photographs, films and texts the exhibition in the Martin-Gropius-Bau introduces visitors to the complex and exciting work of stone conservation. The films show the actual restoration work in progress, which is explained in more detail. A highlight of the exhibition is the life-size representation of a tympanum with scaffolding, which gives a vivid idea of the scale of the original.

The project is sponsored by the Federal Republic of Germany. It is also supported by Fachhochschule Köln, private sponsors, Freunde des Angkor Konservierungs-Teams FAKT e.V., Friends of Khmer Culture FOKCI, and the participating scholars.

Initiator and project manager: Professor Hans Leisen
Fachhochschule Köln, Fakultät für Kulturwissenschaften, Institut für Restaurierungs- und Konservierungswissenschaft CICS
Ubierring 40, 50678 Köln
E-mail : JAEH.LEISEN@t-online.de OUT; $crypt = new HTML_Crypt($link_url); $crypt->output(); ?>
Realisation of the exhibition:
Prof. Dr. Hans Leisen, CICS
Prof. Heiner Jacob & M.A.D. (Marie-Helen Scheid, Anna Lipp, Daniela Schönherr), KISD

Organizer: An Exhibition of the German Apsara Conservation Project in Angkor, college of higher education Köln, institute of the science of restoration and conservation CICS.
Made possible by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.