The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, concluded her official visit to Cambodia with the visit to the Archaeological Park of Angkor, an iconic World Heritage site inscribed on the World Heritage List and on the World Heritage List in Danger in 1992.
Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia, stretching over some 400km, including forested area, which contain the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 1th century. These include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations.
UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging programme to safeguard this site and its surroundings. The magnificent site structure consists of impressive monuments and temples, hydraulic structures, as well as communication routes. For several centuries, Angkor was the center of the Khmer Kingdom, with its unique concentration of features testifying to an exceptional civilization. The architecture and layout of the successive capitals bear witness to a complex level of social order and ranking within the Khmer Empire. Angkor is a major site, exemplifying cultural, religious and symbolic values, and expressing outstanding architectural, archaeological and artistic significance.
The Angkor complex represents the entire range of Khmer art from the 9th to the 14th centuries, and includes a number of indisputable artistic masterpieces. Temples such as Angkor Wat, the Bayon, Preah Khan and Ta Prohm, exemplars of Khmer architecture, are closely linked to their geographical context as well as being imbued with symbolic significance. The influence of Khmer art as developed at Angkor was a profound one over much of South-East Asia. The Khmer Empire of the 9th-14th centuries encompassed much of South-East Asia and played a formative role in the political and cultural development of the region. All that remains of that civilization is its rich heritage of structures in brick and stone.
The Archaeological Park of Angkor presently counts a number of operating international teams under the joint supervision and monitoring by the APSARA National Authority (Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap) with the support UNESCO, and several national and international partners.
The Director-General commended Mr. Bun Narith, Director of the APSARA National Authority, for the solid and highly professional work conducted and supervised, in the context of the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the historic site of Angkor -- two meetings are held every year, under the co-chairmanship of Japan and France and UNESCO's overall leadership.
“In 20 years of restoration and conservation efforts at the Angkor World Heritage site, the International Coordination Committee, under the joint leadership of UNESCO and the APSARA National Authority clearly proved to be a model of entrepreneurship, as well as the international scientific reference overlooking projects and development operations undertaken on the Angkor site, so as to ensure both excellence and performance --this should be shared with the rest of the world,” declared Irina Bokova.
The International Coordinating Committee ensures consistency of the various projects and defines, as necessary, the technical standards required. It is composed of 16 Member countries. 23 international and intergovernmental institutions of which the European Union, the World Bank; the World Monuments Fund; the Asian Development Bank; the United Nations Development Program; the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture, the International Monetary Fund, the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, the International Council of Museums , the International Council on Monuments and Sites, and the World Tourism Organization. Currently, 38 projects are ongoing on the site, in which some USD 150 million have been invested for its conservation and restoration, both bilaterally and multilaterally. It is by far the largest international cooperation project ever implemented in the area of conservation of cultural heritage.
All works on the site are conducted in compliance with the Charter for Angkor - which was initiated in 2002 by an interdisciplinary group of conservation professionals – and which clearly recognizes the great importance of ongoing research and the constant evolution of conservation methods and materials. The Charter recommends that any conservation and restoration project include upstream planning, data collection and safety evaluation, concerning also the issue of quality control surveys of conservation and restoration work, including a long-term maintenance plan.
The restoration works conducted under the supervision of APSARA and the overall leadership of UNESCO revealed the outstanding level of knowledge, wisdom and technology that existed at the time of the original construction, such as methods for diverting rainwater, original carvings and replicas on the roof, sandstone bas-reliefs, sculptures, stucco and polychrome decorations. Training of Khmer conservators and developing capacities of Cambodian professionals has also been one of the main features of this wide undertaking over the last 20 years.