Banteay Chmar’s South Causeway: Conservation and Restoration
Banteay Chmar is located in northwestern Cambodia (see map below) and is one of the most important temple complexes of the Angkorian period. Built in the reign of the King Jayavarman VII during the late 12th and early 13th centuries, Banteay Chmar was surrounded by a four-sided moat crossed by four causeways. The South Causeway was originally lined with two majestic balustrades: on one side massive figures of gods, and on the other side figures of giants, each group pulling on a long serpent—a classic scene from the Hindu legend of the churning of the ocean of milk.
After more than 800 years of weathering and neglect, the foundations of this causeway were unstable, stone blocks had fallen into the mud, and most of the sculptures had collapsed in situ or had been moved to another location for conservation and display.
With support from FOKCI, the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts undertook a conservation and restoration project, commissioning SACRA (the Southeast Asian Conservation and Restoration Agency) to carry out the research and conservation effort. Importantly, and again with the support of FOKCI, SACRA had previously trained a cadre of Cambodian stone conservators to work at Banteay Chmar; they thus became a vital part of this Cambodian-led project. The emphasis throughout has been a reliance on Cambodian expertise and where possible on Cambodian methods and materials as well.
SACRA carried out research on the complex problems associated with crumbling sandstone and developed methods and materials to repair, reinforce, and strengthen the stones. Headed by Kim Sothin from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, the team consolidated and restored the retaining wall through a process of painstakingly identifying and documenting the stones. All operations were recorded both in written text and digital photography, to serve as an archive for scholars and researchers.
The conservation of the stone blocks and sculptures and the restoration of the two balustrades that line the South Causeway at Banteay Chmar have restored the authenticity of these elements and given a vision of how the entrances to this exceptional complex must have looked in former times. Further, this work has now opened up a secondary access to the site from a part of the nearby village. The project thus represents both an important Cambodian-led effort and also greater linking of this important Khmer heritage site to its local community.