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Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation

Preservation Work at Phnom Bakheng

Masons carve new blocks out of laterite (hardened claylike soil)  for use in the Phnom Bakheng temple at Angkor in Cambodia.

Masons carve new blocks out of laterite (hardened claylike soil) for use in the Phnom Bakheng temple at Angkor in Cambodia.

At Angkor in Cambodia, visitors learn about the work underway to preserve the 10th-century Phnom Bakheng temple.

At Angkor in Cambodia, visitors learn about the work underway to preserve the 10th-century Phnom Bakheng temple.

In May 2008, the Cultural Heritage Center and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA/P/C), announced the United States’ support for the conservation of Phnom Bakheng Temple at the Angkor World heritage site in Cambodia by awarding the World Monuments Fund a grant of $978,705 for the restoration and preservation of Phnom Bakheng, a temple dating back to the tenth century. The WMF estimates the project will take seven years to complete. The grant, awarded through the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, was related to the Consolidated Appropriations Act passed by Congress in December 2007, which included a recommendation of 5 million dollars to the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation. 

The World Monuments Fund (WMF) has been working in over 90 different countries in the past 40 years to preserve important architectural and cultural heritage sites around the globe.  Originally founded in 1965 by a retired American Army colonel, James A. Gray (1909-1994), the WMF is one of the world’s most experienced organizations working for the preservation of World Heritage sites.

Some of the WMF’s most recognizable efforts have involved the restoration of medieval rock-hewn churches in Lalibela, Ethiopia, a campaign to preserve the extraordinary monuments of Easter Island, and following a flood in 1966 the WMF has since been involved in the preservation and restoration efforts in Venice, Italy. Headquartered in New York City, the WMF states that nearly 90 percent of all the revenue raised by the World Monuments Fund goes directly toward the preservation projects, fieldwork, advocacy, and educational projects.

In 2004, prior to current conservation efforts, the U.S. Department of State announced a $550,000 grant to the World Monuments Fund to develop a plan for conservation including detailed site assessment, conservation planning, emergency interventions, and site interpretation.  The WMF, in partnership with the APSARA Authority (the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap) collaborated with an interdisciplinary team of experts to produce a Conservation Master Plan (CMP).  The CMP was created to outline and guide any further restoration efforts that were to take place on Phnom Bakheng.  Some of the key conservation objectives outlined in the CMP to be achieved through further work at Bakheng included:

  • Protect and conserve the cultural and natural resources of Phnom Bakheng within the context of the Historic City of Angkor;
  • Restore damaged landscape so that the natural system they support can regain viability;
  • Transform the visitor experience and work to conserve the physical and intangible heritage of the site through an integrated approach to interpretation, tourism and visitor management;
  • Develop and implement a comprehensive management strategy using an interdisciplinary approach; and
  • Strengthen partnerships for the conservation, management, interpretation, and stewardship of the site.

The restoration of Bakheng is a monumental undertaking.  In total, the conservation and restoration efforts put forth by the World Monuments Fund will cost an estimated 1.5 million dollars and take over 7 years to complete.  The size of these efforts pale in comparison to the overall importance Phnom Bakheng has on our history.  Phnom Bakheng not only demonstrates the impressiveness of Angkor history in the tenth century, it is the relic of man’s shared history. World Heritage Sites such as the great Pyramids, the Mayan temples, and Phnom Bakheng, are great examples of the fruit of mankind’s ingenuity, strength, and intelligence.  Each of these sites are a testament to history, they are our world’s iconic legacies. 

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