Saving Cambodia’s Bayon Temple

CNC report from Phnom Penh
Added On June 26, 2013

The 37th World Heritage Committee Meeting is underway in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Pehn.

And at the meeting, UNESCO has pledged help Cambodia preserve its ancient temples.

But in the mean time, one of Cambodia's most important temples is falling apart.

Bayon Temple in northwestern Cambodian city Siem Reap is in critical condition.

Although the 7-century-old temple still looks spectacular inside, the stones of its exterior walls are falling to pieces.

Built in the late 12th or early 13th century, Bayon Temple was the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII.

Standing at the center of ancient city Angkor Thom, the temple symbolizes the peak of the Khmer Empire.

The temple's most distinctive feature is the 216 gigantic faces curved on the stone towers.

Although many experts believe that the faces represent Jayavarman VII himself, there is no hard evidence of whom or what those mysterious faces stand for.

"I find the history very similar to my country. I am from Mexico. And the Khmer history is so close to Mayan culture. I see a lot of similarities which I am most impressed."

Unfortunately, there is not much time left to unravel the mysteries, as the temple is already showing signs of collapse.

At the central terrace of the temple, fractured rocks are scattered on the ground.

Although listed on the World Heritage Sites, the temple had never been well protected.

The temple was built in the rush to prevent enemies from invading King Jayarvaman VII's kingdom. After the king's death, the invaders swept through the temple, destroying parts of it.

In 1991, Cambodian King Sihanouk pledged to save the temple from the damages of time and weather conditions, but it didn't help much.

In 1997, UNESCO and Japan's Panasonic International company together launched an 1-million-U.S.-dollar project, to restore the broken stones of the temple.

Panasonic has signed an agreement with UNESCO to provide financial assistance in renovating Bayon Temple, and to launch eco-learning programs among Cambodian students.

SOUNDBITE (JAPANESE): TAKUMI KAJISHA, Managing Executive Officer, Panasonic
"Since we are global citizens, it is our responsibility to contribute to the well-being of the planet. What we take from the planet, we must give it back."

"Nowadays it is not enough for governments to show leadership and to achieve sustainable development. They cannot do it alone. It must be a joint effort by the civil society and the private sectors."

But, the restoring work is progressing on a very slow pace, since the temple is old and fragile.

"The Bayon Temple is much more fragile than other temples, because it has  a different structure. There are many small stones involved, and there are more sculptures in the building, which makes it more fragile. The situations of the central tower and the central terrace are very difficult to handle. But we have been working with the Japanese team on this monument for the last 16 years. And it is gradually improving. So I hope that the repairing of the Central Tower and the Central terrace will be completed in 2016."

Since the temple needs better protection in the future, UNESCO has decided to start educating the younger generation.

In Cambodia, some 100 students are now involved in the World Heritage Eco Learning Program, to learn about the environmental issues the Earth is facing.

UNESCO hopes that the students will deliver the message of "conservation, preservation and protecting" to their peers.