Banteay Chhmar – A Gem Hidden in the Jungle

The Banteay Chhmar Temple is Cambodia’s most significant and enigmatic temple from the Angkorian period. The temple complex, along with its surrounding environment, moat, and baray (reservoir), forms a distinct archaeological site that is crucial in preserving the country’s cultural heritage.

Located 170 km northwest of Angkor Wat, Banteay Chhmar remains hidden within the dense tropical jungle. King Jayavarman VII commissioned the eight-temple complex in the late 12th century. The project was built in honor of his son who died fighting for the Khmer Empire. King Jayavarman VII was renowned for his construction prowess during the Angkor period.

The stone towers of the complex peek above the tree canopy. The structures are adorned with mysterious smiling faces believed to be prototypes of those at Angkor Thom’s Bayon Temple. The arcade enclosure walls boast masterful bas-reliefs depicting royal processions. Princes wrestling snarling demons, and one particularly striking 32-armed Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva of compassion are among these.

A Community Project

The Global Heritage Fund has recognized the need for preservation while balancing preservation priorities with sustainable economic development. The organization is now collaborating with the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts to provide master planning, conservation, and protection.

Cambodian Project Director John Sanday trained locals in the Khmer language for two years. This led to the creation of the first all-local team dedicated to conservation efforts in Cambodia.

The community-guided preservation efforts in Banteay Chhmar even organized hydrologic surveys. Preservationists and historians used these to understand why the ancient water systems were crucial to the rise and fall of the Khmer Empire.

The Cambodian locals played a major part in transforming Banteay Chhmar into a thriving tourist destination. Their efforts led to the Global Heritage Fund partnering with Heritage Watch and Agir pour le Cambodge to create the Community-Based Tourism Board (CBT). All of the income generated by the heritage site goes to the locally managed cooperative. The organization then shares these funds with the community, supports family-run tourism enterprises, and offers education opportunities.

The Banteay Chhmar Temple remains one of Cambodia‘s most impressive tourist destinations, thanks to the efforts of the locals and the protection awarded by the Global Heritage Fund.

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