Behind the Scenes

The Temples of Angkor

I had first visited the temples of Angkor in 1989. I was immediately overwhelmed by what I saw, it was difficult to comprehend the majesty of the place. Angkor contains simply some of the most spectacular ancient temples on earth.

The interpreter and I were often completely alone as we wandered the site and delved into the crumbling buildings. The place is huge, and so much has been abandoned and become overgrown that it felt that maybe discovering sculptures that were completely unknown. I was particularly drawn to reliefs and statues on which the detail had worn away so much that you could only just recognize a face.

Many structures bore the marks of war, and outlying parts of Angkor had been heavily mined. But the biggest threat to the temples was the looting of the artworks. I found buildings from which statues and carved reliefs had been chiseled loose and taken away, the artifacts destined to be sold abroad, often in neighboring Thailand.