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Angkor Wat temple opens after 50 years

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4 July 2011 by Luke McCormick

An ancient Angkor 'puzzle' temple has been reopened to the public after a 50-year renovation project.

The restoration of the 11th-century Baphuon monument, one of the country's largest after Angkor Wat, involved dismantling 300,000 sandstone blocks and painstakingly piecing them back together - a task described as the world's biggest puzzle.

The reopening of the temple was celebrated with a high-profile ceremony attended by Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

"The work at Baphuon has been exceptional," Fillon said at the inauguration event in the north-western tourist hub of Siem Reap, while King Sihamoni expressed his people's "profound gratitude to France" for funding the £9-million project.

Work to save the temple originally got underway in the 1960s but was interrupted by Cambodia's civil war.

The project originally got underway in the 1960s, when Baphuon - once among Angkor's finest monuments - was on the brink of collapse, but work was interrupted by Cambodia's civil war.

A French-led team of archaeologists decided the only way to save the temple was to dismantle it.

All of the monument's stone blocks were laid out in the surrounding jungle and painted with a number to match an entry on a master plan so the tower could be rebuilt.

During the civil war the records needed to reconstruct the tower were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, a hardline communist regime that took power in 1975.

Reconstruction work was only restarted in 1995 when the area was deemed safe.

Pascal Royere, who has been overseeing the project, said the early years had been the hardest.

"We were facing a three-dimensional puzzle, a 300,000-piece puzzle to which we had lost the picture. And that was the main difficulty of this project," Mr Royere told AFP news agency.

"There is no mortar that fills the cracks which means that each stone has its own place. You will not find two blocks that have the same dimensions."

Our correspondent says that some pieces - more than 10,000 - are left over, and dot the forest floor surrounding the temple.
It is thought more than 10,000 pieces are left over and now dot the jungle surrounding the temple.

The Angkor region was the seat of the medieval Khmer empire.

Picture: Leo Mei

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