In 2015, two archaeologists from Éveha International took part in excavations carried out as part of the restoration project on the temple of West Mebon, in Cambodia. This project is directed by Marie-Catherine Beaufeïst (Heritage architect – École Française d'Extrême-Orient).
Marie-Catherine Beaufeïst (École Française d’Extrême-Orient)
Location and historical summary
West Mebon is located in the west of the Archaeological park of Angkor, on an artificial island emerging from the water in the centre of the Western Baray (a reservoir basin 8 kilometres long and 2.1 kilometres wide). Dated to the reign of Udayaditiavarman II (1050-1066), it combines an unusual architectural composition with an intriguing religious function.
A rectangular platform oriented east-west contains a square basin (built into the western half of the site), whose sides are adorned with sandstone terraces topped by an outer wall. Each facade contains three gopurams or entrance towers. The centre of this basin is occupied by an aedicula also covered in sandstone and which contains two wells next to each other, on the east-west axis. The western well, which is circular and faced with grey sandstone, revelaed the remains of a bronze Vishnu (Vishnu Sleeping on the Cosmic Ocean), discovered by Maurice Glaize (École Française d’Extrême-Orient) in 1936. This is currently housed in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. An axial causeway linking the central aedicula to the eastern facade is comprised of an earthen dyke covered in small laterite blocks.
Having suffered extensive damage throughout the centuries (silting up of the eastern facde, collapse of three quarters of the structure), West Mebon underwent a phase of restoration from December 1942 to December 1944, by Maurice Glaize. This involved uncovering the terraces, cleaning of the circular well and anastylosis of the outer well and of the towers in the eastern facade. He discovered the second well, which is square in shape, faced and tiled in sandstone, and whose rim is made of four upright stones.
Started in 2012 by Pascal Royère and continued by Marie-Catherine Beaufeïst since 2014, a new restoration programme was undertaken as part of a fund led by the French ministries of Foreign Affairs and International Development and of Culture, Communications, Higher Education and Research. The EFEO is in partnership with the APSARA Authority (Cambodia) to manage the restoration of the temple while carrying out archaeological excavations in order to understand how this Niolometer temple functioned in an unusual hydraulic context.
In the field, the project began in the spring of 2012 with archaeological test-trenches being dug in the dried up Baray, work which took place ahead of the damming of the temple. Trenches were dug using machinery and by hand around the temple before the construction of a protective dyke, built in order to drain a strip of land approximately 30 metres wide, so as to enable the restoration works to be carried out (movement within the site, installation of machinery, an area to store the stone blocks, etc.).
Since the autumn of 2012, numerous archaeological excavation seasons (sondages and trenches) have been conducted alongside the continuing restoration project, using the method of anastylosis. These excavations add to the archives available on this temple which is only partly understood, particularly in relation to its foundations, architecture, various construction and occupation phases, etc. The documentation acquired in recent years has demonstrated that the history of this temple is more complex than previously imagined.
How Eveha International Participates
École Française d’Extrême-Orient
Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (Cambodge)