World Monuments Fund Project (WMF)

World Monuments Fund at Angkor: Preah Khan; Churning of the Sea of Milk, Angkor Wat; Ta Som; Phnom Bakheng; and the Center for Khmer Studies.

World Monuments Fund (WMF) began work in Cambodia in 1989 at the invitation of the Cambodian government, embarking on what would become its largest investment in a single site. WMF has helped preserve and present the Preah Khan monastic complex, the representative south gallery on the east elevation of Angkor Wat (including the famed bas-relief the Churning of the Sea of Milk), the temple of Ta Som, and Phnom Bakheng. WMF also helped found the Center for Khmer Studies and conducted surveys at the remote Khmer site of Banteay Chhmar.

WMF’s work at Angkor is informed by the principles that guide its projects worldwide: engage fully with the local community, develop technologically and culturally appropriate conservation solutions; build local capacity through training and education; use conservation approaches that embrace environmental, social, and community factors; encourage economic self-sufficiency; and share information and learning both within the host culture and internationally. In association with its Angkor projects, WMF administers on-site training for graduate and post-graduate level architects and archaeologists to help replace those lost in years of civil conflict.

WMF’s Conservation Goals and Approach:

• Analyze traditional Khmer building materials and methods.
• Establish conservation methodologies appropriate for use at Khmer monuments.
• Stabilize and partially restore structures.
• Protect and present the historic Khmer structures and their environs.
• Offer on-site conservation training for Cambodian students and craftspeople.
• Deter theft and vandalism through video imaging and computerized inventories.
• Employ above-ground archaeological research to learn more about the ancient Khmer empire and Angkor’s pre-history.

Preah Khan

Commissioned by Jayavarman VII in 1191, Preah Khan (“Sacred Sword”) occupies a one-half square kilometer site, with four concentric enclosure walls that embrace a labyrinth of shrines, courts, halls, and pavilions. A monument to religious tolerance, Preah Khan has sections dedicated to Buddhism, Hinduism, and ancestor veneration. Its most important elements are the Vishnu Complex, the Two-Story Pavilion, the Hall of Dancers, the Dharmasala, and the 72 monumental sandstone Garudas (guardian birdmen) engaged in the site’s outermost perimeter wall.

The map of Preah Khan temple complex
©World Monuments Fund

When WMF began work in 1991, Preah Khan was little more than a jumble of fallen stones and structures on the brink of collapse—the result of years of neglect, jungle vegetation encroachment, and water damage.

Conservators chose to stabilize the site and preserve it as a partial ruin, eschewing major reconstruction due to the lack of historical data, the magnitude of the task, and the questionable philosophical nature of such an approach. Prior to stabilization, stones were measured, drawn, and number-coded. The team used low-tech steel scaffolding, chain hoists, and hydraulic jacks to re-set fallen stones and it reopened the principal East Entrance, saved the Hall of Dancers from collapse, and stabilized the Dharmasala and East Gopura. WMF also built a site-interpretation center and established a comprehensive maintenance program. All projects are staffed and managed by Cambodia architects, archaeologists, conservators, and workers trained in site conservation.

©World Monuments Fund

Angkor Wat Intermediate Gallery

The main gallery of the intermediate level of Angkor Wat is imperiled due to the shifting and weakening of its support structures, caused primarily by earth settlement due to ineffective ground and roof water drainage. This has caused noticeable deterioration of the reliefs, including the famed Churning of the Sea of Milk. In 1998, with the approval of the International Coordination Committee for Angkor, WMF began to survey structural and material conditions of the main gallery and its adjacent structures; monitor movement; conduct archival and bibliographic research, soil studies, and laboratory investigation of materials; and analyze the interaction of sandstone and proposed repair materials. This effort could serve as a prototype for the restoration of the seven similar galleries at the intermediate level of Angkor Wat.

©World Monuments Fund

Ta Som

©World Monuments Fund
Believed to date to the reign of Jayavarman VII, the temple of Ta Som is a single, unified ensemble typical of the monuments built during the last phase of the Bayon period. With three enclosures, Ta Som exhibits elements typical of Angkor’s larger temples—false windows with lowered blinds, small devata sculptures, and floral decoration on a background of foliated scrolls. Only minimal structural propping had been done at Ta Som in the 1950s.

In 2000, Cambodian members of the WMF team began a course of documentation, emergency stabilization of fragile structures, conservation interventions, improvements to visitor circulation paths, and a presentation and interpretation scheme.

Phnom Bakheng

Phnom Bakheng was constructed when Khmer King Yasovarman I (r. 893–900) moved his capital from Roluos to Angkor. Built atop one of three hills that punctuate the alluvial plain on which Angkor was founded, it is the first and one of the foremost examples of the “temple mountain” style, representing the five peaks of the mythological Mount Mehru, dwelling place of the principal Hindu gods. It is known for very fine sculptures—important early examples of the stylized, deeply carved figures known as the Bakheng Style. Recent threats to the site include damage from military activity, poorly managed tourism, and monsoon rains, which cause erosion and structural instability.

In 2004, WMF embarked upon a three-to-five year program of detailed site assessment, conservation planning, emergency interventions, and site interpretation. The team is conducting “risk mapping” and supplementary archaeological research, assessing environmental and architectural conservation needs, developing recommendations concerning the structural stability of the site, and creating a tourism management plan.
©World Monuments Fund

Center for Khmer Studies

Founded by WMF in 1999, the Center for Khmer Studies provides a meeting ground for scholars and students of Khmer culture in Cambodia including a scholars-in-residence program; academic partnership with leading universities; and a research program in archaeology, social sciences, and architecture.

Aerial radar surveys

WMF and the Royal Angkor Foundation joined forces with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1994 to generate ground-penetrating aerial radar imaging of the eco-site of Angkor from the space shuttle Endeavor. Used to analyze surface and subsurface archaeological features, the imaging gives information about the intricate hydrological system of waterways and barays (reservoirs) that originally supported Angkor's economy but are now largely filled with sediment and in disuse.


General page on the Preah Khan temple

World Monuments Fund
Center for Khmer Studies
Interactive panoramas
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory aerial radar surveys of Angkor, including Preah Khan

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