Restoration of the Stone Staircase at the Preah Vihear Temple May Take up to Nine Years

The staircase leading up the cliff to the 12th century monument can be used by visitors during restoration

PHNOM PENH--The restoration of the northern staircase of the Preah Vihear temple is expected to take a decade to complete, according to the National Authority for Preah Vihear.

Kong Puthikar, director general of the National Authority for Preah Vihear, said that the third phase of the 2021-2022 restoration project, which began on Nov. 8, 2021, will focus on repairing and the preservation of the northern staircase.

This staircase, which leads to the monument set at the top of a 500-meter or so cliff, is believed to consist of approximately 2,400 steps.

The restoration and preservation of the whole northern staircase will take between eight to 10 years, with the completion scheduled for 2028, 2029 or 2030.

Built over the course of 300 years and completed in the 12th century, Preah Vihear was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site on July 7, 2008, during the 32nd session of the World Heritage Committee held in Quebec City in Canada. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva.

The northern staircase of Preah Vihear temple was part of the travel route in Angkorian times and was also used to bring material for the construction of the temple, Puthikar explained.

Over the centuries, some parts of the staircase have been severely damaged due weather, rain, wind as well as plants growing in-between the rocks, which is why it now requires intervention and restoration, he said.

The National Authority for Preah Vihear, which was established in 2016, had set three phases for the restoration of the staircase that started in 2018 through the financial contribution of the United States Embassy in Cambodia. The first and second phases have already been completed, Puthikar said.

“The US Embassy also provided funding to support us in the first and second phases for research in 2018-2019, and for reparation of small parts of the whole staircase,” he said.

Phase three of the restoration is also funded by the US Embassy, which continues to financially support restoration work at the temple.

The staircase restoration will take another seven to nine years because it is very steep, which makes it very difficult to transport the material for restoration, and especially the stones, Puthikar explained. This is one other reason why the restoration of the entire staircase started in 2018 will take at least 10 years, he said.

In January 2021, the US Embassy provided through the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation a total of $420,000 in grants for the restoration and preservation of the Preah Vihear temple in Preah Vihear Province and the Phnom Bakheng temple in the Angkor Archeological Park in Siem Reap Province.  According to the Ministry of Culture and Fines Arts, around $120,000 of the grant went to the National Authority for Preah Vihear for the restoration of the northern staircase.

While the restoration work is being carried out, the Preah Vihear authority still allows visitors to use the staircase. Since the work is being done in phases, this does not affect tourism at the site, Puthikar explained. A temporary steel bridge will be built to enable tourists to visit the temple while the restoration work is carried out, he added.

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