Friday, March 5, 2010
I first visited Oudong, which is only forty or so kilometers north of the Capital in 2005. Oudong was the capital of Cambodia at various times between 1618 and 1866, but not much remains that would remind a visitor of this historical detail. Amongst all the decaying, renovated and newer stupas on the hills one site in particular stood out.
All that remained of this temple was a few walls and some giant stumps of columns, with the almost unrecognizable plinth and crossed legs of a formerly enormous Buddha statue. The columns brought the massive temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt to mind. In both places the columns seemed to stand strangely against the sky, with little hint that any had actually served a practical purpose of holding up a roof at some forgotten time before.
Although it looked somehow ancient, the Vihear Preah Ath Roes or “Vihara of the 18 cubit Buddha”, was actually only finished and dedicated in 1911 during King Sisowath’s reign. The area around Oudong mountain suffered heavy aerial bombardment during the 1970-75 civil war, from Cambodian Republican Forces and the US B52s and F16s that backed them up. Although at first I came to believe that this bombing had caused the destruction of the temple, after discussing the situation with locals I changed my mind. What they told me was that the pagoda at the bottom of the hill, close to the current car-park and restaurant area had been flattened by bombing. The temple with the big lonely columns had been dynamited by the Khmer Rouge forces later, in 1977.
Returning to the mountain in 2009, I was aware that some reconstruction had been going on. I braved the mid-April heat and wandered up to have a look. The 18 cubit Buddha had been completely rebuilt, a lot of work had been put into the walls, and the basic framework for a roof was up. I have to admit I preferred it the way it had been, but that is understandably not a sentiment shared by many people here. I may find derelict houses and rustic war ruins attractive, but others don’t need reminding. I’ll try and drop up to Oudong again soon and see how it is all progressing.