I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and a little bit of writing about the people who lived within the Angkor Wat enclosure, largely due to the fieldwork I participated in this summer. In the process of researching this topic I’ve found out a few interesting examples of people living in and around Angkor Wat I wanted to share.
Many people may not know that when the French first began to do research and conservation at Angkor Wat that there were Buddhist monks living very close to the main temple entrance. There are actually two Buddhist Wats within the Angkor Wat enclosure, called Wat Cheung វត្តជើង (northern wat) and Wat Tbong វត្តត្បង (southern wat). The northern wat is near the venders close to the main causeway to the temple, and the southern wat is near the bathrooms. This postcard I picked up in Siem Reap shows some monk’s houses in front of the main western entrance to the Angkor Wat temple.
In a recent and fascinating article by Michael Falser,* he describes how French archaeologists/conservators undertook a “resettlement” of these monks because “they supposedly blocked the ‘vue générale’ from the entry gate…” (Falser 2013: 92). As Falser describes, the presence of monks and the use of Angkor Wat as living place of spiritual importance was not inline with the French view of the time as the Angkor region as a park.
As far as I can tell, this vision of Angkor Wat remained the same until the 1970s when the civil war drove many refugees into the Angkor Wat temple to take shelter from the fighting. In the (also fascinating) book A Century in Asia there is a photo of some of these refugees dated to August 1970.
Of course, having people live close to heritage sights can create many tricky issues. The Cambodia Daily has recently posted a story about the problems surrounding new construction within the Angkor Park area.
As part of the Greater Angkor Project and my own ongoing research, we hope to better understand the original inhabitants who were living inside the Angkor Wat enclosure. These two examples provide a small glimpse of how more recent populations have used this space. I’d be interested in learning more about both examples, if you have any information please contact me!
2013 From Colonial Map to Visitors Parcours: Tourist Guides and the Spatiotemporal Making of the Archaeological Park of Angkor. In ‘Archaeologizing’ Heritage?: Transcultural Enganglements Between Local Social Practices and Global Virtual Realities , edited by Michael Falser and Monica Juneja. pp 81-106. Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg.