Abandoned casts of Angkor Wat treasures come out of hiding

 Abandoned casts of Angkor Wat treasures come out of hiding
The famous Angkor Wat temple

PARIS - Forgotten and abandoned for over 70 years, casts of the art treasures at the Khmer temple complex at Angkor in Cambodia are coming out of storage to be rediscovered in a Europe that first shunned them.

The statues, reliefs and temple decorations in the style of the original ninth to 15-century monuments at the site in northern Cambodia are to be exhibited in Paris' Musee Guimet in all their splendour.

The casts made between 1870 and the late 1920s were commissioned by Frenchman Louis Delaporte (1842-1925), a member of the expedition team who "rediscovered" Angkor nearly 150 years ago.

Displayed at Paris' Indochina Museum at Trocadero until its closure in 1936, the works were passed from one storage site to another over the next seven decades, some becoming damaged in the process.

A year ago, the Musee Guimet took the pieces to a secure warehouse where they were inventoried and in certain cases restored, ready for the exhibition entitled "Birth of a Myth. Louis Delaporte and Cambodia" that opens October 16. Some 250 works will be shown including the casts and original Khmer art plus photographs and drawings.

For several centuries the Angkor complex, now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the centre of the powerful Khmer Empire.

Stretching over 400 square kilometres (250 square miles), the park contains remains of Khmer capitals, with the impressive 12th-century Angkor Wat temple its best-known treasure.

Delaporte's collection features reliefs of Angkor Wat with extraordinary detail that far eclipses what visitors to the original can see.

"At the site, the original (reliefs) are high up and barely visible from the ground," said Pierre Baptiste, exhibition curator and head of the Musee Guimet's southeast Asia section.

Among the casts is a plaster tower covered with smiling deities, like the one of the Bayon temple, a major monument at Angkor. It was sawed into bits after 1936 but will be partially put back together for the exhibition.

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