The National Museum of Cambodia is home to the world’s finest collection of Khmer sculpture. Some highlights include the eight-armed statue of Vishnu from the 6th or 7th century AD, the statue of Shiva and the sublime statue of Jayavarman VII seated, his head bowed slightly in a meditative pose. There is a permanent collection of post-Angkorian Buddhas, many of which were rescued from Angkor Wat when the civil war erupted.
The foundation stone for the new museum was laid in August 1917 and it was inaugurated in 1920. The museum closed between 1975 and 1979, the years of Khmer Rouge control and re-opened on 13 April 1979.
The Angkor Wat style (1100-1175) presents the highest achievements in architecture and ornamentation of buildings and bas-reliefs. Besides the world famous Angkor Wat temple, Phimai temple (in Thailand) was also constructed during this period. Sculpted figures are upright, muscular and formal, and are prominently adorned with ornate belts and jeweled necklaces and bracelets.
Recent archaeological excavations at Angkor Borei (in southern Cambodia) have recovered a large number of ceramics, some of which probably date back to the prehistoric period. Most of the pottery, however, dates to the pre-Angkorian period and consists mainly of pinkish terracotta pots which were either hand-made or thrown on a wheel, and then decorated with incised patterns.
In post-Angkorian wood sculpture, artists began applying one or two layers of lacquer which played a decorative as well as protective role. Also during this period, artists developed the technique of decorating wood figures with encrusted ornaments – frequently using ivory, mother-of-pearl, or vitrified lead inlays. Most of the wooden statues in the museum’s collection were carved in the last few centuries. One can see varied influences in many of the post-Angkorian works of art.
The Museum believes that Cambodia’s cultural heritage is of great value and can provide a source of pride and identity to the Cambodian people who have lost so much in recent decades.
By the way: Some bat experts claim that the National Museum has the largest bat population of any artificial structure in the world. It was considered ecologically unsound to remove the bats, so a second artificial ceiling was constructed, by help of the Australian International Development Assistance Bureau (Aidab) to stop the droppings falling through.