A solemn blessing ceremony was held this morning at the National Museum of Cambodia for one of the Kingdom’s most precious treasures, as it was prepared for the first steps of a long, but necessary journey.

A bronze statue of Preah Noreay, originally from the Angkor Archaeological Park’s 11th-century Mebon Temple, is set to undergo significant restoration work in France. 

The May 7 ceremony featured traditional rites performed by monks, who sprinkled holy water to ensure a safe journey and successful restoration.

The event was attended by several notable figures, including Phoeung Sackona, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, Fabrice Etienne, deputy chief of mission at the French Embassy in Cambodia, and representatives from local and international cultural institutions.

Chhay Visoth, director of the culture ministry’s National Museum, highlighted the complexity of the restoration. 

“It will be challenging due to ongoing restoration efforts that began in the 1950s,” Visoth explained.

“We aim to assess the past renovations with current technology, so we can understand the previous work’s impact on the sculpture,” he added.

Culture minister Phoeung Sackona prays before the statue as it is prepared for its long journey to France. Culture Ministry

The restoration of the six-metre-wide statue of the Hindu deity showcases the broad scientific and technical collaboration between Cambodia and France.

Originally agreed upon in 2019, the initiative was delayed by the global Covid-19 crisis.

The statue will be examined and restored at the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France (C2RMF), in Paris.

Visoth acknowledged that the capacity of the local repair team is limited, as they do not possess the technology required to repair the ancient bronze.

“This is an opportunity for us to send the sculpture out for renovation. At the same time, we plan to exhibit the piece in foreign exhibitions. This will provide a chance to demonstrate the incredible work of our ancestors,” he told The Post.

“The capacity of local bronze casting in the 11th century was extremely impressive,” he added.

The project aims to delve deep into the techniques of large-scale metal engraving that were used during the Angkorian period of the Khmer civilisation. 

A traditional Apsara dance was performed as part of the blessing ceremony for the 11th-century sculpture before its departure. Culture Ministry

“The insights from this research will significantly contribute to our understanding of metalworking throughout human history,” added Visoth.

He said that there are not enough pieces to reassemble the whole sculpture, but parts of the upper body will be modelled using 3D imaging.

The task of reassembling the 39 long-detached pieces of the Preah Noreay statue, separated for nearly a millennium, is a poignant one. It speaks to the endurance and fragility of cultural heritage. 

As specialists carefully test and position each piece using advanced 3D modelling techniques, they will be a part of reuniting a history that was been scattered by the sands of time. 

The six-metre-wide stature represents a Hindu god, from a time before the Khmer Empire adopted the Buddhist religion which is still practiced in Cambodia today. Culture Ministry

Following its restoration, the statue is slated for display at the Guimet National Museum of Asian Arts in Paris. It will be the centrepiece of a non-permanent exhibition which will also feature a further 126 bronze sculptures from the National Museum of Cambodia. 

This exhibition, titled "Bronze Age of Angkor: Art of the Deities," will showcase the evolution of metalworking from prehistoric times through to the post-Angkorian period.

The statue’s journey will continue across three additional locations in the US, where it will share the legacy of Angkorian metalworking techniques and celebrate the rich heritage of the Khmer civilisation on the international stage.