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Angkor-Wat - Expo Paris 1889

Angkor-Wat at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889

Entrance on the central alley. Let us say right away that the name Angkor-Wat pagoda is not absolutely correct.

The construction we have arrived at is in fact only one of the corner doors of one of the best preserved monuments left by the Khmers, that great extinct people of whom the present-day Cambodians claim to be the grandsons - singularly degenerate grandsons. The region of Angkor - taken by the Siamese from the Cambodians - contains absolutely marvellous constructions, in ruins respected for centuries.

Discovered by French missionaries in the 16th century, they have been studied from 1861 to the present day by Doudart de Lagrée, Delaporte, etc. (See Delaporte Museum, Paris). (See the Delaporte Museum at Trocadero).

Who were the Khmers, these incomparable architects, these creators of a form and a style, these true artists? We don't really know. Recent studies tend to show that the word Khmer is modern and means Cambodian. At the same time, the deciphering of certain Angkor inscriptions revealed, two years ago, the date of the second century, which would give the oldest of these ruins - for there are all dates in this dead Rome - the age of the oldest monuments in India. Ten civilisations and twenty races must have struggled and disappeared in turn between the Mekong and the Great Lake. Alongside works of art that delight artists, excavations have brought to light objects from the Stone Age. All that is known is that between the second or third century B.C. and the tenth century A.D., a great people of high intellectual culture covered a part of Indo-China with cities and monuments, of which the ruins of Angkor remain as a superb sample. Khmer or not, this people had close religious and artistic links with India: inscriptions and stones are proof of this. The draining of the region, the transformation of the gulf into a lake, and other as yet unknown causes have impoverished, disseminated, and bastardized the race, finally causing it to disappear. Angkor alone remains as a witness, a pilgrimage for historians and artists alike; and the lake dwellings, the fishermen's sampans on the site of the ancient cities, show the perpetuity of life indifferent to revolutions.

Even the visitor will not have time to philosophize at the Invalides. Let us simply tell him that this piece of pagoda tends to represent a fragment of the monument of which only the following figures can give him an idea:
The temple of Angkor-Wat-the real sanctuary that we wanted to recall and symbolize here-occupied nearly six thousand meters. The moat that surrounded it was 200 meters wide and the rectangle it encompassed would measure no less than 827 meters wide. The central tower was 80 metres. The whole thing cannot be described. The photograph of this architectural wonder will edify the curious.

Our Cambodian pavilion, known as the Angkor-Wat pagoda, is about as good a representation of the German military system as a Pomeranian guardhouse. As it is, however, it sufficiently synthesizes the art known as Khmer. Two galleries and counter-galleries intersecting at right angles and at the intersection of which rises the tower - the main feature of its façade - are the building's constituent elements. The tower is divided into tiers simulating an accumulation of parasols housing the image of the deity in whose honour this part of Angkor-Wat was built. On each side, pediments, formed by a frame representing a hundred-headed serpent, decorate the floors. The forty meters of the tower are decorated in this way and have nothing heavy or inaccurate, while recalling a monument, which, reconstituted as it is, would have covered, by itself, the entire Champ de Mars, without suffering too much from the crushing proximity of the Eiffel Tower!
Perhaps, however, the treasures of Angkor could have been represented by a more grandiose sample, but we know how lazy France is about overseas riches, and then there was not enough time, not to mention the fact that the organisers would have spent enormous sums to satisfy only rare sinologists and artists. Let us only regret that this reproduction of a fragment of a disappeared art is not more faithful, that the roofs of the monument, for example, are not more real.

As it is, this pavilion, if it does not suggest the intense admiration that Khmer art deserves, will strike visitors by its details. As far as we are concerned, it will be enough to have inspired their curiosity to find out more about these marvels in our museums.

In any case, the walker should not leave without having gone through the interior exhibition: weapons, jewels, silverware, musical instruments, hairstyles, furniture, clothes, elephant packs, palanquins, models of domestic and agricultural instruments, etc., are to retain him. And we are not talking about the products of the soil, the woods and all the riches that the specialists - we took them from the exhibitions of Burma and Siam - will be able to admire there. To these customers aside, there is no need to remind them that the products of French Indo-China (annexed or protectorate countries) should not be estimated according to their possible flow in Europe. Whatever one's opinion may be on the subject of our colonial policy, it is quite certain that Indo-Chinese exporters can and must live only by trading with China - the only country where their trade finds buyers for products which would be of no use to Liverpool as well as to Marseilles.

© Guide Bleu du Figaro et du Petit Journal 1889