Monday, December 8, 2008

The orange-red church

The rear of the Bokor church taken from the small rise behind it
One of the landmarks on the summit of Bokor mountain is the orange-red Catholic church that stands on a small rise overlooking all the other derelict buildings and was the site of pitched battles between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese forces in 1979, with the Khmer Rouge fighters holding the church and the small hill on which it stands and their opponents, the hotel. I visited the church eight years ago and it still looks the same today, aside from some newish paintwork inside, along the altar wall. I recall a drawing of a Khmer Rouge soldier on my last visit. On this one, the wall had been whitewashed and new graffiti had been liberally applied in its place, with the stone altar also having been repaired, presumably for a service or two that had been conducted in the intervening years. The exterior of the church is coated in the same orange-red lichen that is found on many of the summit's buildings and in all, the building still looks in pretty good nick. I don't know when the church was built but the construction of Bokor as a hill station by the French in the 1920s caused a lot of disquiet at the time as the project cost an enormous slice of government revenues as well as a few thousand lives, in the building of the 30km road to the summit. With gambling illegal for Cambodians, it was the Chinese and French who made serious use of the casino at Bokor and one in Kep, though of course, being so far removed from Phnom Penh, gambling by the Khmer elite was also commonplace.
The imposing Catholic church on Bokor mountain
The church altar looking remarkably well-kept despite the graffiti
A small altar with red candlewax showing signs of recent activity
The walls of the church tower are splashed in orange-red lichen
Much of the lichen on the walls has darkened over time leaving the church looking dark and brooding

3 Comments:

Blogger Charles & Laura said...

I take it Cambodia doesn't have any preservationist groups that want to hold onto these old buildings for historical purposes? Or are they determined to forget the French colonial period altogether and start fresh?

December 9, 2008 at 3:26 AM  
Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

Ummm, if Cambodia has preservationist groups then they will have a hard job preserving anything if its a straight fight with developers. Of course there are many interested parties in Cambodia who care about such things, including buildings, forests, ethnic minorities, etc, etc, the list is endless. However, Bokor is slated for massive development including at least 1 golf course, so if the buildings get in the way of that, they will have seen their last days. However, if there's some accommodation within the developer's plans, I'm sure they'll at least consider keeping some of the heritage intact, but this is Cambodia, so nothing is a certainty.
Andy

December 9, 2008 at 9:21 AM  
Blogger Charles & Laura said...

Sounds like Los Angeles up until the 1980s...
It's too bad they couldn't do both -- put up their damn golf course AND keep the tourists happy with the old relics. I'm sure with the new road it would bring more tourist money -- people are fascinated by the church and old hotel. When my wife and I were roaming up there we couldn't believe how well made it was. I could see some enterprising chaps turning it into a club...

December 9, 2008 at 9:35 AM  

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