Introductions and brief descriptions::

In this essay, we will explore the historical, cultural, and artistic significance of a photograph of Angkor Wat, a temple complex in Cambodia. The photo was taken in a collection named early photography of Asia and provides valuable insights into the past, present, and future of the ruin of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. This photo is from the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries Rare and Distinctive Collection, taken during the Indochina period between 1890-1900, as French colonial residents also take this photograph in the area. Through a thorough analysis of the image and its relevant data, we will argue that Angkor Wat is an intersection of history, art, and culture and that its preservation and appreciation are crucial for the region’s cultural and economic future. Moreover, we will connect the themes of this analysis to broader topics, such as the relationship between art and culture, Historical of the site during the Colonial and Khmer regime period,  and the importance of historic preservation in the 21st century.


Based on my finding on Google maps, The Angkor Wat temple complex is located near the city of Krong Siem Reap in Cambodia,  it is surrounded by a body of water on all sides and is a significant Hindu temple dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu, who served as the preserver and protector of the universe. The temple was constructed during the time period in which the Khmer Empire was occupied and is considered one of two majestic monuments that represent Khmer architecture and art, providing a vital context of the Khmer civilization. The temple was initially built during the reign of King Suryavarman II and was later converted to Buddhism. At the time of its construction, it was considered the largest and most impressive architectural building of its time. Throughout our class in the semester, the article in week three called: “Zhou Daguan, “A Record of Cambodia” Introduction and Excerpts” Touch base on what the site looked like back in the 12 century; his account of the information was important because it is the only surviving first-person written record of daily life in the Khmer Empire. 


Photograph information of Angkor Wat:

Now we can see that the first picture portrays a picture of Angkor Wat during the Indochina period between 1890-1900, more in particular that during this period,  the site of Angkor Wat was under the control of the French colonial government, which had established a protectorate over Cambodia in 1863. According to Cambodia Tribunal Monitor, The French had a keen interest in Angkor Wat as it was regarded as a critical symbol of Cambodia’s cultural heritage and an important archaeological site. In 1901, the École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) was established in Hanoi, Vietnam, and it began to conduct archaeological research at Angkor Wat and other sites in the region. Under the French administration, the site was cleared of vegetation and restored to some extent. In 1908, the Cambodian Department of Antiquities was established by the French to oversee the preservation of Angkor Wat and other historical sites in Cambodia. During this period, there was a growing interest in Angkor Wat among European scholars and travelers. Many of them visited the site and wrote about their experiences, contributing to the popularization of Angkor Wat and its importance as a cultural and historical monument.


The photograph strongly correlated because it was also taken likely by a French Colonial resident purposing to promote Cambodia as a tourists destinations for Europeans. They marketed the country as a place of exotic beauty and cultural richness, with ancient temples and ruins that European visitors could explore. That’s one of the main reasons why the Photograph was taken.


Moving on After Cambodia has gotten independence, according to BBC News article, Khmer rouge. During the Khmer Rouge regime, which lasted from 1975 to 1979, the Angkor Wat temple complex was controlled by the Khmer Rouge government. The Khmer Rouge was notorious for its destruction of cultural sites and artifacts, and also it was considered one of the worst mass killing in the 20th century. Pol Pot was the leader that started the khmer rouge, banned religion, and forced the population into labor camps, where they were subjected to brutal working conditions and widespread violence. The site was mainly left to decay but was also looted and sold several priceless artifacts from the temples by the government, contributing to the destruction of Cambodia’s cultural heritage. 


Contemporary of Angkor Wat challenges:

According to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, The issue of unsustainable tourism practices at Angkor Wat has been a growing concern in recent years. The number of visitors to the site has increased dramatically, with over 2 million tourists visiting in 2019 alone. The influx of tourists has led to overcrowding, with increasing damage to fragile structures and direct harm to the natural environment. 


Another challenge faced by the site is inadequate preservation efforts. The temple complex is made up of over 70 structures, and many of them have been damaged by natural disasters, war, and neglect. Efforts have been made to restore and preserve the site, but there are still concerns about the lack of resources and expertise. The ongoing threat of climate change, including increased flooding and erosion, also poses a significant risk to the preservation of the site. 


Despite these challenges, the Angkor Wat temple complex remains an important cultural and historical landmark in Cambodia. Its construction was a remarkable feat of architecture, with the temple built using advanced engineering techniques and incorporating intricate carvings and sculptures. The site also reflects the influence of Hindu and Buddhist traditions on Khmer culture. 


Angkor Wat continues to inspire people from around the world to appreciate the rich cultural and historical heritage of Cambodia. The site serves as a reminder of the ingenuity and creativity of the ancient Khmer civilization, and its preservation remains crucial for future generations to appreciate and learn from.


The Futrue of Ankor Wat 

Angkor Wat, just like many other historical sites, is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as flooding, erosion, and rising sea levels. The site’s location near numerous rivers and lakes further exacerbates this vulnerability. To protect the site for the future, it will be crucial to implement measures to mitigate the effects of climate change. The Cambodian government has already taken steps in this direction by limiting visitor numbers, introducing stricter regulations for tour operators and guides, and increasing the entrance fee.


In addition, being able to partner with local government and effectively utilizing allocated funds from fundraising or government funds can help improve the site’s structure and prevent further damage from erosion and other climate changes. Promoting sustainable tourism by limiting the number of tourists allowed each day and encouraging visitors to stay on designated paths can also help minimize the impact of tourism on the site.


Finally, engaging local communities and residents in preservation efforts through stronger community engagement can build support and create a sense of ownership over the site. This engagement can also provide funding and employment opportunities for local communities and residents in needs of sources of incomes, serving as an incentive for them to preserve the site continually.



In conclusion, the legacy of Angkor Wat is significant in many ways. Its historical, cultural, and artistic value has made it an important landmark not only in Cambodia but also around the world. As an intersection of history, art, and culture, Angkor Wat provides valuable insights into the past, present, and future of the region. The photograph of Angkor Wat taken during the Indochina period reflects the site’s importance to European scholars and travelers, who popularized it and contributed to its preservation. However, the site faced challenges during the Khmer Rouge regime and continues to face challenges even till present time, including unsustainable tourism practices and inadequate preservation efforts. Despite these challenges, the preservation and appreciation of Angkor Wat remain important for the region’s cultural and economic future. As a remarkable feat of architecture, Angkor Wat serves as a reminder of the ingenuity and creativity of the ancient Khmer civilization, and its preservation is crucial for future generations to appreciate its cultural and historical heritage.

Shared By: Jason Zhang
Source: BBC News. (2018, November 16). Khmer Rouge: Cambodia's years of brutality. Retrieved May 1, 2023, from UNESCO. (n.d.). Angkor. UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved May 1, 2023, from Chandler, David.Cambodia Tribunal Monitor. (n.d.). Cambodian History. Retrieved May 2, 2023, from
Image Alt Text: History and Present of Angkor Wat

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