The stones faces look, but the bonzes ignore me. All the same, the equipment slung over my shoulder betrays the foreigner, the barbarian that I am. I n the forsaken place where solitude is common, an astonishing vision opens up before me: monks by the hundreds and pilgrims by the thousands, for three days and three nights, give voice to the silence of the ruins.

The beauty of the faces, the profile of shaved heads, and the folds of gowns fit into the design and patina of the stone. The frozen smiles of the towers above and the elegant voluptuousness of the apsaras are in stone; the pilgrims’ slow gestures of devotion and begging breathe before my eyes. Stone-mirrors, verses to the glory of a serenity reborn. The pleasures of the eye are at their height.

Elie Faure, René Grousset, Bernard-Philippe Groslier (…) brought up within the discipline of our Judeo-Christian culture, these three scholars, all great writers, experienced, separated by only a few years, the same bewilderment before the sensuality of Khmer sculpture. Seeming to bring to life a paradise before the fall, the fullness and roundness of the forms was, for them, a revelation.

I love the romanticism of the forest and the roots that spread like a merciless tide over the collapsed temples. They say Piranesi was the architect of ruins, dreams, and the fantastic: there is no better definition of Tà Prohm and Tà Som, that look like sunken cathedrals.

One must wander in this underwater world of hanging lianas and crazy roots in the forms of octopuses and snakes, “in this maze of galleries and inextricable courts”, and dive into the immense solitude of time to understand why the treasures of a whole civilisation risk disappearing forever. (…)

We know about the folly of these kings, builders of temple whose colossal dimensions and ornamental orgies have never been surpassed. However, the epic of restorers, lasting more than a century, is almost as gigantic a work. And also a necessary folly.


Marc Riboud