Angkor has long been important to the French imagination, and since the 1990s a wave of young people has been prepared to spend ten, fifteen, twenty years to carry on the research agenda enunciated by Paul Doumer in 1900 “to advance knowledge of [its] history, monuments and languages by all possible means”. These researchers have had impressive careers, but at the cost of tedious work in depressing, often dangerous, conditions.
The ink had barely dried on the Paris Peace Accords of 1991 before the twenty-eight year-old architect Pascal Royère arrived in Cambodia, in the wake, as he put it, of Jacques Dumarçay, one of the pre-Khmer Rouge members of the Ecole française d’Extrême Orient (EFEO), France’s Far-East research institution. Royère had studied in the Nantes School of Architecture with Jacques Gaucher, a student of Pierre Pichard, who restored the Khmer temple of Phimai in Thailand. Another distinguished graduate of that school is Christophe Pottier, who remapped the whole of southern Angkor. Gaucher himself excavated Angkor’s Royal Palace. Royère spent his entire working life at Angkor and shot to prominence in 1995, when he was entrusted with reconstructing the Baphuon temple. The opening of the work was attended by King Sihanouk and the consecration of the giant Buddha in 2008 by his successor King Sihamoni, who also attended the completion ceremony in 2011.