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Reviewed by:
  • Cambodian Architecture: Eighth to Thirteenth Centuries
  • Eleanor Mannikka
Cambodian Architecture: Eighth to Thirteenth Centuries. Jacques Dumarçay and Pascal Royère. Translated by Michael Smithies. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2001. xxx + 165 pp, 104 figures, 44 photographs, bibliography, chronology, index. Hardbound. $107.00. IBSN 90-04-11346-0.

Although Jacques Dumarçay shares a co-author status with Pascal Royère for Cambodian Architecture: Eighth to Thirteenth Centuries, most of the chapters bear his own mark. Four out of the six temples that individually head each chapter were surveyed and published by Jacques Dumarçay. Without a doubt, his extensive publications and personal experience shape this book.

After a brief introductory segment, the text is organized into two parts. The shorter first part covers the constraints imposed on builders and the second and much longer part, as well as the conclusion, examine major temples, wooden architecture, and city planning. Excellent drawings and black-and-white photographs clarify and expand the text, while a chronology, bibliography, and index complete the reference material.

Michael Smithies translated and edited the original French text and for the most part, the translation is easy to read although he should be reminded that "shaft" is a better translation for the French puits than "well." Readers who do not speak French will not understand why the Khmer put wells underneath their sanctuaries. There are multiple editing mistakes that involve misspellings, faulty grammar, or typing errors that the publisher should have caught and corrected. They do not necessarily represent any failing on Smithies' part.

The drawings and the photographs are excellent and rank among the best contributions the book has to offer. They represent years of work, and in the case of the drawings, especially enhance and expand the text. Another good feature of the book is the synopsis that appears at the end of several chapters in which the preceding, often abstruse points are brought together in a paragraph that is easy to understand. The chronology of Jayavarman VII's life and monuments is very helpful and although brief, it clarifies the chronological relationship between the monuments constructed under his reign. That alone is a valuable reference tool.

A topic as broad as Cambodian architecture over a period of six hundred years cannot be covered in a little over one hundred pages. The authors are architects and their focus narrowed this vast range of information to primarily construction techniques and hydrology. If one is not an architect or unfamiliar with both water control and the site of Angkor, then this book is definitely too technical. The writing is directed toward researchers with a long-established interest in Angkor and its temples, and toward anyone working in restoration there.

As far as construction techniques are concerned, there is information on shear points and hooped roofs far too specialized for a general audience but at the same time, [End Page 161] there are interesting insights into the quantity of stone used in building—over 1200 blocks in one corner tower of Ta Keo. I happened to like learning about how sandstone is quarried but not everyone may share that fascination.

Jacques Dumarçay would be the companion of choice for anyone taking a tour through Angkor. His knowledge is encyclopedic and his demeanor both happy and enthusiastic. But when separated from that tour of Angkor and faced with pages of text, the same descriptions and explanations that work well when one is looking at the architecture itself, deteriorate into a tedious rendition of doorways, stairways, and endless architectural detail. It is just not the same as being there.

The long, labyrinthine descriptions are nevertheless, sprinkled here and there with fascinating and little-known facts. For anyone willing to peruse the whole, the architectural insights of the authors offer great vistas in a landscape that tends to be flat and dehydrated, in spite of, or sometimes because of the focus on hydrology.

Among these many gems in which hydrology becomes fascinating, is some anecdotal information on the collapse of a dam on the River Opak that would have caused flooding so disastrous as to force the central Javanese government and population to migrate to east Java (p. xviii...


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