The National Museum of Cambodia

Posted by IntoCambodia Team on 14 August 2018
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The National Museum of Cambodia

The National Museum of Cambodian in Phnom Penh is the country’s leading historical and archeological museum and the country’s largest museum of history. It was officially inaugurated by King Sisowat in 1920.

The Buildings of the museum are inspired by Khmer temple architecture. There are more than 14,0000 items housed in the museum. It displays one of the world’s largest collection of Khmer art, including sculpture, ceramics, bronzes, and ethnographic objects dating from prehistoric time to period before, during and after the Khmer Empire. The Museum serves also a religious function. Its collection of important Buddhist and Hindu sculptures including a Post-Angkorian Buddha supported by UNESCO and a number of individuals and local businesses, opened in 2000 to extend the religious function of the Museum. It is located on Street 13 in central Phnom Penh, to the north of the Royal Palace and on the west side of Veal Preah Maen square. The visitors' entrance to the compound is at the corner of Streets 13 and 178. The Royal University of Fine Arts is located on the west side of the museum. The museum is under the authority of the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.

History of the Museum

George Groslier (1887–1945), historian, curator, and an author was the motivating force behind much of the revival of interest in traditional Cambodia arts and crafts, and it was he who designed this building that is today ‘traditional Khmer’ architecture. It is perhaps better described as a building enlarged from Cambodian temple prototypes seen on ancient bas-reliefs and reinterpreted through colonial eyes to meet the museum-size requirements.

Groslier’s intended museum was soon associated with the Ecole des Arts Cambodgiens (1917) and became known as the Musée du Cambodge (in Khmer Sarak Montee Krong Kampuchea Thipatai) in 1919. Later in 1920, in honor of French General-Governor of Indochina M. Albert Sarraut, this museum was officially renamed Musée Albert Sarraut. The foundation stone for the new museum was laid on 15 August 1917. Some two-and-a-half years later, the completed museum was inaugurated during Khmer New Year on 13 April 1920 in the presence of H.M King Sisowath, François-Marius Baudoin, Résident-supérieur, and M. Groslier, director of Cambodian Arts, and Conservator of the museum. The original design of the building was slightly altered in 1924 with extensions that added wings at either end of the eastern façade that made the building even more imposing.

Early directors of the museum from the 1920s-1940s contributed greatly to knowledge of the rapidly expanding collection. Groslier himself cataloged the collection and followed by Jean Boisselier, Pierre Dupont, and Solange Thierry Bernard (interim Director) who added their individual talents to cataloging and management the museum.

Control of the National Museum and Arts Administration was ceded by the French to the Cambodians on 9 August 1951 and following Independence in 1953, the then Musée Nationale de Phnom Penh was the subject of Bilateral accords (7 November 1956). From 1956 to 1966, the museum continued to flourish under the direction of Madeleine Giteau, Conservatrice du Musée National. In 1966, the first Cambodian Director of the National Museum named Chea Thay Seng and the Dean of the newly created Department of Archaeology at the Royal University of Fine Arts. This university that from its foundation as the Ecole des Arts Cambodgiens (in Khmer Sala Rachana) in 1920 was intimately linked with students, artisans, and teachers who worked to preserve Cambodian cultural traditions, can still be found to the rear of the museum. Chea Thay Seng directed the museum until 1971 and succeeded by Mr. Ly Vouong. However, the two were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime. In the 1970s, when Cambodia faced a political crisis and unguaranteed security; M. Bernard Philippe Groshier, the managing director of Angkor Wat, ordered to transport the precious objects from the preserving Angkor area to store in the National Museum. And, many other objects from the two museums in Battambang and other museums to store in the National Museum as well.

During the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, the museum closed and was found disrepair, its roof rotten and home to a vast colony of bats, the garden overgrown, and the collection in disarray, many objects damaged or stolen. After closing in the Khmer Rouge period for almost four years, the museum was tied up and reopened on April 13, 1979. In 1980, Mr. Ouk Sun Heng was appointed as the director of the museum, followed by Mr. Pich Keo (1991-1996), Mr. Khun Samen, Mr. Hab Touch and presently Mr. Kong Vireak.

The National Museum of Cambodia often changed her name since the official inaugurated in 1920 as the Musée du Cambodge (in Khmer Sarak Montee Krong Kampuchea Thipatai), after 1920 as Musée Albert Sarraut, in 1956-1966 as the Musée du Cambodge (in Khmer Sarak Montee Krong Kampuchea Thipatai), then again in 1979 as Artifact Museum (in Khmer Sarak Montee Vatho Borann), and later National Museum of Cambodian since 1991 till today.

Building and its renovation

The museum buildings, inspired by Khmer temple architecture, were constructed between 1917 and 1924, the museum was officially inaugurated in 1920, and it was renovated in 1968 under the supervision of Cambodian architect, Vann Molyvann.

The building of the museum is divided into 4 facades include:

  • East Façade: where is the main gate of the museum. this façade consists of Pre-history booth, Bronze booth, Non-permanent exhibitions, Stone Conservation Workshop, and Metal Conservation Workshop. Prehistory Booth exhibits the human prehistory daily living during the stone age, the bronze age, and the iron age. Most of the kinds of stuff have been found at the many Khmer prehistoric stations such as Samroung Sen Prehistoric station (Kompong Chhnang Province), Mlo Prey prehistoric station (Preah Vihear Province), Memot prehistoric station (Kompong Cham province), and Sre Sbov (Kratie Province). Bronze booth exhibits many kinds of stuff that made from bronze include ax, knives, bracelets, drums, and vases and so on. And it is divided into two booths where the left side of Garuda is booth A and the right side is B.  
  • South Façade: is divided into two galleries where exhibits the art objects of two eras: pre-Angkor era (600-800 AD) and Angkor era (900 AD-1500 AD). The Angkor era galleries also shared with the West Façade. Pre-Angkor era (600-800 AD) exhibits many statues, sculptures and others art object and the notable art objects include Buddha statue (600-700 AD), Visnu Statue: God of Protection (600AD), Lord Rama statue (the 7th Avatar of Visnu): The Hero of Reamker or Ramayana in India version (600AD), Krishan statue (the 8th Avatar of Visnu, 600 AD), Shiva Lingam and Yoni or Pitha (700-800 AD), Statue of Durga: Goddess of Warrior and one of the consort to God Shiva (700-800 AD), Ganesha statue: God of New Beginnings, Success, Wisdom, and Remover of Obstacle (700-800 AD), etc.    
  • West Façade mostly exhibits the statues and sculptures during the Angkor era (900-1500 AD), which consists of Brahma Statues: God of Creation (1100 AD), Shiva Statue: God of Destruction and Creation (900 AD), Vishnu reclining statue (1100AD), Hindu Trinity (Trimuti) statue (1000AD), Devi statue: consort of Hindu God (1200AD), 9 Gods sculpture from 1000-1100 AD (Surya or Adtiya: Sun God; Soma or Chandra: Moon God; Yama: God of Death; Varuna: God of Water; Indra: God of Thunder and Lightning; Kubera or Kuvera: God of Wealth; Agni or Aggi: God of Fire; Rahu: Lunar ascending node or north lunar node; Ketu: Lunar descending node or south lunar node), Jayavarman VII sculpture (1200-1330AD), Sugriva and Vali or Bali fight sculpture (1000AD), Mucalinda sheltering Gautama Buddha statue (1100AD) and many other statues and sculptures that have architecture styles like Angkor Wat and Bayon style.  
  • North Façade is the ethnic galleries where exhibits the statues and sculptures during the Post-Angkor era (1500-Mid-2000AD). The eastern section of the gallery is the booth of ceramic and pottery sculptures and booth of Buddha statues of the post-Angkor era and many art objects.

Visitor Information

  • Opening hours: 8.00am - 5.00pm (daily) and last admission tickets are sold at 4.30pm.
  • Admission costs:
    • $5 for foreigner ages from 10 to 17 years old,
    •  $10 foreigner ages from 18 years old up, 
    • 500 riels for Cambodians.
    • Children and school groups are free.
  • Location: the corner of Streets 13 and 178, Sangkat Chaktomuk, Khan Duan Penh, Phnom Penh (https://goo.gl/maps/x4oZAWe7RyR2)
  • Website: http://www.cambodiamuseum.info/
  • Guided tours can be arranged for individuals or groups at the museum entrance. Tours are available in Khmer, English, French, and Japanese.
  • Photography is not permitted within the museum galleries, but visitors are welcome to film or photograph the museum exterior and courtyard. Those wishing to obtain images of the museum or collection for study or Publications should email (museum_cam@camnet.com.kh) the museum to request an application form or contact a staff member.
  • Smoking is not permitted inside the museum.
  • The Museum store is located at the main entrance. Postcards, souvenirs, replica sculptures and books on a variety of art and culture topics are available.
  • Cloakroom facilities are available at the main entrance. Please leave large items and bags here.
Reference
- ស៊ុន ហេង, ម៉េង ឈាង, Marie Caillat
២០១៤, យើងទៅទស្សនាសារមន្ទីរជាតិ, គ្រឹះស្ថានបោះពុម្ពផ្សាយ Sipar 2014, បោះពុម្ភផ្សាយលើកទី៥ រោងពុម្ភ
Angkorthom Printer Co., Ltd, ភ្នំពេញ
- National Museum of Cambodia (no date). Museum History. Retrieved from
http://www.cambodiamuseum.info/museum_history.html