Aug 18 2011

Rare Cambodian map exhibition in Phnom Penh

Published by at 6:26 pm under Events


Cambodia is funny in that its ninth century is better documented than its 19th, which is why the exhibition of rare Cambodian maps on display at the Centre Culturel Français, running through August 28, is especially interesting.

In a roomful of maps, I'm not the only legend.

The 54 maps are from between 1884 and 1892, during the period of King Norodom I’s reign under the French Protectorate. The maps vary widely — some are the work of French architects, others by Khmer illustrators and cartographers. Amusingly, some of the maps are notated with “map obviously drawn by a Sino-Khmer Mandarin” or “map obviously drawn with the help of a French engineer” (emphasis mine) — a glimpse of life under the French Protectorate. It is believed that the maps were created by the Royal Government “with the help, or at the request of, the French Protectorate”.

19th century map of Kampot province.

It’s unclear what the purpose of the maps is — some seem to be straightforward cartography while others document wildlife, shrubbery ponds and pagodas in freehand drawings that while beautiful, are not to scale.

Exceedingly large buffalo, Choeung Prey province.

The originals of these maps are kept in Paris, at the library of the Ecole Française d’Extreme Orient. High resolutions digital resolution images were given to King Sihamoni on a trip to France last year, and it is these images that are being displayed at the CCF.

Khsach Kandal province, showing house-sized oxen plowing the fields, and a tiger making a play for a farmer's pig.

Additionally, a few of the more interesting maps have been blown up to double their original size to allow for closer examination.

"Map obviously drawn by a Sino-Khmer Mandarin, mentions the telegraph line"

Most of the maps are not to scale. On his website (which alerted us to the exhibition — thank you!), Casey Nelson has an excellent analysis of the exhibition as well as showing some comparisons of the old maps to modern day maps. Needless to say, they are quite different to each other. One of the Kampot maps has a nearly non-existent Kampong Som; it’s just an afterthought to Kampot. Nelson has also included some helpful translations of the Khmer script on the maps.

Phnom Penh. "Map obviously drawn with the help of a French engineer, a profusion of archaeological sites are mentioned."

The maps exhibition is showing at the French Cultural Centre Gallery from Wednesdays through Saturdays 11:00 til 19:00 until August 28. Admission is free.

In the 1890s, there was a half-naked Khmer woman that lived in the Gulf of Thailand.

French Cultural Centre (CCF)
218 Street 184, Phnom Penh

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