The Watch

Chom Phet Cultural Landscape

Luang Prabang, Laos

2006 World Monuments Watch

The Chom Phet cultural landscape, across the Mekong River from the town of Luang Prabang in northern Laos, once served as the capital of the Lao kingdom and still remains an important religious center. Its temples and meditation buildings, originally constructed as early as the sixteenth century, were used by the royal family of the Lao and by esteemed Buddhist holy men. The royal family was ousted by the Communists in 1975 and their palace at Luang Prabang, a unique synthesis of Laotian and colonial French architectural styles, is now a museum. Laos came under the control of the neighboring kingdom of Siam and later the French in the nineteenth century, and during that chaotic period many of the country’s traditional buildings suffered. Most of the original temples and meditation buildings of Luang Prabang were destroyed by fire and later rebuilt. Thus, while the temples that stand on the site today were probably constructed in the late nineteenth century, they represent a significantly older era of architectural history. They were constructed according to traditional methods and decorated with elaborate wall paintings.

There has been a dramatic rise in tourism at Luang Prabang since it was designated a World Heritage Site in 1995. In addition to the threats normally associated with increased visitor traffic, the landscape is also endangered by inappropriate restoration and conservation efforts. The effects of exposure to the climate and aggressive jungle vegetation are another continuing problem. The landscape was included on the 2006 World Monuments Watch in order to facilitate an arena for international cooperation in Laos.

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