The exterior of the Unesco building.
The exterior of the Unesco building. Photo supplied

On Heritage Day, see another side of Cambodia’s history

Heritage Day is this Saturday, meaning that for the third time in Cambodia, various historical sites in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap will be welcoming members of the public within their gates. This year, the Residence of the British Ambassador to Cambodia, the Residence of the Australian Ambassador to Cambodia, Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the UNESCO office, the Lycée René Descartes, the Royal University of Fine Arts, the Phnom Penh City Hall, and the Raffles Hotel will be open in Phnom Penh, while the Conservation of Angkor and the other Raffles Hotel will be open in Siem Reap.

Heritage Day began in France in 1984, and has been ongoing in Europe and in several French Embassies since then. It celebrates European history and, outside of Europe, cultural exchange.

Visitors will be given guided tours of some of the buildings, but opening hours and the terms and conditions of the visit are set by each individual institute. Participants can register online for institutions where RSVPs are required. Links can be found on respective Facebook pages.

The schedule for Heritage Day is as follows:

Conservation of Angkor in Siem Reap, 8am-5pm

Usually closed to the public, Angkor Conservation will be putting its 5,000 statues from nearby temples up on display to visitors. These statues have been placed within the building for protection and have been numbered and catalogued. The institute was initially run by the Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient until the Ministry of Culture took it over in 1975.

Some statues from Angkor Conservation.
Some statues from Angkor Conservation. Photo supplied

French Embassy, 8am-12pm and 2pm-4pm

The French Embassy has been at its current location for 60 years, although it was rebuilt completely in the mid-1990s. Visitors will be allowed inside the Ambassador’s Residence, a park within the Embassy grounds and to see tombstones from a French cemetery.

Raffles Hotel in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, 8am-8pm

First opened in 1929 as Le Royal, the Raffles Hotel was closed after the Khmer Rouge conquered Cambodia, only reopening much later in 1997. It has hosted many famous personalities, including American actor Charlie Chaplin and writer W. Somerset Maugham. It also welcomed journalists in Phnom Penh who were covering the Cambodian civil war. Free entry, with guided tours every 30 minutes.

Royal University of Fine Arts, 8:30am-5pm

Previously known as the Cambodian School of Arts, the Royal University of Fine Arts was founded by King Sisowath in 1917. It was renamed in early 1965 and became the school as we know it today. It is also the only university to offer courses in arts and culture. Free entry, with guided tours in Khmer, French and English.

Australian Ambassador’s Residence, 9am-2pm

Designed initially as a military residence, the Australian Ambassador’s Residence has been home to ambassadors from down under since 1992. The building will be open for viewing, although there will limited spaces.

British Ambassador’s Residence, 9am-12pm

Visit the British Ambassador Bill Longhurst’s 100-year-old residence on Street 240, where there will be guided tours every half hour in both Khmer and English. Only 20 visitors will be admitted at a time during the three-hour window. Registration for the tours is required.

Phnom Penh City Hall, 9am-11am and 2pm-3pm

Constructed in 1925, the Phnom Penh City Hall is a large white building situated on Monivong Boulevard. Built in 1925, it is also a former bishopric.

The Agence Française de Développement building.
The Agence Française de Développement building. Photo supplied

AFD Office and Van’s Restaurant, 9am, 10:30am, 2pm, 3:30pm

Housed in a French-colonial style building repainted in brilliant yellow, the AFD will allow visitors to explore the architecture and history of their offices. There will be guided tours lasting an hour, with a maximum of 25 people per tour. Free entry.

French Lycée René Descartes, 10am, 12pm, 2pm

The Lycée René Descartes opened in 1951 for French and Cambodian students, and again in 1989 after being closed by the Khmer Rouge. It is currently an international school, and shares the space with a management institute.

UNESCO Office, 10am-6pm

The current UNESCO building was constructed during the 1910s as a villa for a wealthy merchant. Later, after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, it housed the Vietnamese City Protection Unit from 1979-1989. From 1989 to 1991 it was home to the Department of Conservation, Ancient Temple, Museum and Tourism, and thereafter became the offices of UNESCO.