The spectacular temples of Cambodia's Angkor civilization have been incorporated into Google's Street View, a boost to the impoverished country's tourism industry that also adds urgency to efforts to preserve the sprawling historic site.
The Internet giant said in a statement Thursday that Street View now includes more than 90,000 photographic panoramas of the sprawling temple complex, and links to Google's online World Wonders Project, allowing viewers to zoom in to study carvings and other artistic and archaeological details.
Built between the ninth and 14th centuries, Angkor is a symbol of Cambodian national pride and also the country's biggest tourist attraction, receiving about 2 million visitors a year.
Cambodia's Tourism Minister Thong Khon said the rich collection of images will "inspire more tourists" to visit Cambodia, according to the Google statement. Those who have already visited will be able to see new, undiscovered areas of the country through Street View, he said.
The numbers of tourists to the temple complex has swelled in recent years. As recently as 2001, annual visitors to Angkor totaled about 250,000.
Preservation advocates are concerned the influx has hastened deterioration of edifices already buffeted by invasive tropical vegetation and monsoon rains. Some have called for limits on visitors to the complex, which has been designated a World Heritage Site by the U.N.'s cultural agency.
Cambodia's Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol said he hoped the Street View project would encourage more young people to learn about the Internet and develop technical skills.
Street View is a facet of Google's online maps that presents 360-degree photographic images taken at street level in 55 countries.
The World Wonders Project, aside from showing close-ups of temple murals, will display items such as black and white photos of the temples taken in the 1940s, and "artists renderings of what life may have been like in medieval Angkor," said Google's statement.
The project is run by the Google Cultural Institute, whose director described its mission as making "the world's heritage accessible for global audiences and to preserve it digitally for generations to come."
Other project locations include shrines in Kyoto, Japan, archaeological areas of Pompei, Italy and natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon in the United States.