Sambor Prei Kuk, pre-Angkorian wonder

Just a 2-hour drive from Phnom Penh, this vast archeological complex is now fully accessible

Added to the UNESCO "World Heritage" list in July 2017, The archaeological site of Sambor Prei Kuk (“temple in the dense forest”, in Khmer) has been identified as Ishanapura, the capital of the Chenla Empire that flourished in the late 6th and early 7th centuries CE. The vestiges of the city cover an area of 25 sq kms and include a walled city center as well as numerous temples. The octagonal shape of ten of them is unique in southeast Asia.

Shaivism was the religion of Chenla, including elements of Hinduism, Buddhism and indigenous ancestor cults. In the Sambor Prei Kuk temples, one can see stone inscriptions both in Sanskrit and ancient Khmer, referring to Hindu and local ancestral deities alongside god Shiva.

Decorated sandstone elements in the site are characteristic of the pre-Angkor decorative expression, known as Sambor Prei Kuk Style. Some of these elements, including lintels, pediments and colonnades, are true masterpieces. The art and architecture developed here became models for other parts of the region and lay the ground for the unique Khmer style of the Angkor period.

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