UNESCO: Sambor Prei Kuk

Kampong Thom City

Capital City

Kampong Thom Province


January 26, 2019

Less than an hour’s drive from Kampong Thom in Central Cambodia lies the UNESCO World Heritage Site - The Temple Zone Sambor Prei Kuk, Archeological Site of Ancient Ishanapura.

I visited the site with my friend Howard.  We strolled among the temples for several hours.

I have two distinct impressions of this site.

First is the age of this site. 

Archeologists agree that the temples were built in the late Sixth to early Seventh Centuries.  This complex is at least two hundred years older than the first temples at Angkor Wat, one of the most famous sites in Southeast Asia.

My second impression is the detail. 

I look closely at the decorations on the temples, the 1300-year-old decorations!   UNESCO calls the sculptures and reliefs “true masterpieces.”

Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk, Archaeological Site of Ancient Ishanapura

The archaeological site of Sambor Prei Kuk, “the temple in the richness of the forest” in the Khmer language, has been identified as Ishanapura, the capital of the Chenla Empire that flourished in the late 6th and early 7th centuries AD.

The property comprises more than a hundred temples, ten of which are octagonal, unique specimens of their genre in South-East Asia. Decorated sandstone elements in the site are characteristic of the pre-Angkor decorative idiom, known as the 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.

The temples open to the public are divided into three separate zones:

Prasat Yeai Poeun

“Built as a dedication to the Hindu God, Shiva, the Prasat Yeai Poeun complex is made up of 22 sanctuaries built in a rectangular form using brick, masonry, laterite and sandstone.  Five of these sanctuaries have octagonal shapes and there are two wall ramparts.

The eastern and western ‘Gopuras’, or monumental gatehouse towers, built on a hill, are connected to a brick rampart, adorned with intricate carvings.  Both gopuras have diamond-shaped columns framing the doorways and lintels built of sandstone. A 17-line inscription, unearthed near the site of the Eastern Gopura, is now kept at the Museum at Kompong Thom.

Shaded by huge, ancient trees with crumbling brick ruins interwoven with massive tree roots, the landscape gives visitors to these temples the eerie feeling of being lost in a forgotten forest.”

Prasat Tao

“Prasat Tao was also noteworthy for its stone-carving; it featured some of the most ancient statues and lintels to be found at an archaeological site in Cambodia.

Most remarkable of all were two stone lions that stood guard outside the main entrance. They had beautifully rendered manes, which made them one of the most eye-catching sights at Sambor Prei Kuk. With arched backs, raised heads and opened mouths, they almost seemed to roar as they stood there, guarding the scared space within.” 

Prasat Sambor

“The principal temple group, Prasat Sambor (7th and 10th centuries) is dedicated to Gambhireshvara, one of Shiva’s many incarnations (the other groups are dedicated to Shiva himself). Several of Prasat Sambor’s towers retain brick carvings in fairly good condition, and there is a series of large yoni (female fertility symbols) around the central tower.”



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