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Sambor Prei Kuk: A New UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site?

July 8, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Surprisingly, in this year’s list of new locations to become a UNESCO cultural world heritage site appears the temple town of Sambor Prei Kuk inCambodia. Overshadowed by the more famous temple ruins of Angkor, which are dated from 9th to 13th centuries, Sambor Prei Kuk was the site of the ancient Chenla Kingdom, which was founded in the 7th century by King Isanavarman I, who reigned from 616 to 637 during the time of the pre-Angkorian period within the history of Cambodia.

Actually, Sambor Prei Kuk is some 30 km northeast of the provincial capital of Kampong Thom between Phnom Penh in the south and Siem Reap in the northwest along Road Nr.6. The new road Nr.64 connects Kampong Thom with Preah Vihear in the north of the country. The ancient town is at the right side of the Stung Sen River, which flows southwest into the Tonle Sap Lake.

Within the ancient town of Isanapura, there are more than 50 temple ruins surrounded by an earthen rampart and a moat in the western part of the town, while on the eastern side there are three big and restored temple complexes, which were connected by two causeways to the Stung SenRiver. Each of the three temple complexes has double enclosure walls built of laterite and a central tower made of bricks. Some parts were made of sandstone. The Northern Group is called Prasat Sambor and comprises some 14 sanctuaries (N1-14) with square or octagonal bases. Next follows the Central Group called Prasat Tao, which comprises 18 sanctuaries (C1-18) and is marked by sitting stone lions around the central tower with a watery pond nearby. Prasat Yeai Poeun is called the Southern Group with a total of 22 sanctuaries (S1-22). All temples seem to be dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva and others. Stony “linga” and “yoni” abound.

These groups of monuments were once covered in a deep forest and only discovered at the end of the 19th century. But unfortunately, the area was bombed during the Vietnam War and then neglected again during the time of the Pol Pot Regime from 1975-1979. In addition, intense looting took place and only some temple statues and inscriptions could be saved within a conservation museum in Kampong Thom. Luckily, the so-called Sambor Prei Kuk Conservation Project between the Waseda University, Tokyo & Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Cambodia has started sustainable maintenance work of the ruins since 2001. In 2004, the safeguarding Sambor Prei Kuk Conservation & Development Community was then established, so that local people actively help to restore these ancient monuments in harmony with nature.

In order to clarify the whole importance of the ancient monuments including the architecture, arts and sophisticated urban planning at the initial stage of the splendid Khmer civilization, UNESCO should not delay the facts and accept that the ruins of Sambor Prei Kuk are more than worth to become a new cultural world heritage site.

Written by : Reinhard Hohler

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