Preah Vihear temple: a centuries-old masterpiece of architecture

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Built along the cliffs at about 700 metres above sea level, Preah Vihear Temple seemingly lives amongst the clouds. The marvelous temple is an example of some of the greatest ancient arts and architectural feats in Cambodia. It has become an iconic, cultural jewel and the triumph of hundreds of years of Khmer history.

The temple was registered as a World Heritage Site by Unesco on July 7, 2008.

“The Preah Vihear temple is a masterpiece of Khmer creative genius, a unique testimony to the cultural tradition of civilisation and the most outstanding architectural feat of an ancient technological ensemble, with a landscape illustrating a significant stage in human history,” said Chuch Phoeun, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.

According to scripts found at the site, there were about 10 ancient kings involved in the construction of the site between the ninth and 12th centuries. Most of the work was done by six of them. The temple was started by King Yasovarman I (889-910 AD), who built the foundations and the eastern stairs, which rise about a kilometre above the forested plains below it.

King SuryavarmanI (1002-1050) and his son King Udayadityavarman II (1050-1068) pushed for many of the larger carved stones found in the temple. King Jayavarman VI (1080-1107), King Dharanindravarman I (1107-1112), and King Suryavarman II (1113-1150) added the finishing touches.

“The PreahVihear temple was dedicated to Shiva, the God of the Brahman religion, but it was not cut off from Buddhism because most of the kings who helped build this temple understood Buddhism,” Phoeun said.

The temple’s layout is complex. It has four levels with four courtyards, each containing five Gopuras (entrance pavilions). Since ancient times, PreahVihear has been a place of pilgrimage and sacred worship for kings and commoners alike, as it has a stylised representation of Mount Meru, home of the Hindu gods.

Preah Vihear temple is located in Preah Vihear province near the border with Thailand. It is a two hour drive from Siem Reap.