Unique Asia Travel & Tours
Visit Cambodia, Kingdom of Wonders
Sambor Prei Kuk, Southeast Asia's first temple city

Sambor Prei Kuk is a pre-Angkorian temple complex, located about 30 km to the north of Kampong Thom. It has only few dozens of visitors every week, but none of them will be disappointed. There is no other pre-Angkorian excavation area in mainland Southeast Asia more impressive than Sambor Prei Kuk. By the way, it was the very first stone temple town in this part of the world abound with famous temple towns. And if you are looking for Cambodia's unique attraction, often celebrated poetically, namely single trees covering stone walls of monuments almost completely with their roots, you will find at least two amazing examples in Sambor Prei Kuk. just north to the much larger central complexes, and northwest to the main car park. They are called Prasat Chrey (or N18) and Prasat Luong Chom Bok (or N24)
Sambor Prei Kuk's original Sanskrit name was Isanapura. It was founded about 615 by the most ambitious Chenla king, bearing the same name, Isanavarman I, at a site of earlier settlements . Sambor Prei Kuk became the most significant capital among the many Chenla principalities of the 7th and 8th centuries. This is why a period of plastic art in the Chenla era is called style of Sambor Prei Kuk. Earlier styles in Cambodia apply to sculptural art only. The style of Sambor Prei Kuk is an architectural style, too, in many respects being the prototype of the famous temples of Angkor. The typical Khmer "tower" style of a sanctum called "Prasat" was invented in Sambor Prei Kuk, obviously under Indian influence, but of specific Khmer design. Sambor Prei Kuk's stepped pyramid-shaped steep roofs can be considered to be the earliest predecessors of the "fire cone" silhouette typical for the towers of the classical Angkor Wat period. Blind doors, also called false doors, appear at the western sides of Sambor Prei Kuk temples, the same kind of architectural decoration is found at almost every temple in Angkor. Though not much traces remain, the brick monuments were covered with a kind of stucco, Angkor brickstone Prasats often were covered with stucco, too. In sculptural art sandstone lintel carvings depicting figures surrounded by luxuriant foliage, typical for almost all later Angkorian styles, are an innovation of the Sambor Prei Kuk period.

Sambor Prei Kuk lion statue and roots of jungle temple

Sambor Prei Kuk is situated mainly on the eastern bank of the Sen river, a tributary to the Tonle Sap. There were discovered remains of 150 structures in an area of 300 hectare size, 47 of them are Prasats of the 7th century. The central area (zone A) of Sambor Prei Kuk is divided into three main groups of very similar layouts, though dating from very different times. Each group is a square compound surrounded by an enclosure wall built of brick. The sanctuaries were dedicated to Shiva represented by Lingams. Inscriptions inform about the ceremonies celebrated in the compound, access to the temples was reserved for the king exclusively.  
The South Group "S" is from the early 7th century, when Sambor Prei Kuk was founded. Inscriptions mention King Isanavarman I. as builder of this sanctuary. The outer walls of the central Prasat carry tile reliefs, they are unique for the style of Sambor Prei Kuk. They depict "flying palaces", mythological aeroplanes of the gods. The lintels of this monuments are among the most celebrated in Khmer art. Five smaller towers surround the central sanctum. They are of octagonal layout, another element peculiar to the style of Sambor Prei Kuk. The ruin of the east gate of this southern group is completely conquered by a huge strangler fig, another breathtaking jungle temple sight of Sambor Prei Kuk.
The North Group "N", closest to the main car park, is from different periods of time. Only the central tower is from city founder Isanavarman I. Four smaller towers surround it in Quincunx order. Two splendid statues were found here, now exhibited in the National Museum in Phnom Penh, but copies can be seen in Sambor Prei Kuk.  
The Central Group "C" is much younger, mostly from the Angkorian period. The central Prasat is called "lion temple" because of two impressive lion sculptures flanking the access stairway. They are of rather unusual design. The Khmer word for "lion" is "tao". So the Khmer name for the temple is Prasat Tao.


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