Preah Vihear
Prasat Preah Vihear

Temple of Preah Vihear

Constructed when: early 9th to 12th century
Constructed by: King Suryavarman 1 & Suryavarman II - Religion: Hindu
Architectural style: Variuos styles - Bateay Srei, Angkor Wat, Koh Ker, Kleang, Baphuon
Location: 250 kilometers north-east from Siem Reap

Preah Vihear Temple or Prasat Preah Vihear or Temple of Preah Vihear, is a Khmer temple situated atop a 525-metre (1,722 ft) cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains, in the Preah Vihear province of northern Cambodia and on the border of Kantharalak district (amphoe) in Sisaket province of eastern Thailand. In 1962, following a lengthy dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over ownership, a majority of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague awarded the temple to Cambodia.

Preah Vihear

Affording a view for many kilometers across a plain, Prasat Preah Vihear has the most spectacular setting of all the temples built during the six-centuries-long Khmer Empire. As a key edifice of the empire's spiritual life, it was supported and modified by successive kings and so bears elements of several architectural styles. Preah Vihear is unusual among Khmer temples in being constructed along a long north-south axis, rather than having the conventional rectangular plan with orientation toward the east, and was obviously built to serve the region to the north. The temple gives its name to Cambodia's Preah Vihear province, in which it is now located, as well as the Khao Phra Wihan National Park which borders it in Thailand's Sisaket province and through which the temple is most easily accessible. On July 7, 2008, Preah Vihear was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Preah Vihear

The temple sits atop Pey Tadi, a cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains which straddle the border between Thailand and Cambodia. During different periods it has been located in Cambodia and Thailand in turn. Following Cambodian independence and the Thai occupation of the temple, it was listed as being in Bhumsrol village of Bueng Malu sub-district (now merged with Sao Thong Chai sub-district), in Kantharalak district of the Sisaket province of eastern Thailand. It is 110 km from the Mueang Si Sa Ket district, the center of Si Sa Ket province. After the 1962 ICJ majority ruled that it belonged to Cambodia, it was listed as being in Svay Chrum Village, Kan Tout Commune, in Choam Khsant District of Preah Vihear province of northern Cambodia. The temple is 140 km from Angkor Wat and 320 km from Phnom Penh.

Preah Vihear

Construction of the first temple on the site began in the early 9th century; both then and in the following centuries it was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva in his manifestations as the mountain gods Sikharesvara and Bhadresvara. The earliest surviving parts of the temple, however, date from the Koh Ker period in the early 10th century, when the empire's capital was at the city of that name. Today, elements of the Banteay Srei style of the late 10th century can be seen, but most of the temple was constructed during the reigns of the Khmer kings Suryavarman I (1002 -1050) and Suryavarman II (1113 -1150).

Preah Vihear

An inscription found at the temple provides a detailed account of Suryavarman II studying sacred rituals, celebrating religious festivals and making gifts, including white parasols, golden bowls and elephants, to his spiritual advisor, the aged Brahman Divakarapandita. The Brahman himself took an interest in the temple, according to the inscription, donating to it a golden statue of a dancing Shiva.[citation needed] In the wake of the decline of Hinduism in the region the site was converted to use by Buddhists.

Preah Vihear

In modern times, Prasat Preah Vihear was rediscovered by the outside world and became subject of an emotional dispute between Thailand and the newly independent Cambodia.

In 1904, Siam and the French colonial authorities ruling Cambodia formed a joint commission to demarcate their mutual border. In the vicinity of the temple, the group was tasked by the two governments to work under the principle that the border would follow the watershed line of the Dângrêk mountain range, which places nearly all of Preah Vihear temple on Thailand's side. In 1907, after survey work, French officers drew up a map to show the border’s location. However, the resulting topographic map, which was sent to Siamese authorities and used in the 1962 (ICJ) ruling, showed the line deviating from the watershed without explanation in the Preah Vihear area, placing all of the temple on the Cambodian side.

looking down on Cambodia

From Cambodia, the temple can be approached via Tbeng Meanchey in Preah Vihear province or from Siem Reap in Siem Reap province via Anlong Veng. Although the highway is bitumen when it leaves Siem Reap, both roads are (occasionally) graded gravel once they begin to approach the Dangrek escarpment.

stairs to Thailand from Preah Vihear

From Thailand it can be approached from the Kantharalak district (amphoe) of the Sisaket province. Cambodia allows day-trip access to the temple on a visa-free basis from Thailand. Cambodia imposes an entrance fee of US$5 or 200 baht for foreigners (as of 2006, reduced to 50 baht for nationals of Thailand), plus a fee of 5 baht for processing a copy of the passport. In addition, Thailand imposes an access fee of 400 baht for entering the National Park.

Preah Vihear

Cambodia has from time to time cut off access from Thailand during times of dispute with the Thai government.

The site

The temple complex runs 800 m (2,600 ft) along a north-south axis, and consists essentially of a causeway and steps rising up the hill towards the sanctuary, which sits on the clifftop at the southern end of the complex (120 m/390 ft above the northern end of the complex, 525 m/1,722 ft above the Cambodian plain and 625 m/2,051 ft above sea level). Although this structure is very different from the temple mountains found at Angkor, it serves the same purpose as a stylised representation of Mount Meru, the home of the gods.

The approach to the sanctuary is punctuated by five gopuras (these are conventionally numbered from the sanctuary outwards, so gopura five is the first to be reached by visitors). Each of the gopuras before the courtyards is reached by a set of steps, and so marks a change in height which increases their impact. The gopuras also block a visitor's view of the next part of the temple until they pass through the gateway, making it impossible to see the complex as a whole from any one point.

The fifth gopura, in the Koh Ker style, retains traces of the red paint with which it was once decorated, although the tiled roof has now disappeared. The fourth gopura is later, from the Khleang/Baphuon periods, and has on its southern outer pediment, "one of the masterpieces of Preah Vihear": a depiction of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. The third is the largest, and is also flanked by two halls. The sanctuary is reached via two successive courtyards, in the outer of which are two libraries.