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Cambodian Temple Complex Recognized as World Heritage Site

Sambor Prei Kuk, a Kompong Thom temple site that predates the Angkor period, has been acknowledged by the UN’s cultural organization as a World Heritage site.

Located 128 miles (206 kilometers) north of Phnom Penh, Sambor Prei Kuk is home to numerous temples. The structures laid the foundation for much of what is seen in Angkorian architecture, according to Reuters. Cambodia's Minister of Culture, Phoeung Sakona, said of the award, “It is such an honor to Cambodia and to our ancestors.”

In some ways, Sambor Prei Kuk is a prime example of pre-Angkor architecture, yet it bears its own unique details. Made primarily of brick, as was the custom at the time, the temples are decorated with elements of sandstone, which was unusual. Similarly, the architecture delicately incorporates the natural surroundings, which have always been featured heavily in Cambodia’s history, while the shapes of the temples vary. A number of the temples are octagonal with rectangular interiors, as opposed to the typical square shape, the news source shares.

Sambor Prei Kuk, which translates to “temple in the richness of the forest” in Khmer, and its surrounding areas have been identified as Ishanapura, the capital city of the ancient Chenla Empire.

The Chenla (or Zhenla in Chinese) Empire flourished from the end of the sixth century to the beginning of the ninth century, replacing the Funan Empire and preceding the Khmer Empire.

Following their Funan predecessors, the Chenla people were Hindu, making Sambor Prei Kuk a Shaivite Hindu temple with some Buddhist influences. The seventh century temples have inscriptions engraved in both Khmer and Sanskrit.

The stunning 2,000 hectare-area of forest joins the Angkor Archaeological Park and the Preah Vihear Temple as World Heritage Conservation sites in Cambodia. Sambor Prei Kuk has yet to draw many foreign tourists, but with an increase in awareness, combined with the World Heritage status, that may change in the near future.

Tourism in Cambodia has been on the rise, up 5% over last year, bringing tourist arrivals to around 5 million, Reuters said. This year it is expected that 5.5 million people will visit the country.

In contrast, Vietnam boasts five natural, two cultural and one mixed World Heritage sites designated by UNESCO.

[Photo via Motorbiketour]

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