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Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk, Archaeological Site of Ancient Ishanapura

Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk, Archaeological Site of Ancient Ishanapura

The archaeological site of Sambor Prei Kuk, “the temple in the richness of the forest” in the Khmer language, has been identified as Ishanapura, the capital of the Chenla Empire that flourished in the late 6th and early 7th centuries AD. The property comprises more than a hundred temples, ten of which are octagonal, unique specimens of their genre in South-East Asia. Decorated sandstone elements in the site are characteristic of the pre-Angkor decorative idiom, known as the Sambor Prei Kuk Style. Some of these elements, including lintels, pediments and colonnades, are true masterpieces. The art and architecture developed here became models for other parts of the region and lay the ground for the unique Khmer style of the Angkor period.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Zone des temples de Sambor Prei Kuk, site archéologique de l’ancienne Ishanapura

Le site archéologique de Sambor Prei Kuk, « le temple dans la forêt luxuriante » en langue khmère, a été identifié comme étant Ishanapura, la capitale de l'empire Chenla qui prospéra de la fin du VIe siècle au début du VIIe siècle de notre ère. Le bien comprend plus d’une centaine de temples, dont dix temples octogonaux qui constituent des spécimens uniques en leur genre en Asie du Sud-Est. Leur décoration architecturale en grès est caractéristique du style pré-angkorien, le style dit de Sambor Prei Kuk, et certains des éléments (linteaux, frontons, colonnades...) sont de véritables chefs-d'oeuvre. L'art et l'architecture développés sur ce site devinrent un modèle qui s'est diffusé dans d'autres parties de la région et a posé les fondations du style khmer unique de la période angkorienne.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Tempelzone van Sambor Prei Kuk, archeologische site van het oude Ishanapura

De archeologische stie van Sambor Prei Kuk, “de tempel in de rijkdom van het bos” in de Khmer taal, is geïdentificeerd als Ishanapura, de hoofdstad van het Chenla Rijk, dat bloeide in de late 6e en vroege 7e eeuw na Christus. De overblijfselen van de stad beslaan een oppervlakte van 25 vierkante kilometer en omvatten een ommuurd stadscentrum evenals talloze tempels. Tien van deze tempels zijn achthoekig, unieke exemplaren in hun genre in Zuidoost-Azië. Gedecoreerde zandstenen elementen zijn karakteristiek voor het pre-Ankor decoratieve idioom dat bekend staat als de Sambor Prei Kuk stijl. Sommige van deze elementen, waaronder lateien, timpanen en zuilenrijen zijn echte meesterwerken. De kunst en architectuur die men hier ontwikkelde kwam model te staan voor andere delen van de regio en legde de basis voor de unieke Khmer stijl van de Angkor periode.

Source: unesco.nl

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Sambor Prei Kuk Archaeological Site representing the Cultural Landscape of Ancient Ishanapura - Prasat N15 SE © So Sokun Theary
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

Sambor Prei Kuk Temple Zone is part of the remains of ancient Ishanapura "the temple in the lush forest", which was the capital of the Chenla Empire that flourished over much of Southeast Asia in the late 6th and early 7th centuries AD, and whose architectural achievements laid the foundations for those of the later Khmer Empire. The extensive Temple Zone of 840 hectares lies to the east of the remains of the moated city and is linked to the river Stung Sen and a possible harbour of Ishanapura by three earthen causeways between 600 and 700 metres in length.

Within the Temple Zone, an outstanding ensemble of 186 fired brick temples with sandstone detailing reflects the introduction of technical and spiritual ideas of the Hindu Hariharan and Sakabrahmana cults from India and Persia respectively and the resulting convergence of these with animist and Buddhist elements that produced the unique Sambor Prei Kuk artistic style, which later heralded the Khmer style developed in Angkor. Inscriptions in Sanskrit and old Khmer on some of the temples reflect the adoption of a “God-King” in the centralized state, while others record temple activities, the names of kings and other individuals, details of religious and political life, and suggest the overall boundaries of the empire. The temple reliefs are the first signs of visual narratives in temple decoration which go beyond the earlier standard heraldic displays of deities in small medallions or small figures riding mythological animals.

There are three main temple complexes of Prasat Yeai (Southern Group), Prasat Tao (Central Group), Prasat Sambor (Northern Group, including the Prasat Sandan Group and Prasat Bos Ream). Each has a central tower on a raised platform surrounded by smaller towers and other structures, and are enclosed by square brick and/or laterite walls, two for the central and south groups but three for the Prasat Sambor complex with each outer wall extending to 389 metres. These three groups contain 125 individual temples with 46 other temples and structures in the surrounding area including the Prasat Trapeang Ropeak and Prasat Kuok Troung groups. To the north, a satellite zone of 16 temples in the Prasat Srei Krup Leak and Prasat Robang Romeas groups display the architectural transition from the earlier Zhenla (Chenla) architectural style to that of Sambor Prei Kuk. In this area extensive archaeology layers built upon each other remain to be uncovered.

The temples are constructed in a variety of shapes, configurations, and sizes, but of special note are 11 octagonal temples, designed in accordance with the general principles of the ancient Indian Manuals of Architecture, (although with no known Indian precedent). These are seen to represent the flying octagonal palace of Indra or Vimana Trivishtapa, the heaven of Indra and of 33 gods. The outside walls are decorated with Hindu iconography, and in six temples there are exquisite sculptural depictions of flying palaces.

The extensive ensemble of religious buildings and their ancillary structures together with 102 hydraulic features display achievements in planning, technical ingenuity, execution, and resource management not previously seen in Southeast Asia.

Criterion (ii): The Sambor Prei Kuk architectural and artistic style of the Temple Zone of Ishanapura, as exemplified in the layout, architectural forms and sculptured reflects on 186 fired bricks temples with sandstone detailing, presents a vivid convergence of spiritual and technical influences between Hindu cults predominantly from India and Persia and elements of animism and Buddhism, which became a model that spread to other parts of the region and eventually led to the crystallization of the unique Khmer style of the Angkorian period.

Criterion (iii): The Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk of Ancient Ishanapura, in terms of the scale and scope of its surviving buildings and watercourses, is an outstanding testimony to the cultural traditions of the Chenla Kingdom, which flourished over much of Southeast Asia in the late 6th and early 7th centuries AD, and whose architectural achievements laid the foundations for those of the later Khmer civilization in the Angkorian period.

Criterion (vi): The temple inscriptions in the Khmer language of the Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk reflect the concept of the God-King, which according to legends originated in Vat Phou, was further developed during the Angkor period, and then much later influenced Thailand’s four pillared administrative system in Ayutthaya. It remained a concept that was fundamental to the political and governance systems of Cambodia and Thailand until the beginning of the 20th century.

Integrity

The property covers the Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk and its entire surroundings together with the wooded area that is the origin of the site's current name. All the still-standing buildings, most of the known remains of the hydraulic elements, all causeways and all the currently known temples and areas identified as holding further of archaeological remains of temples are contained within the boundaries.

The Temples zone has suffered from the ravages of time, vagaries of climate and recent historical events as well as forest encroachment, all of which have led to the degradation of some monuments. Over time, parts of the monuments and objects belonging to the temples have been moved and/or looted. However, the main disaster was the international conflict that placed Cambodia in a war zone from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. Despite these tragic events, the major temples retain their original form and materials, despite repairs and modifications carried out from the 7th to the 11th century. Although a number of decorative elements, statues, and inscriptions remain in situ, most of the important sculptural masterpieces are in storage or exhibited in museums. Archaeological surveys have indicated that many of the buried structures are in good condition. The system of dykes, canals, and hydraulic features, numbering 102 sites, are intact, with many still in use today.

Authenticity

Despite decay, the still-standing temples display authenticity in form and design and demonstrate Indian cultural and architectural influence during the Chenla period in a unique Sambor Prei Kuk Style. In terms of materials, the remnant features retain their original substance because of sympathetic restoration to damaged brickwork that continues traditional techniques and the use of old bricks. This helps maintain the authenticity of form, function, and visual qualities. In addition, and by comparison with Angkor, there have been relatively fewer physical interventions and no hypothetical reconstruction. Minor reconstruction activity has occurred in some temples, but mainly to ensure structural stability and all restoration interventions are reversible. Many other temple remains are highly vulnerable and await consolidation and conservation.

Protection and management requirements

The Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk, archaeological site of ancient Ishanapura and buffer zone is protected by the Royal Decree of 24 December 2014 and by the Law on the Protection of Cultural Heritage (Royal decision NS/RKM/0196/26 dated 25 January 1996). Within this framework, the National Authority for Sambor Prei Kuk (NASPK) is responsible for the overall management of the property and its buffer zone, including conservation, protection, restoration, development activities in progress, as well as for the interpretation of its heritage values for visitors. Work is guided by a Management Plan. Conservation activities are carried out in accordance with a fifteen-year Conservation Plan, based on a detailed risk analysis of the temples, and in accordance with a Conservation Manual that delineates conservation approaches for the highly fragile temples and their sensitive surroundings.

NASPK is supported by a local NGO, "The Conservation and Development Community for Sambor Prei Kuk", established in 2004 with the agreement of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, which has played a crucial role in the sustainable conservation of cultural heritage and in developing engagement with the local community.