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The ancient complex of Preah Khan Kompong Svay

Date of Submission: 27/03/2020
Criteria: (ii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of Cambodia to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Preah Vihear Province
Coordinates: 1482249N, 472694E
Ref.: 6462

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Preah Khan Kompong Svay bears the original name of “Bakan” which refers to a high tower or citadel.  It is a large Khmer temple complex  located in Sangkum Thmei commune, Preah Vihear province, approximately 105km to the east of Angkor. The temple is well known for three things ; firstly it was a Mahayana-Buddhism temple related the concept of pure land, secondly it served as one of the way stations (the temples d’etape) at least since 12th century on the east-bound ancient highway network (Royal Road) starting from Angkor Thom, passing through Beng Mealea to Preah Khan Kompong Svay, and thirdly, it is a industrial centre relating to the region’s iron mining, smelting and production activities.

It is clear that the main complex of the temple was built during  the reign of three kings: Suryavarman I (1011-1050), Suryavarman II (1113-1150), and Javavarman VII (1181-1215). With regard to the general layout of temple, it is surrounded by four enclosure walls. The main sanctuay and outer enclosure are suggested to have been built by  King Suryaravarman I; the second enclosure dated to the period of Suryavarman II. ; and the 3rd and the completion of the 4th enclosure, and baray are attributed to King Jayavarman VII.

Three prominent hydraulic structures can be found within this complex: the moat of the 4th enclosure wall, the baray and the lake of Boeng Krom. The 4th enclosure is approximately 5000 x 5000 metres and is a large triple banked /double moat structure. The baray of PreahPreah Khan Kompong Svay is approximately 600 x 3000 metres with a mebon at the center called Prasat Preah Thkol. The characteristic art style in this temple is very unique. Each corner of the central tower was designed with three-tiers of decoration. The upper tier appeared with the image of the three-headed Hamsa, Garuda and three-head elephant (Airavata). The Lake of Boeng Krom (or Boeng Sre) is located at the north inside the compound between the 3rd and 4th enclosures. At the north bank of this lake, there are many scattered ceramic zones, and metallurgy sites have also been confirmed.

The typical architectural art style of King Jayavarman VII is clearly found at Prasat Preah Stung located at the north west of the baray. The sanctuary contains dsitinctive four-faced towers. Moreover, on the east bank of the baray, there is another pyramid temple, named Prasat Preah Damrei, which at the top terrace were installed  elephant statues in each corner,  similar  to that found at East Mebon temple in Angkor. 

Moreover, the evidence of Buddhism is found on the lintel of this complex, which is related to the concept of ‘pure land’ in Mahayana-Buddhism. Similarly, another Buddhist shrine has been found in this complex, named Prasat Chaktomuk. It has a  9.5m standing Buddhist images facing to the four cardinal directions.     

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The temple of Preah Khan Kompong Svay is a unique complex which can be seen from different perspectives such as the architectural layout conveying the concept of the ‘pure land’ of Buddhist philosophy, way station, iron industrial city and the uniqueness of its art motif decoration.

Architectural layout interpreting the concept of ‘pure land’ in Mahayana Buddhis.

At Preah Khan Kompong Svay, the five Buddhas image were depicted in various places such as on the lintel, and other structural elements. In Mahayana Buddhism, the five Buddhas represent the cosmic Buddhas known as, Vairochana; Ratnasambhava; Amoghasiddhi, Amitabha, and Akshoya. They were employed in Tantric practice and linked to the five elements, and five energies of the body. Therefore, their presence in various places at Preah Khan Kompong Svay is a means of expressing the Buddhist cosmic diagram in architecture.

Preah Khan Kompong Svay as a way station and iron industrial city.

Preah Khan Kompong Svay served as an important way station city for the east-bound Angkor Royal Road network, as concluded from the character of the temple d’etape and remnants relating to the iron industry found in situ.

Regarding the temple d’etape, along the east-bound ancient highway from Angkor Thom to Preah Khan Kompong Svay,  there are 10 temples known as: Chou Say Tavoda, Thommanon, Banteay Samre, Chau Srei Vibol, Banteay Ampol, Beng Mealea, Toap Chey, Prasat Pram, Prasat Supheap Tbong, Prasat Chambok of Preah Khan Kompong Svay. These temples date to Angkor Wat style, during the reign of Suryavarman VII.

Inside in the compound of Preah Khan Kompong, are to be found some 18 places that have remnants of concentrations of metallurgy activities, around Boeung Krom, and  scattered in the area between the 3rd and 4th enclosures. Based on this evidence, some scholar proposed that Preah Khan Kompong Svay was one of the industrial cities that supplied the iron material for Angkor, whose prowess in warfare was believed to have largely dervived from mastery of producing iron weaponry.

Art motifs decoration

At Preah Khan Kompong Svay, there emerged a distinct character of arts motif which was not found before in Khmer art history. It shows as a dynamic and new creative art for the style of Jayavarman VII. Different from Angkor, most of the motifs were representations and interpretations of the creatures described in religious texts, for example Hamsa with three heads, three-headed elephants, and the Garuda. Especially, the selection the motif of designs were concerned with the hierarchy in religious context, especially the faith of Trimurti. Other remarkable images at Preah Khan Kompong Svay included a standing lion with a posture of moving forward, and at Prasat Damrei an elephant with the feet of a Garuda.

The continuous use of the concept of Buddha of Chaktomuk for the city

The  statue of standing Buddha as a form of Chaktomuk, found at Preah Khan Kampong Svay is the only one remaining in Cambodia.   

Chaktomuk is considered as the symbol of god protecting the city. Such a faith has been strongly adapted in the Khmer urbanizing concept at least since the 13th  century  onward. For example,  Jayavarman VII renovated Angkor Thom city (13th century) by constructing the Bayon temple at the center point of the city. The city of Longvek existed Tro leng Keng (17th century), and Phnom Penh was located  at the conjunction of four rivers called Chaktomuk. Khmer believe that the conjunction place or four cardinal direction represent the new creation, while in  Hindu text the power of god (particularly in the form of Barhma) spreads out through each direction. Therefore, Chaktomuk at Preah Khan Kompong Svay has significance both in the value of the object itself, and also the indication it denotes that this  was a flourishing city.  

Criterion (ii):  Preah Khan Kompong Svay was a provincial city that functioned as a way station linked to the central area of Angkor. This complex, located along the ancient Royal Road, shows town planning that was well organised and had uniques design to facilite the production of iron, which was done directly inside the complex itself. Morever, the location of the town was close to the location rich in iron resources. In addition, the concept of the city was conveyed via characteristic religious monuments and features.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Archaeological remains found in situ, are physical evidence of  a model of a satellite city in the Khmer empire. These can be seen clearly uniqueness of concept via the well-designed urban planning, especially the interaction between various  types of remains, the ancient road, iron industryl remains, and religious elements. The cluster of industrial remain (iron kilns) inside the ancient complex conveys a long history of metallurgy in Cambodia. It believed that the high capacity in iron making at Preah Khan Kampong Svay made a big contribution in creating the Angkor civilization. Ethnographical research around this temple complex shows there still exists the Kuy ethnic group, who are skillful and have a long tradition in producing iron tools for Khmer kings. In addition, the immediate vicinity of Preah Khan Kompong Svay complex, is a mountain called Phnom Dek (Iron Mountain), that is indeed rich in iron ore.  

Viewed from a religious context, Preah Khan Kompong Svay also is notable as one of the Mahayana Buddhist cities dated fromto at least  the 13th century. The  four-faced tower of Prasat Preah Stung, and the Chaktomuk Buddha in this site convey a message that this area  symbolizes a flourishing city. These are characteristic symbols of the urbanized the Khmer city and lasted until the present day, as seen in the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.  

Comparison with other similar properties

Banteay Chhmar temple, Cambodia (13th century): Similar to Preah Khan Kompong Svay, Banteay Chhmar  was a provincial city located in west of Angkor, which served as a way station point between Angkor and the Khmer communities living around and beyond the Dengrek mountain.

Borobudur in Central Java (9th-14th centuries): Borobudur, the world’s largest as the Buddhist temple was designed with the concept of attaining Niravana. The structure represents the Buddhist cosmology, with at the top platform e 72 seated Buddhas which relate to the five greats Buddhas that are also found on the relief of Preah Khan Kompong Svay. 

Ananda Temple, Bagan (1105 AD): Buddhist temple located in Bagan, Myanmar was built on a cruciform plan. The temple houses fours standing Buddha images facing each cardinal direction: South (Buddha-Kassapa), North (Buddha-Kakusandha), East (Buddha-Konagamana), and West (Buddha-Gautama), in a pattern similar to Chaktomuk at Preah Khan Kompong Svay.