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UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Sites in Cambodia: Captivating and Confounding

Updated on September 23, 2012
Angkor | Source
Prasat Preah Vihear
Prasat Preah Vihear | Source

UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Sites in Cambodia

There is something about Cambodia that makes its UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Sites a must-visit for guests who want to be entirely enchanted.

The two Cambodian sites inscribed with the honor of being called World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO are the Angkor, considered the site of the mother of all temples Angkor Wat, and Prasat Preah Vihear, the entrancing temple dedicated to the Supreme Hindu God Shiva.

On the one hand, Cambodia’s history is inspiring.

Current-day Cambodia is the descendant of a once powerful Khmer Empire, which domains stretched far into from Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

During its peak, the rulers of the Khmer Empire commissioned the construction of a grandiose metropolis that exhibited the Khmer genius in sculpture, architecture, and urban planning.

This metropolis is the legendary Angkor, constructed to unrivaled heights of beauty and perhaps challenged only by the ancient architectures in Peru and Jordan.

The Temple of Preah Vihear was also constructed during this era.

On the other hand, Cambodia’s history is depressing.

From 13th to the 14th centuries, Angorian power seriously deteriorated, until the Angkor metropolis became utterly abandoned throughout 15th century.

Experts are debating the causes of the Angorian power's decline: war with the Ayutthaya Kingdom, conversion of the Khmer people from Hinduism to Buddhism, reduced economic sources due to poor public works, and natural disasters.

Notwithstanding the causes of the decline, many believed that these two Cambodian UNESCO World Heritage Sites were left to ruin in the past, allowing either the forests or landmines from modern-day wars to claim much of their glory.

1. Angkor – a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Unrivaled Beauty

The seat of the mighty Khmer Empire that ruled Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam from the 9th to the 15th centuries, Angkor was an ancient metropolitan area composed of thousands of buildings, houses, palaces and temples.

In fact, the name Angkor was derived from a Sanskrit word that means city.

This expansive pre-industrial city was inscribed the honor of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 for four reasons:

1. Angkor is a masterpiece of humankind’s creativity.

2. Angkor represents landmark developments in architecture, landscape designs, town-planning and arts.

3. Angkor is a testimony of a civilization that flourished but has now disappeared.

4. Angkor shows pieces of evidence of exemplary architectural, technological and landscape designs that are extremely important to human history.

Today, the ancient ruins of Angkor are nestled deep in the forests of Siem Reap.

Current studies aided by high technologies reveal that Angkor was actually a sprawling urban area that measured up to 1,000 square kilometers and maintained complex systems of thousands of infrastructures.

However, relatively few temples survived the sacking of the raiders from Ayutthaya and long years of neglect.

The temples now number over one thousand, from the imposing Angkor Wat that is considered as one of the largest religious temples in the world, to the now-ordinary bricks that are piled up throughout the farmlands and the forests.

Since the UNESCO declared Angkor a Cultural World Heritage Site, much of the ancient city’s temples have been restored, with many more left to be reconditioned.

2. Prasat Preah Vihear – One of the Most Beautiful, Ancient, and Surviving Hindu Temples

Atop a 1,700-feet cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains of the Preah Vihear province of Cambodia, lays one of the most well-preserved and stunning Hindu temples from ancient times, the Prasat Preah Vihear or the Temple of Preah Vihear.

Prasat Preah Vihear was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 for it represents a masterpiece of human creativity and intellect.

This cultural world heritage site was built during the rule of the Khmer Empire, which was considered the height of the power of the Khmer people, to honor the Supreme Hindu god Shiva.

As a major structure of Khmer Empire’s spiritual life, the Prasat Preah Vihear was designed and redesigned by Khmer kings during the six-century reign of the Khmer rulers.

Thus, the temple bears several striking distinct elements from varying architectural styles.

In effect, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is very different from temples found in Angkor, although they played similar spiritual functions.

The Prasat Preah Vihear is located along an 800-meter plain facing the northern direction. It has a causeway and steps rising up to the hills.

Copyright © 2011 Kerlyn Bautista

All Rights Reserved

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