Cambodia History

The Ancient or Pre-Angkorian Period

In light of the rudimentary state of knowledge on early human occupation of the region, the "historical period" is conventionally seen as beginning in the seventh century. The first known constructions that are direct precursors to the Angkor monuments date from this time, as do the region's first remaining written documents.

In addition, a Chinese emissary, Tcheou Ta-Kouan, left invaluable documentation on ancient Cambodia in records of his travels to the region toward the end of the ancient period at the close of the thirteenth century.

Thus, we know now that the ancient Khmers used light materials (wood, bamboo, leaves, reeds, etc.) for the construction of private homes, and even palaces : the stone structures we see most clearly today were only the skeleton of ancient urban complexes. Archaeological vestiges of the early historical period indicate the existence of communities centered around temple structures, in much the same way as villages throughout the country are today. Moreover, epigraphic and artistic evidence suggest the coexistence of Buddhist and Brahmanic cults at the site. In the Siem Reap region, known pre-Angkorian remains are grouped principally around the Western Baray and in the region of Roluos/Damdek.In these two areas, many of the structuring elements of Angkorian civilization can be seen in their embryonic forms. It is possible to trace the development in the pre-Angkorian period of a basic socio-cultural structure centered on religious worship with its supporting architecture, art and inscriptions. In the context of this organizing principle, the beginnings of mass urban development are established, with rectangular moats surrounding at least the western city of Banteay Choeu. Meanwhile, the epigraphic record is marked by the coexistence of Khmer and Sanskrit inscriptions. These are some of the forerunners announcing the civilization that was to come to be known as Angkor. Over the ninth century, the foundations of this civilization were progressively consolidated.

The Angkorian Period: The Empire's Birth 
The specificity of this developing civilization as it diverged noticeably from its cultural antecedents is brought forth by epigraphic, architectural, and artistic evidence. A radical change is evident in Khmer statuary at the beginning of this period. As opposed to earlier human and divine figures with gracefully tilted hips and waist, the new figures stand abruptly straight. The loss of nuance in corporal flexion most clearly strikes the eye.

These linguistic and artistic elements do not however serve alone to prove the ninth century a watershed in Khmer history. They are rather the manifestations of a singular political event: the rise to power of Jayavarman II in the year 802. This event marked a political turning point not simply in the eyes of modern historians, but more importantly, in Khmer memory for centuries to come.
In his campaigns across the land over the final years of the eighth century, Jayavarman II progressively unified disparate and rival principalities. His long trajectory culminated with the establishment of a royal cult based on worship of a specific linga. This magic cult was meant to ensure the independence of the country and the exclusive right of a single monarch to the throne. Jayavarman II personally instituted the cult atop Phnom Kulen, in declaring that "the country of Kampuchea is no longer dependent upon Java." The linga, named "kamraten jagat ta raja," "the god of the king," was to become the palladium of the kingdom. Installed at each successive Angkorian capital, the linga conferred magico-religious legitimacy upon Jayavarman II and subsequent rulers. It was through this cult that the notion of a universal monarch or "cakravartin" was first formulated in Cambodia. Under this king, a central royal power was thus consolidated and reinforced in a united Cambodia with the aid of specific but diverse religious ceremonies.
Rising to the throne almost thirty years after the death of Angkor's founder, Indravarman reiterated the intimate association between religion and royalty.
In dedicating his first religious construction (Preah Kho) to the memory of his ancestors, and in particular to that of Jayavarman II, this king further consolidated his legitimacy in historical terms. Giving concrete form to the reigning monarch's claim to genealogical legitimacy, the consecration of such a temple, while maintaining a living cult, was meant to simultaneously ensure the posthumous sojourn of royal ancestors in the divine worlds.
Only after having erected this ancestor temple did Indravarman dedicate an imposing temple to his own cult : the "mountain-temple". Known today as Bakong, this temple consisting of a five-tiered pyramid crowned by a central sanctuary, and surrounded by numerous satellite sanctuaries and edifices, finds here its first truly majestic expression.
It is important to note that despite evident roots in earlier Khmer mo-dels, ninth century temple decor and, in the case of the Bakong, architectural design itself, simultaneously suggest Javanese influences less perceptible in pre-Angkorian art. The remarkable grimacing figures carved in the stucco of Preah Ko, for example, suggest that in artistic terms Angkorian civilization had yet to establish complete autonomy from Java.
Divergence from pre-Angkorian aesthetic forms would seem to have drawn some of its initial force from a reference to Javanese models. The gradual affirmation of artistic independence over time would however come to reinforce and consolidate the political independence declared and enacted in ritualistic terms by Jayavarman II. Indeed, over the course of the Angkorian period, great stylistic evolution in the arts can be discerned.
Divergence from pre-Angkorian aesthetic forms would seem to have drawn some of its initial force from a reference to Javanese models. The gradual affirmation of artistic independence over time would however come to reinforce and consolidate the political independence declared and enacted in ritualistic terms by Jayavarman II. Indeed, over the course of the Angkorian period, great stylistic evolution in the arts can be discerned.
Developing simple but efficient techniques for exploiting natural water sources to the benefit of the kingdom, Indravarman was to lay the foundations for the concrete realization of civil infrastructures supporting and supported by the monarchy's nascent political and religious institutions. Indravarman's principal and enduring contribution in this domain was the creation of a system in which water was captured from the Roluos river to feed a large reservoir, the baray) measuring 3.8 kilometers by 800 meters.
Flowing naturally under the influence of gravity, water was channeled southward from the baray into the moats surrounding Preah Ko and the Bakong. In addition to protecting the enclosed temple complexes from intruders, these moats bore great symbolic significance as concentric "oceans" surrounding central "continents," or in the case of mountain-temples, surrounding the sacred Mount Meru itself. This symbolic role was surely reinforced as the moats became the first elements in a vast hydrological network.
Further developed and perfected over the coming centuries, Indravarman's innovation was essen-tial to the rapid consolidation, rise, and endurance of the Empire. From these first elements, a specific type of agrarian city was to develop, based upon sophisticated systems of water exploitation, and known as the "hydraulic city."
Before transferring the capital to this new location, however, Yasovarman built a temple to the memory of his ancestors (Lolei). Further repeating the symbolic and physical gestures of his father, Yasovarman next built a mountain-temple for his personal cult: Phnom Bakheng.
During the following five centuries, excepted a 23 years break, the same organizational elements directed construction of an agrarian city. Indeed, the return of the capital to the Angkor region after an installation in Koh Ker, demonstrates the viability of this geographical choice.

The Angkorian Period: The Classical Age
Over the course of the tenth century, the brilliance of the court is suggested by the numerous temples founded by court dignitaries across the plain. Prasat Kravan and Banteay Srei are among the most remarkable of these.
It is in the tenth century that the first known mythical history of Cambodia appears. A Sanskrit inscription at Baksei Chamkrong recounts how the Khmer race was founded by the marriage of Kamvu, a self-born ascetic, and Mera, the primordial Apsara, or female divinity. This suggests that the unity of the civilization was already well established, inspiring speculation into its semi-divine origins.
Domestic peace was interrupted in the early eleventh century with the rise to power of Jayaviravarman, but also when the future Suryavarman I waged war against the reigning king (for perhaps as long as nine years). Once again, the continued evolving efficacy, and the renown, of the Angkorian system is made clear. The victorious usurper did not choose to assert his power by founding a new palace. Instead, falsifying the date of his ascension to the throne, and obliging the court officials to concur, with the proclamation of a solemn oath of loyalty, the new ruler established his court at the very same royal site. This specific geographic choice placed him literally in the continuity of Angkor and symbolically supported his claim to legitimacy through the maternal line.
Indeed, it is undoubtedly with his reign that the notion of "Angkor" exceeded its own spatial limits to take on the larger dimensions of an entire civilization. This king expanded the area of cultivated land on the Angkor plain by beginning construction of the largest baray to date, measuring 8 by 2.1 kilometers. Indeed, it is undoubtedly with his reign that the notion of "Angkor" exceeded its own spatial limits to take on the larger dimensions of an entire civilization. This king expanded the area of cultivated land on the Angkor plain by beginning construction of the largest baray to date, measuring 8 by 2.1 kilometers. Founding temples in near and distant provinces, Suryavarman I both asserted central power over existent communities, and created new spheres of influence.
The art of the following reign, that of Udayadityavarman II who rose to the throne in 1050, would seem to reflect the consolidation of a civilization, allowing for the liberty of a certain self expression.In addition to the usual mythological scenes and floral or animal decor of lintels and pediments, temple walls are decorated with small panels framing animal or human figures sculpted according to nature. Animals never before seen in temple reliefs appear here for the first time: goats, peacocks, tigers, deer. This originality of expression can be seen at the Baphuon, and at the Western Mebon temple complex built by Udayadityavarman on an island in the Western Baray.
Toward the end of the eleventh century Jayavarman VI continued in Suryavarman's steps, erecting several temples beyond the Angkor region proper. In their architecture and decor these constructions prefigure the remarkable achievements embodied in the mountain-temple built by the next great king, Suryavarman II, who came to power in 1113: Angkor Wat. The construction of this temple, because of its sheer size, as well as its architectural and artistic perfection, has surely required tremendous means and exceedingly sophisticated technique.
After the middle of the twelfth century, Dharanindravarman II is thought to have been the first Buddhist king to rule over Angkor. His reign is notable in that some thirty years later his son, Jayavarman VII, was to institute Buddhism as the official religion of the Empire. However during the interval between the reigns of father and son, Angkor - as both a capital city and a civilization - was to suffer what would prove to be irreparable damage : falling to the Cham in 1177, the capital was virtually destroyed. The Angkorian urban network, in all its complex dimensions, soon came to a standstill.
The fall of the capital undoubtedly brought into question the efficacy and durability of the system, perhaps most specifically in its intimate relationship to the Brahmanic religion.
It may indeed be for this very reason that in 1181, carrying victory over the Chams, the new King, Jayavarman VII, established Mahayana Buddhism as the official religion of the reclaimed Empire. Each of Jayavarman VII's monuments expressed faith in the compassionate savior Lokesvara.

The iconography of these temples gives primacy to Lokesvara, known for his healing powers. This religious engagement even dictated the construction of numerous social works such as hospitals and rest houses along the principal roads of the kingdom. Certain religious constructions moreover translate this expression of faith into three dimen-sional space. Neak Pean, for example, was not simply a place of religious worship but simultaneously a sort of curative spa.
Following in the line of his predecessors, maximizing the use of natural and manmade features to create a new and harmonious social environment, Jayavarman VII proved a truly innovative urban planner. Immediately after ascension to the throne, this last great Angkorian king began to redesign the layout of the capital. Utilizing the remaining religious and urban structures, and complementing this existent framework with rationally conceived new constructions, Jayavarman VII put the ravaged city back into working order. Choosing a strategic location between the two great barays and just north of the Bakheng, the king circumscribed a large area, known today as Angkor Thom including the Royal Palace and the Baphuon, with an imposing laterite wall and outer moat.
At the city center stands the Bayon, Jayavarman VII's mountain-temple. With towers theoretically numbering fifty-four, a symbolic number in Indian tradition, each in the form of an enormous four-faced head looking serenely out in the cardinal directions, the Bayon is indisputably Angkor's most unique expression of this traditional type of religious complex dedicated to the royal cult. With the Bayon as the central mountain pivot, the whole of Angkor Thom illustrates in three dimensions the Indian creation myth of the churning of the sea of milk in a cosmogonic tug of war between gods and demons. Attested to in diverse artistic forms throughout the Angkor period, this myth of eternal regeneration found here its most concrete and dramatic expression.
Before completing the Bayon for his personal cult, Jayavarman VII consecrated Ta Prohm temple in memory of his mother, followed by Preah Khan dedicated to his father. He moreover constructed a new baray, the Jayatataka with Neak Pean at its center. Another type of waterwork was to proliferate during the reign of Jayavarman VII: a stone structure consisting of a series of narrow covered water passageways arranged side by side to span a stream or canal, it served at once as a bridge and as a variable dam. The construction of these relatively small-scale and locally manageable waterworks, implying a dispersion of infrastructural energies and encouraging a decentralization of authority, is seen by many as a sign and perhaps cause of Angkorian decline. The reign of Jayavarman VII is also marked by an important innovation in statuary art. Throughout the entire tradition of Khmer religious iconography up to this point, historical figures had been sculpted to bear the ideal traits of their chosen god; under Jayavarman VII, true portraits of the king and his wife are sculpted for the first time. The innovation of the statue-portrait is taken one step further when the god Lokesvara is himself sculpted in the image of Jayavarman VII. This can be seen as the culminating stage in the evolution of a political, religious and aesthetic tradition in which the association of the gods with their royal followers, adopted as the cornerstone of the Khmer monarchy at the inception of the Angkorian period by Jayavarman II, is taken to its logical limit: it is now the god who takes on the form of the king and not the other way around.
In the first quarter of the thirteenth century, after the death of Jayavarman VII, the heritage left by four hundred years of glorious Angkorian rule provided the framework and means for prosperity throughout the thirteenth century. A Chinese emissary named Tcheou Ta Kouan, visiting Cambodia in 1296 lauded the continued splendor of the capital city, recording many of its aspects in detailed descriptions. Yet the lack of evident activity would seem rather to reflect a period of stagnation foreboding definitive decline.The court was maintained within the city realized by Jayavarman VII, with successive monarchs largely only repairing or making minor additions and modifications to existent structures. Defacing, and often resculpting Buddha figures into lingas, Jayavarman VII's Shivaist successors transformed his many Buddhist monuments into Brahmanic places of worship. Images of Lokesvara were transformed to represent the Brahmanic god Shiva. It was undoubtedly during this period that Buddhist reliefs of Brahmanic temples built prior to the reign of Jayavarman VII were also disfigured. Iconographic transformation was not however systematic. While the thirteenth century was marked by an official return to Brahmanism, all evidence suggests that Buddhism increasingly spread within the ordinary population, harmoniously co-existing with Brahmanic sects. The earliest known full Pali inscription at Angkor was written in the early fourteenth century, indicating not only the existence of Buddhism, but more specifically that of the Theravada faith. Over this first quarter of the fourteenth century Theravada Buddhism was to definitively replace Brahmanism as the religion not only of the people but moreover of the monarchy. In cultural terms, the Angkorian Empire was coming to an end.
At this time, the first Thai kingdom, Sukhothai, soon became the dominant force in the region, drawing on the achievements of the peninsula's most brilliant civilization. Socio-cultural exchange between the Angkorian Empire and this nascent Buddhist kingdom was not limited to religion : it also involved linguistic, artistic and institutional practices, and functioned in both directions, depending largely on the changing balance of power. But the rise of the one kingdom was eventually to contribute to the decline of the other.
Over the course of the fourteenth century the efficiency of the Angkorian social management and belief systems rapidly diminished. Reasons contributing to the fall of Angkor are however complex and interdependent. With the adoption of Theravada Buddhism, the monarchy lost the ideological base on which it had constructed the Empire. The gods were no longer omnipotent, and in any case the monarchy was linked more weakly to the divine world. What is more, the common people no longer served collectively in the marked Brahmanic hierarchy to ensure the continuation of the royal cult. The efficacy of the monumental Angkorian waterworks itself depended on the intensive collective labor encouraged by Brahmanic ideology.
While this interplay of cause and effect can not be disentangled to determine a primary source of the Empire's decline, one major factor is nevertheless of singular importance. Throughout the fourteenth and into the fifteenth centuries the increasingly powerful Siamese army waged repeated attacks on the capital city. With this intense new pressure, the united forces of ideology and labor, necessary for the maintenance of the ponderous Angkorian infrastructure, were progressively dismantled. Large-scale system failure ultimately contributed to complete military defeat. In leaving Angkor in 1432 following the final Siamese siege, the Khmer monarchy left behind an agrarian city which had lost its internal coherence of meaning. The waning of the unique civilization of Angkor was marked in strong symbolic terms by the abandonment of Angkor as a capital city.
The Middle Period
The several centuries following this event constituted what can best be seen as a distinct historical period in political, religious, linguistic and artistic terms. While introducing certain innovations that were to become defining elements of modern Cambodia, this transitio-nal period maintained strong roots in the Angkorian past, and this ancient heritage is discernible in vestigial forms.
More or less constant aggression by the Siamese to the west and eventually the Vietnamese,as well as divisive internal conflict, provoked frequent displacements of the seat of power and a general trend of retreat into the interior of the country. Moreover, the introduction of Theravada Buddhism at once reflected and encouraged a progressive dispersion of central power in both institutional and geographical terms : the Khmer monarch of the middle period commanded significantly less authority than his Angkorian ancestors.
It is undoubtedly for its lack of monumental construction that the middle period stands in most striking contrast to Angkorian times. Temple design was thus conceived in conformity with the ideology and practices of Theravada, and with the concurrent influence of precedents in neighboring Siam. An open and functional space capable of housing large numbers of people, especially during ceremonial occasions, took the place of the narrow and exclusive Brahmanic cella.
The art of this period is relatively unknown, since only a few pieces remain (mainly because of thereplacement of stone by wood ). Although thematic range was greatly reduced, as it was primarily the Buddha's image which was henceforth to merit reproduction, in the pieces remaining today, one sees an art still refined in technical and aesthetic terms.In concordance with these changes, epigraphic sources both diminish in number and evolve in nature over the middle period. The vast majority of inscriptions from this period date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Functioning within the Theravada faith, Middle Khmer inscriptions are exclusively votive. Recording pious acts and wishes, they reveal factual historical information only indirectly.
Although Angkor was abandoned as a capital city in the second quarter of the fifteenth century, the region has been continuously inhabited up to modern times. Siamese rule over the city following its siege was ephemeral, yet the proximity of the region to belligerent Siamese armies prohibited the Khmer monarchy from ever reinstalling a viable seat of power there, with the exception of the second half of the sixteenth century.
Many sites within the Angkor region proper were partially maintained, and others even grew in importance under the influence of the Theravada faith. Middle Khmer religious and artistic expression would indeed seem to have reached its height in this region so laden with remains of ancestral glory when King Ang Chan, followed by his son and grandson, reoccupied the ancient site. Inspired undoubtedly by Angkorian models, these kings exploited existent urban infrastructures, transformed religious cults and made original religious foundations at Angkor while simultaneously maintaining the capital of Longvek in the south of the country.
One of the most impressive vestiges within Angkor Thom of middle Khmer Buddhist expression can be seen at the Baphuon temple : middle Khmer artisans transformed an upper portion of the Baphuon's western facade into a 60-meter image of the Buddha entering nirvana. Similar reconstruction occurred at the summit of the Bakheng, the site of the first great monument in what was henceforth the city of Angkor. The central sanctuary and portions of its four satellite sanctuaries were transformed between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries into an enormous seated Buddha.
The prestige of Angkor's Buddhist cult is evident throughout the Angkor area. The Phnom Kulen is known, for example, to have been a site of pilgrimage in the sixteenth century. Numerous other sites, such as the Prasat Prei near Angkor Wat which was first abandoned in the thirteenth century, are known to have been reanimated by a Buddhist cult around this same time.It is indeed the temple of Angkor Wat that has continuously maintained Cambodia's most important religious cult.

With the fall of the southern capital of Longvek to the Siamese in the end of the sixteenth century, engendering increasingly destructive internal conflict, Angkor was to be again abandoned as a royal residence. But while it was no longer a royal residence, the Angkor region was still not abandoned either by its local populations or by Buddhist pilgrims.

The Modern Period: The re-discovery of Angkor
Cambodia is considered to have entered a new historical phase around the beginning of the nineteenth century, with the linguistic evolution from Old to Modern Khmer and the inauguration of a new political era.

As a civilization enduring in vestigial forms through monuments, religious beliefs, political systems, artistic practices and language itself, Angkor underwent a new process of conceptualization both within Cambodia and beyond.Though at the beginning of the nineteenth century the country was still under the rival domination of Siam and Vietnam, the reigning monarch, Ang Duong, without any ambitions of conquest - or reconquest - was the first sovereign since Ang Chan in the sixteenth century to demonstrate a global vision of the nation. This king rehabilitated national infrastructures and instituted new ones, actively participated in religious and literary deve-lopment, and reformed judicial codes. Together, these actions served to reestablish Cambodia as a cohesive whole.
Angkor, or more particularly Angkor Wat had become a founding element of the Khmer conscience. The image of Angkor Wat that has always figured on the Khmer national flag reflects Khmer as much as Western visions of the Cambodian state - even while a certain brand of nationalism, and the institution of the national flag, may themselves be largely a Western heritage. Even so, Khmer conceptualization of Angkor was eventually to be furthered and transformed by Western interpretations of the Khmer past.
It was toward the end of Ang Duong's reign in the 1850s that Angkor came to take on modern global dimensions. Henri Mouhot, a French naturalist on expedition with the British Royal Geographic Society was the first Westerner to publicly acclaim the wonders of Angkor. Published in 1863 , Mouhot's descriptions of Angkor made a great impression on their audience, inaugurating more than a century of sensation surrounding this "discovery." Closely thereafter a German ethnologist, Adolf Bastian, was the first to attempt to understand Angkor from a scientific point of view, associating the monuments with Indian architectural models. Scientific interest was to heighten the political value of Angkor. France and Siam simultaneously sought to consolidate power in the evolving regional political situation. In 1863, the French Protectorate over Cambodia was established, covering a territory that included the Angkor region. However four years later, a French-Siamese treaty ceded the provinces of Siem Reap and Battambang to Siam. In exchange, this powerful neighbor agreed to renounce previous claims of authority over the whole of Cambodia as its vassal state. While there was a certain amount of internal French opposition to the move, the negotiations were carried out behind closed doors, and even today the existence of the treaty is little known.
The attention of the Protectorate was nevertheless increasingly drawn to the Angkor region over the course of the following decades. Louis Delaporte, a member of the Mekong expedition team, was accorded the command of the exploration of Khmer monuments, especially at Angkor. In exporting Khmer statuary art for display in French museums and in sending rubbings of inscriptions to Europe for study, the Delaporte mission inaugurated yet another phase in the European understanding of Angkor. Entitled Voyage au Cambodge, Delaporte's principal publication is largely dedicated to descriptions of the ancient capital.
The Modern Period: The creation of the Angkor Conservation
It is indeed likely that Angkor was a primary motivation behind the founding of the Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient in 1899, and it is not mere coincidence that its first director was a specialist in Sanskrit and Khmer epigraphy. In 1908, after the province of Siem Reap was returned by the Siamese to the French Protectorate, the Ecole Française created the Conservation d'Angkor, which was to play a major role in the research, conservation, and restoration activities carried out at Angkor by the Ecole up until the early 1970s.
With the Angkor Conservation Office at its base, a system for the ma-nagement of Angkor as a geographic and historical unit was to develop over the course of the twentieth century. However neither under the colonial administration nor after Independence was there ever a major policy of tourist promotion of Angkor. The park was appreciated for its exceptional archaeological and historical importance rather than for its tourist value.
While research findings of the Ecole Française and other colonial authorities were regularly presented to a specialized audience, this growing body of knowledge on the Angkorian civilization was never actually incorporated into academic or technical training programs within the country itself. Never in its years under French control, or indeed after, did the Conservation undertake the training of Khmer nationals in archaeological research, conservation and restoration techniques or cultural heritage management. Upon Independence, finding itself thus with no capable archaeological personnel, the Royal Khmer Government continued to confide the management of Angkor to the Ecole Française. It was not until 1965, when the University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh was founded, that the training of Khmer nationals in the field of archaeology was to earnestly begin. The Archaeology Department was the central component of a larger national policy aiming to ensure the gradual transfer of management and research activities concerning the Khmer cultural heritage to Cambodian nationals. This nascent policy of Khmerization was however quickly suspended with the onslaught of war.

The Modern Period: The war
As for other domains including administrative and socio-economic development, any progress that had been made in cultural heritage management since Independence was lost over the following decades. The activities of the Conservation were considerably reduced from the early 1970s on. Military presence in the region progressively rendered the archaeological sites inaccessible. As the Park itself fell into the hands of Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese troops, the Conservation shifted its efforts to sites in and south of Siem Reap town. The research, conservation and restoration program that had expanded and reinforced its internal coherency, especially in the 1960s, was dismantled. With the rise of the Khmer Rouge to power in April 1975, all the elements of the living Buddhist cult, were purposely destroyed (religious leaders, Buddhist monasteries, Buddha images, manuscripts, etc.), but the Khmer Rouge had no systematic policy concerning the vast quantities of archaeological material at their disposal. Indifference seems to have been the general rule, and the monuments, as well as objects placed in the Conservation were for the most part simply neglected.

However, while Angkor was physically abandoned, the concept of Angkor as a civilization did figure in Khmer Rouge ideology. The temple of Angkor Wat adorned Democratic Kampuchea's national flag. The national hymn proclaimed Khmer Rouge advances on Angkorian civilization. Cynically denouncing the "slave labor" through which the ancient Empire was built, the Khmer Rouge nonetheless capitalized on Angkor as the hereditary model on which an ideology of personal sacrifice for monumental collective works was based. Nonetheless, the Angkorian heritage did not escape the Khmer Rouge period unscathed. Mines were detonated, for example, at certain post-Angkorian stone Buddha images. Numerous post-Angkorian wooden images from Angkor Wat are known to have been burned for firewood. In comparison to the architectural and artistic heritage, the Angkorian hydrological infrastructure suffered most at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Massive engineering projects undertaken with forced labor and ostensibly meant to augment irrigation capacities proved counterproductive, disrupting rather than ameliorating the pre-war hydrological system, itself largely based on Angkorian structures. These alterations made to a hydrological network that in centuries of use had proved to be efficient continue to hamper development in Siem Reap today.
Driving out the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Vietnamese troops took over the town of Siem Reap, contributing to the desstruction and looting of Angkor. Occupying troops started with-drawing from the Conservation compound in October of 1980, at which time an Indian delegation visited Angkor to undertake the first archaeologi-cal inspection since the early 1970s. A Khmer conservation team was pro-gressively established in the compound, and by February 1982 Vietnamese military presence in the compound had come to an end. The future
A conjunction of circumstances developing in this period was to put the Angkorian cultural heritage at unprecedented risk. With severe poverty, widespread possession of weapons, and virtually unbridled military rule, as well as continuing insecurity throughout Cambodia, most particularly in Thai border regions harboring Cambodian resistance groups, Khmer objects rapidly became prime targets for an illicit international art trafficking net-work with its regional base in Thailand. Over the course of the 1980s and particularly into the 1990s the illicit traffic became an organized industry within Cambodia itself.
Nevertheless, the political and economic opening of Cambodia in 1989 offered new prospects for the rehabilitation of national infrastructure, and for the adoption of strong measures for cultural protection. Practice of the Buddhist re-ligion was increasingly accepted by the State. Western language study was permitted; foreign investment took hold. Renewed and diverse scientific in-terest in Angkor was to progressively develop. And the Department of Archaeology at the University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh was reopened in 1989.
However the social, economic and political changes begun in the late '80s simultaneously catalyzed great destruction and loss; cultural, natural and human resources all suffered deeply. Faced with the open market, and before an unknown future, many in positions of power sought to consoli-date personal wealth. In Siem Reap, the illegal art traffic, as well as logging, proved increasingly lucrative.
Faced with rampant looting in the Archaeological Park, the Angkor Conservation Office resorted to removing objects for safekeeping in the compound grounds. Surrounded by barbed wire, its outer walls lined with sandbags, and under twenty-four hour armed guard, the Conservation was still unable to prevent theft. Between 1992 and 1993 the compound was thrice attacked by armed forces. Numerous invaluable pieces were lost. In response to this seemingly uncontrollable violence, the government removed over one hundred remaining pieces to Phnom Penh. With the aid of UNESCO, security measures were reinforced in and around the Conservation compound.
It is however important to note that while threats to the Angkorian heritage increased dramatically during this transitional period, so did pos-sibilities for protective action. In November of 1991 H.R.H. Prince Norodom Sihanouk, in his capacity as President of the pre-election organ known as the Supreme National Council (SNC), signed the instruments of accession to the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, thereby completing Cambodia's ratification of the three main existent international instruments for the protection of cultural pro-perty. Cambodia's obligations as State Party to these three international conventions - the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property, and the 1972 World Heritage Convention - required, among other things, the adoption of a wide range of national laws and regulations. Setting conditions concerning the promulgation of legislative measures for the protection of cultural heritage, the provisional inscription in 1992 of the Angkor site on the World Heritage List reiterated these national obliga-tions. In the early 1990s, and with international legal assistance, amend-ments were made in the penal code of the State of Cambodia to introduce sanctions on the destruction, theft and illicit traffic of cultural property to enable existent authorities to immediately address the growing problem.
Angkor is still in danger, and many threats hang over it. Now, this heritage represents one of the last remaining sources of information for the understanding of the Angkorian past. It is the last link between this sometimes mysterious past, the present, and the future. It is therefore vital to study it, so as to understand and protect this heritage which is a fundamental part of the khmer identity.
The available sources of information, though very scarce, enabled to recreate a large part of the Angkorian past.
- Inscriptions sculpted on the temples stone provided precious information for the dating of the kings' reigns, of religious constructions, and sometimes also for the organisation of the temples for instance. Jayavarman VII remained unknown a long time, and without the inscriptions, he would still be.
- The accounts of foreign ambassadors or travellers at that time are also precious. The well known Chinese Tcheou Ta Kouan was one of a few to describe in detail the daily life of the khmer society under the reign of King Jayavarman VII.
Dating of monuments and structures is also possible thanks to techniques used by archaeologists who analyse ceramics found in the soils, and compare the decoration and statuaries styles. Potteries and fragments are thus essential to the understanding of the Angkorian chronology. 
Finally, the Bayon and the Baphuon bas reliefs are fantastic tales of the daily life in the Angkor times. It also shows the political events of Jayavarman VII reign, such as the wars. The Angkor Vat bas reliefs are also beautiful illustrations of Suryavarman II reign.
However, all these sources of knowledge and understanding do not give full account of the past, and many questions are left in the dark. Apart from the succession of kings, the main wars, the organisation of the temples' life, the general chronology, many aspects are still unknown.Various research programs aim at discovering this hidden past.

It is worth noting that every archaeological team working in Angkor undertakes thorough research before any restoration works. By revealing unknown aspects of the angkorian past, research partly explains it and leads the way for conservation and restoration, and for the general raise of the knowledge of the public. Research thus makes the link between past, present, and future.
Mr. Phanith is a knowledgeable and adventurous tour guide with a lot of heart. He loves to take people to sites off the beaten track -- in comfort! I am a repeat customer & look forward to many more excursions with him in Cambodia.

Panith is the best tour guide I've ever had. His service and level of knowledge are unparalelled and he is a great person to go with it. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending his services to anyone (in fact I already have) and we look forward to coming back over to Cambodia and visiting Panith once again.

Phanith is a very polite, well articulated and educated tour guide. He showed us (me and my husband) secret location that is only known to few tourist and tour guides. I highly recommend Cambodia tour services to everyone.

I was introduced to phanith when I visited Siam Reap for my honeymoon in January 2010. This was my third trip and he was the best guide ever. 12 months later and my Son, his girlfriend and 2 friends were travelling to Siam Reap and I gave them Phaniths contact details as I knew he would look after thier every need...and he did. They came back and said he was wonderful. Guides can make or break a holiday destination, so if you want to be guaranteed an indepth experience with a wonderful guide you will not be dissapointed. Debra Melbourne Australia

Panith's knowledge of Cambodia was most impressive, the information he provided us with was outstanding. I would not hesitate in recommending Panith to anyone considering a tour on their trip to Cambodia.

Travel to Cambodia with friends on the year 2009.Panith, is a well qualified tour guide who served his customers with whole-hearted attitude. It was hard to miss any important info with his guide. He always do his best to satisfy us with his knowledge on the history & culture of Cambodia & some funny jokes that cheer us up for the whole trip. if there is a chance to go back Cambodia, sure will look for you once again...Thanks for your companion for the 3days guide.

Cheab Phanith is a very kind and smart guide. It was a very nice experience to discover Cambodia with him. I can highly recommend him to everybody who wants to know more than usual about the country! Sehr freundlich und zuvorkommend! Nur zu empfehlen!

I had a great time at Siem Reap and Phanith was our tour guide for 3 days. He knows the place well and is always eager to tell us the histories and stories of the temples. Besides, I can still remember the mango and some local food that he introduced to us. Not forgetting his cheerful and playfulness especially when he knew you better. He is really passionate about his work and without a doubt, i would love to have him to guide me again on our next adventure at Siem Reap. Looking forward to go there again. By that time, I hope he would have time to entertain me!!!

Phanith is very knowledgeable and is an ambitious young lad. We've learned a lot about Siem Reap from him and apart from that, he represents the young mind of Cambodia. Impressed and looking forward to visiting Cambodia again. Well done Phanith!

Phanith is one of the most patient and knowledgeable tour guide I've ever had! We are a bunch of crazy girls who loves to run around for photoshoots! He'll always guide us patiently with all his hearts, love his service and love his companion!

My friends and I had a good time with Cheab Panith. He's very polite, accomodating and I'm impressed with all his knowledge of all the information about cambodia. He brought us to some location that no other tour guide does, making our tour more adventurous. contact him now!

I went to Cambodia a couple of years ago and had the pleasure of having Phanith as a tourguide for my group. Not only is he knowledgeable about the history of each site in Siem Riep, he's also very attentive to our welfare. My sister had a sprained ankle and he took his time to stay behind with her to make sure she gets to enjoy the trip as much as the rest of us. For other perks, ask him to do a tarzan move when he's near a tree! It's definitely entertaining to have him as your tour guide :)

It was a good star who introduced me to Phanith when I visited Siem Reap 5 years ago for a teaching week at Kantha Bopha Children`s hospital. Since then I prolong my yearly courses by 3-4 days to visit with him remote temples and provinces and learn more about everyday life in Cambodia.Phanith is a highly qualified temple guide, an outstanding scout through rural Cambodia, where he has grown up and an exceptional personality.He speaks English fluently, carefully organizes his tours and passionately introduces you to the hidden secrets of his wonderful country.Next year I will bring my family and hope he will also show my boy how to catch crickets, produce palm sugar and find medicinal herbs in the jungle

Panith is an absolute Gem! We wanted to pack him up and take him with us on the remainder of our journey. All the testimonials listed here are true to their word, Panith will certainly not disappoint.

Mr Phanith is very nice and full of patience. He introduced many good local restaurants to us. In each checkpoint, he would describe its history and find a very good place for photographing. Next time, I will find him again if I want to go Cambodia. Next time, when my friends would like to go, I will introduce Mr Phanith to them.

Panith is a real gentlemen, he is the perfect tour guide for visiting the archeological site of Angkor Wat. He has a perfect knowledge of Cambogia history and culture and is very interesting to listen to. I really recommend him for a full immersion in Cambogia culture and lifestyle.

I was recently in Siem Reap and had the pleasure of Panith as my tour guide. I had a fabulous time. He is so well informed, patient and flexible. He provides a very professional service. I highly recommend him.

We had an amazing experience in Cambodia because of our tour guide Mr. Phanith! He speaks english well, smart and very friendly!we learned so much from him. He also assisted us with our pictures hes so nice! Great job mr Phanith! we wish you all the best.

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