Location: 225 kilometres (139.5 miles) northeast of Siem Reap
Access:
Tip: Spectacular views of Cambodia and Thailand from the Dangrek Mountains
Date: Construction probably began in the late ninth to early tenth centuries and continued in the mid-12th century
King: begun by Yasovarman I (reigned 889-910); additions made by Suryavarman I (1001-1050) and completed by Suryavarman II (113-1150)
Religion: Hindu (dedicated to Shiva)

BACKGROUND

Preah Vihear is an imposing temple situated on a promontory of the Dangrek Mountain range (length: 152 metres; 500 feet) and (width: 160 metres; 535 feet) at a height of 657 metres (2,155 feet) above sea level and 547 metres (1,794 feet) from the top to the flatland of Cambodia. Phreah Vihear is arguably the most spectacular location of any Khmer site. The natural topography is ideal for an earthly representation of the heavenly cosmos, which the Khmers strove to build and worthy of a temple dedicated to Shiva, the ‘supreme begin of the mountain’. The temple is unusually oriented to the north, away from Cambodia. Based on the styles of architecture, Preah Vihear was built over a period of some 300 years by various kings.

Following a treaty in 1907 between France (who then administered Cambodia) and Thailand, the temple of Preah Vihear was in Thai territory. Cambodia protested citing that the decision was based on a map in which the borders were incorrectly drawn. The international Court of Justice in the Hague settled the case in 1962 and allocated the temple to Cambodia. The only access, however, (until recently) was from Thailand. And it was only open sporadically for nearly three decades due to the civil war in Cambodia. Today, though, it is open to visitors and accessible by helicopter or in a four-wheel-drive vehicle from Siem Reap and over land. Very basic accommodation is available, such as camping out overnight at an army base, along the way.

You can also reach Preah Vihear from Thailand; it is known as Khao Phra Viharn in Thia.

LAYOUT

Preah Vihear is a long, axial layout extending from south to north and comprises a baray, four enclosure walls of progressively increasing height with gopuras linked by causeways on the first and second levels; palace buildings on the third level and the main sanctuary on the fourth level. The total length of the ascent from the entrance of the stairway at the north and walking to the south, the sites are: [1] a grand stone stairway that is eight metres (26 feet) wide (at the entrance) and 78 metres (255 feet) long with 163 rather steep stpes cut directly into the rock; towards the last third of the stairway the steps narrow with small terraces (and originally lion sculptures) on each side.
[2] a sloping stone-paved platform with low walls on each side (width: 30 metres; 100 feet) and two multi-headed(7) nagas; followed by a stairway of 25 steps leading to the gopura of the first level.

[3] gopura: (in poor condition) cruciform shape built on a high base with four porches and stairways with lions.

[4] a few steps lead to a causeway (ten metres, 32 feet wide; 275 metres; 902 feet long) flanked by 67 square stone pillars (two metres; 6.5 feet wide: 37 metres; 121 feet long) with steps descending to the water lies to the east of the causeway. [5] a cruciform gopura of the second level built on a high base; in the form of a gallery with pillars on the north side and small chambers on all four sides; pediment; south door: depicts the Churning of the Ocean of Milk with mount Mandara as the churning stick and Visnhu in his descent as s turtle at the base; on either side; gods and demons holding the body of the serpent, Vasuki, churn the ocean the obtain the elixir of immortality; a so-called ‘lion head’ stone-paved reservoir with steps lies to the east at a distance of approximately 50 metres; 164 feet; a stone-paved causeway flanked by 41 pairs of pillars and 29 steep steps flanked by platforms lead to the gopura of the third level.


[6] small sandstone tower opening to the east and west (perhaps a later construction); [7] the cruciform gopura of the third level is the largest and most elaborately decorated; it extends to the east and west for a total length of 35 metres (114 feet); five structures on a high base make up the gopura, which is built of large, thick sandstone blocks and has 12 windows with balusters’; pediments (some highlights);

[8] the two annex halls are so-called ‘palaces’ (in poor condition) built on a high base accessed by a steep stairway; each one is oriented east to west and consists of a long room and a smaller one on both ends. [9] seven steps lead to yet another causeway flanked by a naga balustrade and nine boundary-posts on each side. [10] the cruciform gopura of the fourth level has a long extension (originally with pillars) on the east and west that runs in a north to south direction; the whole forms an ‘L’ shape and encloses a courtyard with a hall and superb rectangular ‘library’ on each side. [11] central courtyard: the rectangular central courtyard is defined by a surrounding gallery with a gopura on the north and south sides; the gallery has a high, corbelled vault with undecorated walls and large windows without balusters; unusually, the gallery has no doors and to get to the courtyard you have to climb through the windows. The central sanctuary is cruciform with a porch preceding it at the north, a vestibule and a cell with porticoes; gracefully lobed triangular pediments carved with narrative scenes and floral motifs are characteristic of this temple.

WARNING: Due to recent instability in the environs of this site, travellers are advised to check carefully whether a visit is considered safe.

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