Historical information on the temples of Angkor Park originates from various sources, including writings, epigraphs, iconography, archaeology, ethnology, and language. And is only partially documented, in turn leaving us with an incomplete picture of a past which today is mainly corroborated by historical events, of which the most reliable evidence is to be found in it monuments. Based on that evidences, it is possible to trace Cambodia’s history from the first mention by the Chinese in the 1st century of the Funan Kingdom, up to the rise and fall of Chenla form the 6th to the 8th century, all the way through the glorious reign of the Khmer from the 9th to the 13th century, and to the subsequent decline of that splendid civilization in the 15th. The story of Angkor leaves us with a felling of humility and admiration as we wonder at he creative genius and artistic flair of the that highly gifted and culturally advanced civilization.
Funan and Chenla : Pre-Angkorian Period(1st – 8th century)
Though the newly Indianised princely states sometimes encompassed large areas. They were often no larger than a single fortified city. They warred among themselves , coalescing over time into a shifting set of larger states. According to the 3rd century Chinese chronicles, one of the Chinese’s principal trading partners and a dominant power in the region was the Indianised state of Funan centered today’s southern Vietnam and Cambodia. There is evidence that the Funanese spoke Mon-Khmer, strongly indicating a connection to later Angkorian and Cambodian civilization.
Funan was predominated over its smaller neighboring states, including the state of Chenla in northern of Cambodia. Over the later half of 6th century, Funan began to decline, losing its western territories. Chenla, already in the ascendant, conquered the Khmer sections of western Funan, while the Mon people won the extreme western section of Funan in present day Thailand. Later, Chenla seem to have gone on to conquer remainder land of Funan, signaling the beginning of the “Pre-Angkorian” period. Chenla Flourished for but for a short time. The third and last king of unified Chenla, Isanavarman I, constructed the Pre Angkorian temples of Sambo Prei Kuk near modern day Kompong Thom city. (If you come to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh by road, you will pass through Kompong Thom. With a few spares hours, it is possible to make a side trip to these Pre-Angkor ruins.
Under Isanavarman I’s successor, Chenla disintegrated into smaller warring states. It was briefly reunited under jayavarman I in the mid 7th century, only to fall apart again after his death. On traditional accounts, Chenla finally broke into two rival states of alliances, ‘Land Chenla’ in northern Cambodia/ southern Laos, and ‘Water Chenla’ centered further south in Kompong Thom.
Angkorian Period (9th – 15th century)
802AD: The beginning
Jayavarman II was the first king of the Angkorian era, through his origins are recorded in history that borders on legend. He is reputed to have been a Khmer prince, returned to Cambodia around 790 AD after a lengthy, perhaps forced stay in the royal court in java. Regardless of his origin, he was a warrior who, upon returning to Cambodia, subdued enough of the competing Khmer states to declare a sovereign and unified Kambuja under a single ruler. He made this declaration in 802 AD in ceremony on Kulen Mountain (Phnom Kulen) north of Siem Reap, where he held a ‘god king’ rite that solidified his ‘universal kingship’ through the establishment of a royal linga-worshiping cult.
Roluos: The first capital
After 802AD, Jayavarman II continued to pacify rebellious areas and enlarge his kingdom. Before 802AD, he had briefly based himself at pre-Angkorian settlement near the modern town of Roluos (13Km southeast of Siem Reap), which he named Hariharalaya in honor of the combined gods of Shiva and Vishnu. He reigned from Hariharalaya until his death in 850AD. Thirthy years after jayavarman II’s death, king Indravarman I constructed the temple of Preah Ko, the first major of Roluos Group, in honor of Jayavarman II. He then constructed Bakong , which was the first grand project to follow the temple-mountain architectural formula. When visiting these temple, note the deep, rich, detailed artistic style in the carvings that were characteristic of the period.
Indravarman III also built the first large Baray (water reservoir), thereby establishing two more defining marks of Angkorian kingship – In additional to the linga-cult, the construction of the temple monuments and grand water projects became part of kingly tradition.
The move to Angkor
Indravarman III’s son, king Yasovarman I, carried on the tradition of his father, building the East Baray as well as the last major temple of the Roluos Group (Lolie), and the first majortemple in the Angkor area (Phnom Bakheng). Upon completing Phnom Bakhengin 893AD, he moved his capital to the newly named Yasothearapura in the Angkor era. The move may have been sparked by Yasovarman I’s violent confrontation with brothr for the throne, which left the Royal Palace at Roluos in ashes. With one exception, the capital would reside in the Angkor erea for the next 500 years.
Koh Ker : A brief Interruption
The exception took place in 928AD when, for reasons that remain unclear, there was a disruption in the royal succession. King Jayavarman VI moved the capital 100 Km north of Angkor to Koh Ker, where it remained for 20 years. When the capital returned to Angkor, it centered not at Phnom Bakheng as it had before, but further east at the new state temple of Pre Rup (961AD).
Apogee: The Khmer Empire at Angkor
The great temples of the Angkor era were built by his successors to house their royal lingas, the phallic emblems of the Hindu god Shiva. The kings of Angkor ruled over much of the South East Asian mainland until the early 15th century. Their capital was the centre of a network of reservoirs and canals that controlled the supply of water for rice-farming and enabled the people to produce a surplus of wealth to finance wars and monumental construction. One king, Jayavarman VII, built hospitals and rest houses during the 12th and early 13th centuries along the roads that crisscrossed his kingdom.
Post-Angkorian Period(15th century onward)
After Thailand—or Siam, as it was then called—defeated Angkor in 1431, the Cambodian court was moved south-eastwards to Phnom Penh. Despite almost constant fighting with Siam in the west, everyday life in Cambodia’s interior was little changed until Siam took Phnom Penh in 1594 and established a degree of political control. Vietnam’s slow advance southward reached the Mekong delta a few years later. In 1620 the Khmer king Chetta II (reigned 1618-1625) married a Vietnamese princess and allowed Vietnam to set up a customs collection house on the site of present Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Thereafter, Siam and Vietnam each tried to control the Khmer kingdom by military occupation and the enthronement of puppet monarchs.
In 1863 France, by then rapidly expanding its penetration of Indochina, intervened to slow the process of Cambodia’s dismemberment by Vietnam and Siam, proclaiming a protectorate over the country. French rule in Cambodia, nominally indirect, was exercised through advisers whose word was final on major issues. The Cambodian monarchy was retained, and a Khmer civil service was gradually trained. Roads, port facilities, and other public works were built, with emphasis on internal security and the export of rubber and rice. The restoration of the vast temple complex at Angkor Wat in the 1930s helped rekindle the Khmer people’s pride in their past. During World War II, when Japanese forces were allowed into Indochina in 1940, the compliant French administration was left in place. On the verge of defeat in 1945, the Japanese removed their French collaborators and installed a nominally independent Khmer government under the young king, Norodom Sihanouk. France quickly re-established control after the war, but Sihanouk gained full independence for his country in 1953.
Norodom Sihanouk has served, at different times, as Cambodia’s king, prime minister, and head of state. In the 1960s he kept Cambodia from becoming involved in the turmoil of neighbouring Vietnam, but was ousted from power in 1970 during the Vietnam War. While living in exile in China, Sihanouk formed ties with the Communist Khmer Rouge. He returned to nominal power in 1975, but resigned a year later in protest over the brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime. In 1991 he again came into power and was installed as king in 1993 as a constitutional monarch.
Two years later King Sihanouk abdicated in favour of his father. As Prince Sihanouk he retained an aura of majesty but was much freer to manipulate the urban elite, who constantly jockeyed for high-status jobs. Sihanouk controlled them by organizing a popular movement that centred on village notables. Foreign powers, such as the United States, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and China, seeking influence in the region, courted Sihanouk, who drew them into competition for the privilege of aiding Cambodia’s development. His success in diplomacy abroad enhanced Sihanouk’s political control at home. For more than 15 years he walked the neutralist tightrope and kept Cambodia relatively isolated from the turmoil raging in neighbouring Vietnam. In so doing, however, he had to close his eyes to more and more blatant abuse of Cambodia’s neutrality by North Vietnamese and Vietcong forces in the Vietnam War.
Coup of 1970
Pol Pot was the pseudonym for the Cambodian guerrilla commander, Saloth Sar, who organized the extremist Communist guerrilla force Khmer Rouge in 1963. The Khmer Rouge ousted the dictator Lon Nol in 1975, establishing a dogmatic Maoist regime in Cambodia. Pol Pot and his comrades created a secretive and paranoid regime, constantly suspecting foreign interference and prone to slaughter those who criticized their unrealistic policies. Pol Pot’s regime caused the deaths of between one and four million Cambodians before being overthrown by invading Vietnamese in 1979, but a shrunken remnant of the Khmer Rouge remains unreconciled to the Cambodian democratic government and continues to fight on under his leadership.
In March 1970, while Sihanouk was abroad, his prime minister, General Lon Nol, seized power, declared Cambodia a republic, and sent his army to fight the Vietcong in the border areas. This drew the North Vietnamese into Cambodia, followed by US and South Vietnamese troops. For the next two years Cambodia was a battleground of the Vietnam War. The United States and South Vietnam supplied Lon Nol’s army and supported it with air power, hoping to gain a breathing space for the Saigon regime. Meanwhile, Khmer Communist Party guerrillas, called the Khmer Rouge, were battling Lon Nol’s regime. They were aided by the North Vietnamese and by Prince Sihanouk, who had found asylum in China. Hundreds of thousands of peasants sought the relative safety of towns under Lon Nol’s control.
Khmer Rouge Rule and Vietnamese Domination
In April 1975, just before Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese, the Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh. Their regime, headed by Pol Pot, forced the entire urban population into rural communes, where death was the penalty for disobeying orders or even for revealing middle-class status. The Khmer Rouge tried to isolate Cambodia from all foreign influence, abolished money, executed opponents, attempted mass economic transformations along the lines of China’s Great Leap Forward, and otherwise tried to introduce doctrinaire Communism or Maoism. Their brutality, which may have caused more than 1 million people to perish, gave Hanoi in December 1978 a pretext for invading. The main towns and highways were quickly brought under the control of a Vietnamese-backed puppet regime led by Heng Samrin, as head of the Council of State, and Hun Sen, first as foreign minister, then as prime minister. This government restored much of the pre-1970 way of life, including Buddhism, but not the monarchy. Khmer Rouge remnants, meanwhile, with some support from non-Communists, continued resistance, especially in areas on the Thai border, and they retained Cambodia’s UN seat. The uneasy coalition thus formed, with Sihanouk as nominal president, enjoyed foreign recognition but little else, least of all domestic support.
Almost all Vietnamese troops were pulled out by September 1989, leaving the Hun Sen regime in a precarious position. In October 1991 the warring parties signed a peace treaty that provided for the UN and a Supreme National Council, which included most factions, to govern temporarily. Sihanouk returned to Cambodia and was named president. Sporadic Khmer-Rouge-inspired violence continued in 1992, with UN peacekeepers often under attack.
Hun Sen became prime minister of Cambodia in 1985. After his party lost the 1993 elections, he entered into a power-sharing government whereby he and Prince Norodom Ranariddh became dual prime ministers. In 1997 Hun Sen ousted Ranariddh in a violent coup, again becoming sole prime minister.
The Resignation of King Sihanouk
On October 29, 2004, Norodom Sihamoni, succeeding his father Norodom Sihanouk, was crowned King of Cambodia at the royal palace in Phnom Penh. The ceremony, accompanied by three days of festivities, was conducted according to an elaborate ritual drawn from Buddhist tradition. Shown here, the new king, seated on a throne, under a golden pagoda is blessed by his father, who pours sacred water from Angkor over the shaved head of his son.
In October 2004, King Sihanouk announced his intention to abdicate. However, laws for deciding the succession have never been drawn up and the king’s most politically minded son and obvious heir, Ranariddh, was not in favour of succeeding his father in such circumstances. Instead, the eldest son, Sihamoni, was chosen to succeed his father and was crowned in October. By profession he is a dancer but has also served as a Unesco ambassador.