Andy Brouwer's Cambodia Tales
Preah Khan of Kompong Svay
Another major temple site that has recently emerged from the Cambodian forest is the Great Preah Khan at Kompong Svay, known locally as Prasat Bakan. With a history still shrouded in mystery and a location, in the southwest corner of Preah Vihear province, inaccessible for a long time, visitors to the site have been sparse. One group who recently managed it were the Japanese Government Team for Safeguarding Angkor (JSA), currently restoring one of the libraries at Angkor Wat and responsible for major repairs at the Bayon. What they found should encourage other adventurous souls to follow in their footsteps. There is still however, a question mark over security in the immediate vicinity, a former Khmer Rouge zone, so check before you go and travel in anything other than a 4WD isn't recommended. The pictures on this page were taken by one of the JSA party during a recent visit to the temple site. Above is the eastern entry gopura into the central Preah Khan site.
The Preah Khan complex is the largest enclosure of ancient Cambodia at nearly five kilometres square, bigger than Angkor Thom (3.3 kms sq) and Banteay Chhmar (4 kms sq). The group consists of a central sanctuary and four enclosures with many accessory buildings, basins, a large eight-metre wide moat and temples, some of which are outside the outer enclosure walls. Outside the enclosure is the small pyramid temple of Prasat Preah Damrei of some twelve low tiers. Built in the 9th century, it stands on a terrace and is approached by a series of steps. Enclosed by a laterite wall with four gates, the upper corners of the pyramid is guarded by massive stone elephants. The main eastern approach into the complex is via a large baray, some 600 x 3,000 metres, where a cruciform sandstone shrine, Preah Thkol, occupies an island in the center. At the western end of the baray is an 11th century structure, Prasat Preah Stung, whose sanctuary is surmounted by a central tower with four Bayon-like faces and a remarkable terrace with carvings of 'hamsa' (swans). An ornately carved naga bridge gives access to the main eastern entry gopura, flanked by two smaller entrance halls. The inner walls have galleries and gates and alongside the re-built central sandstone tower are two libraries. The walls are adorned with apsara carvings and a royal pool has been cleared of weeds and foliage. Closeby is a sandstone 'dharmasala' (rest house), similar to the one found at Preah Khan of Angkor.
The main group of temples were built in the 12th century when Preah Khan was home to both King Suryavarman II and later, the future King Jayavarman VII, before the latter defeated the invading Chams, claimed the throne and moved his capital back to Angkor in 1181. The story of his victories are celebrated in bas-relief carvings on the walls of the Bayon and Banteay Chhmar. Located 100 kilometres east of Angkor, the site was studied in the 1870s by Louis Delaporte, who shamefully looted and carried off a number of substantial carvings that are now housed in the Guimet Museum in Paris. However, one masterpiece remains in the National Museum in Phnom Penh and that's a finely sculpted head, believed to be of Jayavarman VII. A millennium celebration at Preah Khan attracted hundreds of locals and vegetation was cleared from the site for the occasion, but it remains a complex very much in its natural state, inundated with trees, scrubs and dense foliage throughout. With the re-emergence of Cambodia's remotest areas from years of inaccessibility, if anyone has up to date information on Preah Khan, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More photographs of Preah Khan, captured by Lisa Cox in April 2000, can be seen here. The pictures below, courtesy of JSA, show the temple in a remarkable state considering its inaccessibility and abandonement for so many years. Top left and right are views of the ornately carved naga-topped causeway leading to the eastern entrance to Preah Khan. Middle left is the re-built central shrine and middle right, a laterite tower. Bottom left is the 'dharmasala', still in good condition and bottom right, one of the pools within the central complex.
Click once on any photo to see a larger version
Below is a site map of the central Preah Khan complex. The central sanctuary and enclosure leads onto the temples of Prasat Preah Stung, Preah Thkol, Prasat Preah Damrei and the baray, measuring some 600 x 3,000 metres. The whole complex is nearly five kilometres square and the largest enclosure in ancient Cambodia.
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