I’m still adjusting to the local weather in Phnom Penh. The humidity is daunting and a drastic change after the time in South Africa and New Zealand. The Royal Palace complex is near my accommodation, and although I’ve walked past it many times, decided to take a tour.
Royal Palace Complex
The Royal Palace complex is spectacular! Since the 1860s (except the reign of the Khmer Rouge) it includes the royal residence of the King of Cambodia. Constructed in the mid-19th century and situated at the western bank of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers, the grounds have abundant lush gardens with gorgeous tropical flowers. Buildings in the complex include:
- Silver Pagoda
- Throne Hall
- Moonlight Pavilion
- Chan Chhaya Pavilion
- Hor Samran Phirun, the Khemarin Palace
“The establishment of the Royal Palace at Phnom Penh in 1866 is a comparatively recent event in the history of the Khmer and Cambodia. From 802 AD until the early 15th century, the seat of Khmer power in the region rested at or near Angkor north of the Great Tonle Sap Lake. After being destroyed by Siam, the Khmer court moved from Angkor in the 15th century and settled in Phnom Penh and stayed for some decades. By 1494 the palace moved on to Basan, later Longvek, and then Oudong. The capital did not return to Phnom Penh until the 19th century and there is no record or remnants of any Royal Palace in Phnom Penh before the 19th century.”
King Sisowath (1904–1927) made several major contributions to the Royal Palace. He added Phochani Hall, demolished several old buildings, and replaced and expanded the old Chanchhaya Pavilion and Throne Hall with the current structures. Though some European elements remain, these buildings employ traditional Khmer artistic style and Angkorian inspired design, particularly in Throne Hall.
The next major construction was in the 1930s with demolition of the Royal Chapel and old Royal Residence and construction of the Khemarin Palace which serves as the Royal residence today. Since then, the only other significant additions have been the 1956 additions of the Villa Kantha Bopha to accommodate foreign guests and the 1953 construction of the Damnak Chan originally installed to house the High Council of the Throne.
Pagodas, Palaces, Halls, Pavilions
Built gradually, the complex has three main compounds divided by walls. On the north side is the Silver Pagoda, to the south is the Khemarin Palace, and the central compound has Throne Hall. Some of the buildings in the complex were dismantled and rebuilt as late as the 1960s and others date back to the 14th century.”
Throne Hall is where the king’s confidants, generals, and royal officials once carried out their duties. Today it’s a place for religious and royal ceremonies (coronations and royal weddings) as well as a meeting place for guests of the King. Constructed in 1917, the cross-shaped building has a crown of three spires, a royal throne, and busts of Cambodians kings of the past.
Moonlight Pavilion is an open-air pavilion that serves as a stage for Khmer classical dance. It’s easily seen from the outside and one of the most notable buildings of the palace complex.
Chanchhaya Pavilion has a balcony used as a platform for viewing parades marching along Sothearos Boulevard. The current Pavilion is the second incarnation of the Chanchhaya Pavilion. Chanchhaya Pavilion dominates the façade of the Palace on Sothearos Boulevard. It serves as a venue for the Royal Dancers, a tribune for the King to speak to the crowds, and a place to hold state and Royal banquets. The 2004 coronation of King Norodom Sihamonihe was in the Chanchhaya Pavilion.
Silver Pagoda is a compound on the south side of the palace complex. It features a royal temple commonly called Wat Preah which most notably houses a small 17th century baccarat crystal Buddha and a near-life-size, Maitreya Buddha encrusted with 9,584 diamonds dressed in royal regalia commissioned by King Sisowath. During King Sihanouk’s pre-Khmer Rouge reign, the Silver Pagoda was inlaid with more than 5,000 silver tiles and some of its outer façade has Italian marble.
Hor Samran Phirun, the Khemarin Palace, is the common English name for a building called Prasat Khemarin, in Khmer meaning the “Palace of the Khmer King.” It is the residence by the King of Cambodia. Separated from other buildings in the complex and not open to the public, this compound is to the right of Throne Hall and the top of the main building has a single spired prang.
A Khmer guide led the tour and by the end, I was getting the names and history of the pavilions mixed up – at any rate, they’re quite stunning and beautiful and it was a lovely place to spend the afternoon.
Tomorrow I’ll take a tuk-tuk ride to Tong Sleng Museum and the Russian Market. More later…