Sacred Sites in Southeast Asia | Phnom Kulen

Phnom Kulen

Northeast of the main Angkor area stands the majestic mountain PhnomĀ Kulen. This holy hilltop provided the lowland region with natural resources, such as pure water and sandstone, that sustained the Angkor Empire for centuries. However, before it served this important purpose, the mountain itself was where the Khmer rulers made their first capital, calledĀ Mahendraparvata, beginning in the early ninth century with the consecration of KingĀ JayavarmanĀ II at his state temple,Ā RongĀ Chen (ca. 802).

Auburn field with forest in distance


Today, the mountain is densely forested, interspersed with small villages and open plains of scrubby grass over pocked stone. However, exploring is well worth the challengeā€”more than ten temples and sacred sites, marked on this map, stand within a relatively circumscribed area.

Recently, archaeologists have used innovative LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology to peel back the layers of the earth and view the ancient landscape. LIDAR can penetrate forest overgrowth to reveal structures that can no longer be seen aboveground. With the aid of this technology, scholars have discovered a once vast city that engineered the mountainā€™s natural slopes to serve the needs of its people. Explore this research here.