Sacred Sites in Southeast Asia | Sambor Prei Kuk

Sambor Prei Kuk
Cambodia, Main monuments 7th century

Sambor Prei Kuk was the first major site in Cambodia where temples made of durable materials were constructed. Like the other Khmer capitals at Phnom Kulen, Angkor, and Koh Ker, it is likely that hundreds of shrines once populated the area, though only a few survive. 

Sambor Prei Kuk came to the fore in the seventh century as the pre-Angkorian capital, and it holds the remains of three large temple complexes that were constructed between the seventh and ninth centuries. Because this marked the period of greatest contact with South Asia, the temples draw specifically on Indian architectural forms and styles of imagery. Uniquely within Cambodia, many of the shrines at Sambor Prei Kuk have a prolific octagonal shape that closely compares with temples in historical Dakshina-Kosala in the states of Chhattisgarh and western Odisha, India. Once introduced, however, the roster of imagery preserved in Sambor Prei Kuk’s early temples would take on a life of its own as it proliferated throughout the Khmer Empire. 

The temple sanctums at Sambor Prei Kuk are built primarily of brick, embellished selectively with sandstone. The foundations and auxiliary parts of the complexes are made of laterite, which was also local to the area. This pattern of construction would evolve gradually in Cambodia, such that material reveals chronology. Whereas the earliest structural temples are primarily brick and are similar in composition (if not form) to temples at Sambor Prei Kuk, later temples use increasing amounts of sandstone.