The ancient capital of the Chenla Empire, which flourished in Cambodia’s pre-Angkor period up until the early 7th Century, has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
Sambor Prei Kuk, which literally means “the temple in the richness of the forest” in Khmer, is believed to be the site of Ishanapura, the capital of an ancient empire which one covered modern day Cambodia and the Mekong Delta. Located in Kampong Thom Province, 176km east of Angkor, this walled city covers an area of 25km² and features numerous temples.
In inscribing Sambor Prei Kuk on the World Heritage list, UNESCO said that the site’s temples are “unique specimens of their genre in Southeast Asia”.
Sambor Prei Kuk is one of five sites in East Asia added to the UNESCO World Heritage list following the conservation body’s latest review. In China, the small island of Kulangsu in the Chiu-lung River, off the coast of Xiamen, has been recognised for its former status as an international settlement, while the “sacred” Japanese island of Okinoshima, with its ancient shrines, has also been added to the list.
In addition, two of Asia’s natural landscapes were recognised by UNESCO; Mongolia’s Daurian steppe region, which straddles the country’s border with Russia, and Qinghai Hoh Xil in western China, which forms part of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau – the largest and highest plateau in the world.
Following the latest round of inscriptions, Cambodia has three UNESCO World Heritage sites: Angkor, Preah Vihear and Sambor Prei Kuk. China now has 52 sites on the list – second only to Italy, which has 53.
As well as providing additional funding and support for conservation, UNESCO listings can often lead to significant increases in tourism arrivals.