The Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda
Royal Palace in Phnom Penh was constructed over a century ago to
serve as the residence of the King of Cambodia, his family and
foreign dignitaries, as a venue for the performance of court
ceremony and ritual and as a symbol of the Kingdom. It serves to
this day as the Cambodian home of King Norodom Sihamoni and former
King Norodom Sihanouk.
The Royal Palace complex and attached 'Silver
Pagoda' compound consist of several buildings, structures and
gardens all located within 500x800 meter walled grounds overlooking
a riverfront park. Marking the approach to the Palace, the high
sculpted wall and golden spired Chanchhaya Pavilion stand
distinctively against the riverfront skyline. Inside the Palace
grounds, street sounds are silenced by the high walls and the
various Royal buildings sit like ornate islands rising from the
tranquil, manicured tropical gardens.
Except for the area of the
actual Royal residence, the Khemarin Palace, most of the Palace
grounds and Silver Pagoda are open to the public. Enter from the
gate on Sothearos Blvd about 100 meters north of Street 240. Guide
pamphlets and tour guides are available near the admission booth.
Guided tours are recommended. Multi-lingual tour guides available.
Admission: 25,000 Riel (US$6.25). Open everyday, 7:30-11:00 /
2:00-5:00. The Palace grounds are closed during official
Map of the Royal Palace
History of the Royal 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.
The seat of Khmer power in the region rested at or near Angkor north
of the Great Tonle Sap Lake from 802 AD until the early 15th
century. After the Khmer court moved from Angkor in the 15th
century, it first settled in Phnom Penh in 1434 (or 1446) and stayed
for some decades, but by 1494 had moved on to Basan, and later Lovek
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 prior to the 19th century. In 1813, King Ang Chan
(1796-1834) constructed Banteay Kev (the 'Cristal Citadel') on the
site of the current Royal Palace and stayed there very briefly
before moving to Oudong. Banteay Kev was burned in 1834 when the
retreating Siamese army razed Phnom Penh. It was not until after the
implementation of the French Protectorate in Cambodia in 1863 that
the capital was moved from Oudong to Phnom Penh, and the current
Royal Palace was founded and constructed.
At the time that King Norodom (1860-1904) signed the Treaty of
Protection with France in 1863, the capital of Cambodia resided at
Oudong, about 45 kilometers northeast of Phnom Penh. Earlier in 1863
a temporary wooden Palace was constructed a bit north of the current
Palace site in Phnom Penh. The first Royal Palace to be built at the
present location was designed by architect Neak Okhna Tepnimith Mak
and constructed by the French Protectorate in 1866. That same year,
King Norodom moved the Royal court from Oudong to the new Royal
Palace in Phnom Penh and the city became the official capital of
Cambodia the following year. Over the next decade several buildings
and houses were added, many of which have since been demolished and
replaced, including an early Chanchhaya Pavilion and Throne Hall
(1870). The Royal court was installed permanently at the new Royal
Palace in 1871 and the walls surrounding the grounds were raised in
1873. Many of the buildings of the Royal Palace, particularly of
this period, were constructed using traditional Khmer architectural
and artistic style but also incorporating significant European
features and design as well. One of the most unique surviving
structures from this period is the Napoleon Pavilion which was a
gift from France in 1876.
King Sisowath (1904-1927) made several major contributions to the
current Royal Palace, adding the Phochani Hall in 1907 (inaugurated
in 1912), and from 1913-1919 demolishing several old buildings, and
replacing and expanding the old Chanchhaya Pavilion and the Throne
Hall with the current structures. These buildings employ traditional
Khmer artistic style and Angkorian inspired design, particularly in
the Throne Hall, though some European elements remain. The next
major construction came in the 1930s under King Monivong with the
addition of the Royal Chapel, Vihear Suor (1930), and the demolition
and replacement of the old Royal residence with the Khemarin Palace
(1931), which serves as the Royal residence to this day. The only
other significant additions since have been the 1956 addition 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.
From the time of the coup in 1970 when Cambodia became a republic,
through the Khmer Rouge regime (Democratic Kampuchea 1975-1979) and
the communist regime of the 80s, until 1993 when the Monarchy was
restored, the Royal Palace alternately served as a museum and was
closed. During the Khmer Rouge regime, former King Sihanouk and his
family resided and were ultimately held as prisoners in the Palace.
In the mid-90s, many of the Palace buildings were restored and
refurbished, some with international assistance.
Throne Hall The Throne Hall, the Preah Timeang Tevea
Vinicchay, is the primary audience hall of the King,
used for coronations and diplomatic and other official
meetings. This Throne Hall is the second to be built on this
site. The first was constructed of wood in 1869-1870 under
King Norodom. That Throne Hall was
demolished in 1915. The
present building was constructed in 1917 and inaugurated by
King Sisowath in 1919. The building is 30x60 meters and
topped by a 59-meter spire. As with all buildings and
structure at the Palace, the Throne Hall faces east and is
best photographed in the morning. When visiting note the
thrones (Reach Balaing in front and Preah Tineang
Bossobok higher at the back) and the beautiful ceiling
frescoes of the Reamker.
Chanchhaya Pavilion The current Pavilion is the second
incarnation of the Chanchhaya Pavilion, this one constructed
in 1913-14 under King Sisowath to replace the earlier wooden
pavilion built under King Norodom. The current pavilion is
of the same design as the earlier version. The Chanchhaya
Pavilion, also known as the 'Moonlight Pavilion', dominates
the facade of the Palace on Sothearos Blvd. The Pavilion
serves as a venue for the Royal Dancers, as a tribune for
the King to address the crowds and as a place to hold state
and Royal banquets. Most recently, the Pavilion was used for
a banquet and a tribune for the new King at the 2004
coronation of King Norodom Sihamoni.
Hor Samran Phirun "The pavilion where one sleeps peacefully."
Royal rest house and waiting area where the King waits to
mount an elephant for Royal processions. Also built to house
musical instruments and procession implements. Constructed
in 1917. Currently housing a display of gifts from foreign
heads of state.
Hor Samrith Phimean Also know as the ‘Bronze Palace.’
Repository for the Royal regalia and attributes. Constructed
in 1917. Currently housing a display of royal regalia and
costumes on the ground floor.
Napoleon III Pavilion At first glance the Napoleon III
Pavilion seems almost out-of-place, sitting like a European-style dollhouse amongst the imposing and distinctly
Khmer-style buildings that surround it. The Pavilion was in
fact the first permanent structure on the site of the Royal
Palace. It was originally built for Empress Eugenie of
France, wife of Napoleon III, in 1869 for use in the
inauguration of the Suez Canal. It is constructed entirely
of iron. In 1876 Emperor Napoleon III made a gift of the building
to King Norodom of Cambodia. By fortunate happenstance, the
royal emblem "N" emblazed on the doors and other parts of
the building to honor the name of 'Napoleon' did not need to
be altered when the pavilion was transferred to King
Norodom. The Pavilion was refurbished in 1991 with financial
assistance from the French government. The Pavilion now
serves as a small museum housing Royal memorabilia and a
photographic exhibition. Best photographed in the morning.
(Damnak Chan pictured in the background.)
Phochani Pavilion An open hall originally constructed as a
classical dance theater. The Pavilion is currently used for
Royal receptions and meetings. Built in 1912.
Damnak Chan The
Damnak Chan currently houses the administrative offices of
the Royal Palace. Original constructed in 1953 for the
High Council of the Throne, this building has served several
purposes over the years including acting as the Ministry of
Culture in the 80s and housing the Supreme National Council
of Cambodia from 1991-93. Damnak Chan displays a somewhat
uncomfortable mix of Khmer and Western architectural styles,
the mix being particularly apparent in this building - sporting a
distinctly Khmer-style roof and a Western style in the main
body of the building. Closed to the public.
Khemarin Palace The Royal residence. Closed to the public.
Villa Kantha Bopha
Western-style villa named after King Sihanouk's late
daughter Princess Kantha Bopha, built in 1956 as guest house
for foreign guests. Closed to the public.
The 'Silver Pagoda' sits next to the Royal Palace, separated by a
walled walkway, but within the same larger walled compound. The
Silver Pagoda's proper name is Wat Preah Keo Morokat, which means
'The Temple of the Emerald Buddha,' but has received the common
moniker 'Silver Pagoda' after the solid silver floor tiles that
adorn the temple building. The pagoda compound as a whole contains
several structures and gardens, the primary building being the
temple Wat Preah Keo Morokat and other structures including a
library, various stupas, shrines, monuments, minor buildings and the
galleries of the Reamker.
Wat Preah Keo Morokat is unique in several ways. It is the pagoda
where the King meets with monks to listen to their sermons and where
some Royal ceremonies are performed. It houses a collection of
priceless Buddhist and historical objects including the 'Emerald
Buddha.' And, unlike most pagodas, no monks live at the pagoda. The
temple building, library and Reamker galleries were first
constructed between 1892 and 1902 under King Norodom. The equestrian
statue of King Norodom was set in place in 1892. Other structures
such as the stupas of King Ang Doung Stupa King Norodom (1908), the
Kantha Bopha memorial sanctuary (1960) and others were added later.
The temple received major reconstruction in 1962 and further
renovations 1985-1987, particularly to the Reamker fresco murals.
Many of the temple treasures were looted during by the Khmer Rouge
1975-1979, but fortunately the Khmer Rouge chose to keep much of the
collection intact for propaganda purposes.
Wat Preah Keo Morokat Wat Preah Keo Morokat is also known as
the ‘Silver Pagoda’ the ‘Temple of the Emerald Buddha.’ It
is known as the 'Silver Pagoda' for the 5329 silver tiles
that cover the floor. Each tile was handcrafted and weighs
1.125kg. The vihear serves less as a functioning temple than
a repository for cultural and religious treasures,
containing over 1650 precious objects. The primary Buddha,
sitting on a gilded dais above all others in the temple, is
the Emerald Buddha, reported by different sources to be made
of emerald or baccarat crystal. In front of the Emerald
Buddha stands Buddha Maitreya (Buddha of the Future,)
a 90 kg golden standing Buddha encrusted with 2086 diamonds
including a 25 caret diamond in the crown and a 20 caret
diamond embedded in the chest. Other objects include a
Buddha relic from Sri Lanka in a small gold and silver
stupa, a collection of gifts from Queen Kossomak Nearyrith,
and contributions and gifts from other nobles and Royals.
The interior of the pagoda compound walls is covered
with murals depicting stories from the Reamker, i.e. the
Khmer version of the classic Indian epic, the Ramayana. Some
sections of the murals are deteriorated and weather damaged.
The murals were painted in 1903-1904 by a team of students
working under the direction of artist Vichitre Chea and
architect Oknha Tep Nimit Thneak. In the 30s the galleries
served as ad hoc classrooms for Buddhist monks.
An open hall used for Buddhist monks to recite texts and
also as a royal reception area. (In photo, Dhammasala is
behind the Kantha Bopha Memorial.)
Keong Preah Bath Shrine containing Buddha footprints. Fortune
Small library next to the main vihear that houses sacred
Buddhist texts (Buddha's Tripitaka, i.e. "Three Baskets")
and also contains an image of a sacred bull named Nandin,
and several Buddha statues. The Nandin statue is metal
(primarily silver) and is said to be of ancient origin. The
statue was found in Kandal province in 1983. Fortune tellers
work inside the shrine. If you can find somebody to
translate for you, you can have your future told for a small
Phnom Mondop Phnom Mondop is a small artificial hill
symbolizing Mount Kailassa, topped by a shrine containing a
large Buddha footprint. The shrine is adorned with 108
Buddha images symbolizing the 108 past lives of Buddha.
Fortune tellers work inside the shrine. If you can find
somebody to translate for you, you can have your future told
for a small contribution.
Statue of HM King Norodom Equestrian statue of the King
Norodom (1834-1904). Completed by French artist Eude in 1875
in Paris and placed on the pagoda grounds in 1892. The
canopy was added by King Sihanouk in 1953 to honor King
Norodom in light of Cambodia's new independence. The stupa
north of the statue contains the ashes of King Norodom.
Stupa of HM King Ang Doung Stupa containing the ashes of the
King Ang Doung (1845-1860), founder of the current dynasty
and the great-great-great grandfather to King Sihamoni.
Constructed in 1908.
Stupa of HM King Norodom Stupa containing the ashes of the
King Norodom (1834-1904). Constructed in 1908..
Stupa of HM King Suramarit and HM Queen Kossomak Stupa of the
father and mother of former King Sihanouk (r: 1955-1960),
grandfather and grandmother to King Sihamoni.
Stupa of Princess Kantha Bopha The memorial sanctuary of the
beloved daughter of the former King Sihanouk. Princess
Kantha Bopha passed in 1952 at the age of four, succumbing
to leukemia. The stupa was built in 1960.
The bell is used to signal the opening and closing of the
temple and for ceremonies.