The race that produced the Builders of Angkor developed slowly through the fusion of the Mon-Khmer racial groups of Southern Indochina during the first six centuries of the Christian era. Under Indian influence, two principal centers of civilization developed. The older in the extreme south of the peninsula was called "Funan" (the name is a Chinese transliteration of the ancient Khmer form of the word "Phnom", which means "hill"), a powerful maritime empire which ruled over all the shores of the Gulf of Siam. In the mid-sixth century, the Kambuja who lived in the middle Mekong (north of present day Cambodia), broke away from Funan. Within a short period, this new power known as Chenla, absorbed the Funanese Kingdom. In the late seventh century, Chenla broke into two parts: Land Chenla (to the north) and Water Chenla (to the south along the Gulf of Thailand) dominated by the Chinese. Land Chenla was fairly stable during the 8th century.
The race that produced the Builders of Angkor developed slowly through the fusion of the Mon-Khmer racial groups of Southern Indochina during the first six centuries of the Christian era. Under Indian influence, two principal centers of civilization developed. The older in the extreme south of the peninsula was called "Funan" (the name is a Chinese transliteration of the ancient Khmer form of the word "Phnom", which means "hill"), a powerful maritime empire which ruled over all the shores of the Gulf of Siam. In the mid-sixth century, the Kambuja who lived in the middle Mekong (north of present day Cambodia), broke away from Funan. Within a short period, this new power known as Chenla, absorbed the Funanese Kingdom. In the late seventh century, Chenla broke into two parts: Land Chenla (to the north) and Water Chenla (to the south along the Gulf of Thailand) dominated by the Chinese. Land Chenla was fairly stable during the 8th century, whereas Water Chenla was beset by dynastic rivalries. During this period, Java invaded and took control part of the country.
At the beginning of the 9th century, the kings set up their respective capital in the present province of Siem Reap. For nearly six centuries, the kings enriched it by building temples one after another and each being more sumptuous than the other. Three hundred of these temples are spread all over in the Angkorian area some 400 square kilometers in the Siem Reap Province. The temples and their sanctuaries are best known for their architecture and sculptures.
The first founder of Angkor civilization was King Jayayarman II (802-850), who built one of his residences on the plateau of the Kulen in 802. King Indravarman I (887-889), a nephew of King Jayavarman II, known as the first king who started to build the temple mountain on the artificial mountain dedicated to GOD Siva. Beside the temples he constructed a vast irrigation system at Lolei and then built the tower of Preah Ko in 879 and Bakong in 881. King Yasovarman (889-900), the son of King Indravarman I, dedicated the towers of Lolei to his memory in 893 and founded a new capital for his own to the northwest which was to remain the very heart of Angkor. Before he move from the old capital city to his new capital he built a road network linked from the old capital city of his father to his new capital city called "Yasodrapura". His new capital was surrounded by the earth embankment with 4 squar kilometer which there is Bakheng mountain situates in the middle. He built a temple mountain called "Bakheng temple", on the top of the mountain with 7 levels and 109 towers by sandstone, laterite and breaks, represent to the temple mountain for dedicating to GOD Siva. He built the Eastern Baray (reservior), a 7km X 2km size artificial lake also. King Yasovarman I, known as the first king who started to build the temple mountain on the natural mountain.
King Harshavarman I (900-923), the son of King Yasovarman, who took to the foot of Phnom Bakheng, consecrated the little temple of Baksei Chamkrong, and built Prasat Kravan in 921. King Jayavarman IV (928-941), uncle of King Harshavarman I, reigned in northeastern Cambodia near the present town of Koh Ker. He erected several majestic monuments. King Rajendravarman (944-968) returned from his father's capital to Angkor in 952 and built the Eastern Mebon and Prè Roup in 961. In 967, the Brahman Yajnavaraha, a high religious dignitary of royal blood, erected the temple of Banteay Srei, about 20 km northeast of the capital. King Jayavarman V (968-1001) founded a new capital around Takeo Temple.
In the eleventh century, King Suryavarman I (1002-1050) seized Angkor and founded a glorious dynasty. It was at this time that the Gopura of the Royal Palace of Angkor Thom was completed with the sober pyramid of the Phimeanakas at its center. He also erected the temple of Phnom Chiso, some parts of Preah Vihear, and Preah Khan in Kampong Svay District.
King Udayadityavarman II (1050-1066), son of king Suryavarman I, built the mountain temple of Baphuon and Western Baray. King Udayadityavarman’s brother, King Harshavarman III, succeeded him and ruled from 1066 to 1080 when violent strife led to the fall of the dynasty. King Jayavarman VI (1080-1113) continued to build Preah Vihear Mount in Vat Po and Phimai.
King Suryavarman II (1113-1150) extended his power from the coast of the China Sea to the Indian Ocean and built the temples of Angkor Wat, Thommanon, Chau Say Tevoda, Preah Palilay, Preah Pithu and Banteay Samrè. After these dazzling achievements, the Khmer civilization began to decline due to internal strife and an attack by the Chams.
Another striking construction project from the Angkorean period is Angkor Thom (Meaning "Big City"), which was at various times, the administrative centre of the empire. Angkor Thom was sacked by the Cham invasion of 1177 and reconstructed by king Jayavaman VII (1181-1218), serving as his capital. A walled city laid out to a square plan 3 Km wide by 3 km long. Its population, inside and beyond its walls, has been estimated to have been from three quarters of a million, making it one of most populous cities in the world at its time. While the king's building project sybolised the might of the Empire, they also contained seeds of the Empire's decline. History has shown that rates of monument building for many empires tend to reach a peak just before an empire's collapse. Like many many majore public works project making political statements, Angkor's massive building projects impoverished its constituents, comsumed its resources and weakened the Empire.
Post Angkorean Period
After the death of kind Jayavarman VII, a series of weaker kings followed and over a long period, the power of the Angkor Empire gradually declined. In 1431, Angkor fell to the Thais, while the king Punhea Yat decided to abandon the capital of Angkor to settle at Chaktomuk area later known as Phnom Penh, the current capital city. The Thais captured Angkor, burn the city and stole everything. In 16th century, King Ang Chan returned back from Phnom Penh and kicked away the Thais army from ancient Angkor capital and renamed the region called today as Siem Reap (The defeated of Thais). The Cambodians enjoyed a brief of prosperity during 16th century. Later, Cambodia had feuded with Thais again. The Thai invasion brought to an end empire that had lasted over six hundred years. The Thais nibbled away at the western border while the the Chams did the same in the east. From the 17th century until the French arrived in 1860, Thais and Vietnamese battle each other sporadically for influence over the Cambodian court. Overlaying this split of power was the Euroupean influence first felt from Spanish traders pushing up from the Philipinese.
In the early 17th century, the Cambodians lost an important piece of territory to Vietnam when the Vietnamese succeeded in taking over Saigon along with the lower Mekong delta, an area still held by Vietnam today. The Cambodian lost a stretch of coast on the Gulf of Thailand, that appears today as a sliver of Thailand pushing into Cambodian territory from Thailand's south-eastern provincial capital of Trat. Resentment regarding this annexation and other territorial disputes still rankles, particularly towards the Vietnamese.
But for the French, Cambodia, under siege from all directions, would probably have ceased to exist as a separate nation sometime in the 19th century. Like the Indian traders hundreds of years before, the French saw Indo-China as a pathway into Southern China. In 1863, under a treaty signed by King Norodom, French took over Cambodia. Later, the French extended their power further north and east, forming the Union of Indo-China that combined territory in present day Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos under one administration. The French introduced postal system issued postage stamps for the region uinder the designation "Indochine". After king Norodom died in 1904, puppet rule in Cambodia continued with the next three kings hand picked by the French. In 1941, Cambodia's king Monivong died. Instead of installing Monivong's son, Prince Suramarit, who was next in line, the French skipped a generation and selected Suramarit's 19 years old son, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who they thought could be easily manipulated. As things turned out, the young Prince turned out to be far from the shy and retiring individual the French thought he was. Instead, prince Sihanouk became an adept and wily politician who kept his head while those about him were losing theirs.
Prince Norodom Sihanouk loved to be loved. He enjoyed being the focus of attention and had acquired a tasted for leadership. However, under a constitutional democracy, it was the prime minister who exercised real power. The monarch could not be both prime minister and king at the same time. To overcome this problem, prince Sihanouk hit on a radical solution that probably would have occurred to no one but him. In June 1952, he abdicated the throne and replaced himself as king with his father, Prince Suramarit, whom the French had overlooked 14 years before. For a few years after prince Sihanouk's election, Cambodia prospered and peace.
In 1970, Sihanouk's number one general Lon Nol, took over as head of state and proclaimed as the president of the Poeple Republic of Cambodia. But in early 1950s, the leaders of the later communist revolution in Cambodia, including the nefarious Pol Pot, had been students in Paris. There they joined the French communist party, which was then at the peak of its power. In 1960s, Pol Pot left the capital city for the jungle and mountain of Cambodia for establish the communist party. The Khmer Rouge exploited Sihanouk's name as a rellying call to revolution while Sihanouk was deposed from the throne by number one general Lon Nol. So did North Vietnamese army cadres who recruited fresh Khmer Rouge troops from the community under the banner "Let's do this for Sihanouk". The war between the Khmer Rouge North Vietnamese alliance and Lon Nol's forces raged for five years.
In 1975, Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh, Lon Nol fled to Hawaii. When Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge, liberated citizense cautiously welcomed their liberating force of black clad columns of unsmiling soldiers. Within a day of taking over the city, the Khmer Rouge procceeded to implement one of the most massive social reconstruction experiments of all time, leading directly and indirectly to the death of a million or more Cambodians. Given two hours notice, people were evicted from home, hospitals or wherever they happened to be, all citizens to evacuate the city. Possessions the evacuees could not carry were left behind. The sick and others who could not maintain the pace of the march were casually killed. The surviving evacuees were then forced at gunpoint to walk miles to new slave labour camps in the countryside where the Khmer Rouge proceeded to turn Cambodia's city dwellers into the regime's new peasant class. As the years of the brutal regime unfolded, the Khmer Rouge social experiment failed in the most spectacular fashion. The rulers of the new order were thoroughly incompetent. They exterminated what talent they had by executing anyone smarter than they were, which was just about everyone else. Middle class people with urban lives suffered the most. At best they were conscripted as agricultural labourers. At worst they were executed. In particular, the Khmer Rouge victimised people they considered professionals-teachers, doctors, administrators, monks, engineers and even anyone who possessed a pair of reading glasses.
On 7 January 1979, a day since declared a national holiday (Victory Day), the North Vietnamese army entered Phnom Penh. What was left of the Khmer Rouge hierarchy avoided capture by boarding helicopters and trains and fleeing to western border regions. The brutal Pol Pot died in 1998 under mysterious curcumstances. Marked end of dark period.