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Koh Ker Temple

Koh Ker (Khmer: ប្រាសាទកោះកេរ្ដិ៍) is a remote archaeological site in northern Cambodia about 120 kilometres (75 mi) away from Siem Reap and the ancient site of Angkor. It is a very jungle filled region that is sparsely populated. More than 180 sanctuaries were found in a protected area of 81 square kilometres (31 sq mi).[1](p13) Only about two dozen monuments can be visited by tourists because most of the sanctuaries are hidden in the forest and the whole area is not fully demined.

Koh Ker is the modern name for an important city of the Khmer empire. In inscriptions the town is mentioned as Lingapua (city of lingams) or Chok Gargyar (sometimes translated as city of glance,[2] sometimes as iron tree forest).[1](pp8–9)

Under the reign of the kings Jayavarman IV and Harshavarman II Koh Ker was briefly the capital of the whole empire (928–944 AD). Jayavarman IV forced an ambitious building program. An enormous water-tank and about forty temples were constructed under his rule. The most significant temple‑complex, a double sanctuary (Prasat Thom/Prang), follows a linear plan and not a concentric one like most of the temples of the Khmer kings. Unparalleled is the seven‑tiered and 36-metre (118 ft) high pyramid, which most probably served as state temple of Jayavarman IV. Really impressive too are the shrines with the two‑meter 6 ft 7 in high lingas.

Under Jayavarman IV the style of Koh Ker was developed and the art of sculpture reached a pinnacle. A great variety of wonderful statues were chiselled. Because of its remoteness the site of Koh Ker was plundered many times by looters. Sculptures of Koh Ker can be found not only in different museums but also in private collections. Masterpieces of Koh Ker are offered occasionally at auctions. These pieces in present times are considered stolen art.

The site is about two and half hours away from Siem Reap, and basic visitors' facilities are now being built. This makes Koh Ker very attractive for anyone who would like to experience lonely temples partly overgrown by the forest.

Since 1992 the site of Koh Ker is on the UNESCO tentative world heritage list.[3]


Koh Ker is situated between the southern slopes of the Dangrek mountains, the Kulen mountains (Phnom Kulen) in the south-west and the Tbeng mountain (Phnom Tbeng, near Tbeng Meanchey) in the east. Most parts of the hilly ground are covered by jungle, but most of the trees shed their leaves seasonally. In the second part of the 19th century, as French researchers and adventurers ranged the forests around the site of Koh Ker the game population was impressive. The city of Koh Ker was passed by the most important strategic route of the Khmer empire. Coming from Angkor and Beng Mealea to Koh Ker this road led to Prasat Preah Vihear and from there to Phimai in Thailand and Wat Phu in Laos .[1](pp13–14) The region of Koh Ker is relatively dry. Numerous water-tanks and canals were built during the 9th and the 10th century to ensure the water supply. These days water is pumped up from a depth of 30 to 40 metres (98 to 131 ft) meters.[1](p9)


Jayavarman IV

Jayavarman IV ruled from 928 to 941 at Koh Ker. Probably he was a local king at this remote site (his homeland?) before he became king of the whole empire. That could explain why he preferred to has his residence at Koh Ker and not at Roluos (Hariharalaya) or at Yashodharapura (Angkor) like the kings before him. Some historians think that Jayavarman IV was an usurper. But the majority of them say that he was a legal ruler and could ascend the throne because he married a half sister of king Yasovarman I (889 – 900). It seems to be sure, that the two sons of Yasovarman I (Harshavarman I, who ruled from 900 to 922 and Isanavarman II, who ruled from 922 to 925?) had no children. In the short time as Jayavarman IV reigned in Koh Ker an ambitious building program was realised. That was only possible because of a restrictive system of raising taxes as inscriptions say. About 40 temples, the unique seven-tiered pyramid and a huge baray (water-reservoir) were built. Under Jayavarman IV the Koh Ker-style was developed and the art of sculpture reached a pinnacle.[1](p15)

Harshavarman II

After the decease of Jayavarman IV not the designated prince became his follower. Harshavarman II (another son of Jayavarman IV) claimed the throne. Like his father he ruled at Koh Ker (941 – 944) but after three years he died; probably it was not a natural decease. No temples at Koh Ker can be ascribed to him. His follower on the throne (a cousin of his) went back to Roluos (Hariharalaya).[1](p15)

Koh Ker after 944 AD

Even after 944 as the capital of the Khmer empire had changed back to the plains north of the Tonle Sap-lake some more temples were built at the site of Koh Ker. At the beginning of the 13th century the last sanctuary was realised there. Under Jayavarman VII the Prasat Andong Kuk a so-called hospital-chapel was built (one of more than 100 of hospital-sancturies of this ruler).[1](p15) [1](p25)