History of Phnom Penh

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Phnom-Penh-Cambodia
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Establishment of Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh was established in the 14th century and closely associated with the legend of Wat Phnom pagoda. Legend has it that in 1372, this area was still a swamp and had a small village living by fishing. After a terrible flood, a woman named Penh (Don Penh) detected a bodhi tree near the river bank. Inside the hollow pith are four wooden Buddha statues. After that, Lady Penh urged the local people to raise a small hill (Phnom means hill in Khmer language) and built a small pagoda (Wat in Khmer language) to worship the four Buddha statues 4. Therefore, this place was called Wat Phnom.

Wat Phnom
Wat Phnom

The sacredness of the four statues of Buddha in Wat Phnom increased the number of residents immigrating to this region for living around the pagoda; and then gradually formed a community which is regarded as the forerunner of the capital Phnom Penh today.

Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh officially became the capital of the Khmer people nearly 600 years ago. After Emperor Ponhea Yat  abandoned Angkor in 1422, he found a new land with 5 towers. To commemorating Lady Penh, the king named the city Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh was selected as the capital of Cambodia because of not only owning five holy towers but also the issues related to economic, political and military strategy. In terms of geographical location, the city is situated at the center of the country; the confluence of large rivers; thus, becomes the traffic hub and the most suitable place for commerce, business, food transport and troop movement in the most convenient way. When chosen as the capital, Phnom Penh was much smaller than today with several villages located in the river bank and Wat Phnom. The later kings moved the capital to another place many a time; however, finally, Phnom Penh city is still selected as the capital of until now due to its favorable position.

Development of Phnom Penh

It was not until the 1880s that the French architects started planning the city by building canals for flood prevention in rainy season and the construction of roads, buildings and docks. Until the early 1920s, Phnom Penh was considered the most beautiful city in Indochina.

Phnom Penh continues its development until the 60s of the 20th century. The armed conflict in Vietnam spread to Cambodia and caused bad impacts on the nation. The opposing forces in Cambodia continually had power struggles which lasted during the early 1970s. On April 17, 1975, Phnom Penh was encroached by the Khmer Rouge. Only 3 hours after control of the city, the Khmer Rouge forced the entire population of Phnom Penh to evacuate the city. From that time,  the darkest period in the history of Cambodia commenced.

Cambodia under Khmer Rouge
Cambodia under Khmer Rouge

With the support of Vietnam, Phnom Penh was liberated on January 7 1979. The Cambodian people returned to the city and embarked on rebuilding the capital to make towards a new life.

Phnom Penh at night
Phnom Penh at night

Nowadays, the countenance of Phnom Penh has a lot of changes. Seen as a dead city in the past, Phnom Penh is today bustling with numerous modern means of transportation such as types of luxurious cars intermingled with motorbikes and cyclos along streets. Moreover, foreign tourists are always warmly welcomed to the historic city by the local people.