The current Royal Palace is less than one hundred years old, most of the buildings having been reconstructed in concrete in the early part of the twentieth century. The palace of King Norodom once stood here – the great-great-grandfather of the current king – he moved his capital here from Oudong in 1863; originally, it was also the site of the palace of King Ponhea Yat in 1434, of which nothing now remains.
Entering the pristine gardens dotted with topiaried trees you’ll be close to the Victory Gate, which opens onto Sothearos Boulevard and faces the entrance steps to the Throne Hall. This was traditionally only used by the king and queen, though it’s now used to admit visiting dignitaries. Just to the north of the gate, the Dancing Pavilion (Preah Tineang Chan Chhaya) was built for moonlit performances of classical Cambodian dance.
The present Throne Hall (Preah Tineang Tevea Vinicchay) was built by King Bat Sisowath in 1919 as a faithful reproduction of Norodom’s wooden palace. As befits a building used for coronations and ceremonies, it’s the most impressive building in the royal compound, topped by a much-photographed four-faced tower. The roof has seven tiers (counted from the lowest level up to the base of the spire) tiled in orange, sapphire and green, representing, respectively, prosperity, nature and freedom. Golden nagas at the corners of each level protect against evil spirits.
The hall’s broad entrance staircase, its banisters formed by seven-headed nagas, leads up to a colonnaded veranda, each column of which is topped by a garuda with wings outstretched, appearing to support the overhanging roof. Entering the Throne Room by the east door, you’ll find a ceiling painted with finely detailed scenes from the Reamker (Ramayana) in muted colours, and walls stencilled with pastel leaf motifs and images of celestial beings, hands together in sompeyar. Down the centre of the hall runs a 35-metre-long, deep-pile carpet, its pattern and colours matching the surrounding tiles flanked by rows of gilt standard lamps, the lampshades supported by ceremonial nagas. The north and south entrance doors are protected by large mirrors, which are believed to deflect bad spirits. Unfortunately a velvet rope makes it impossible to get a proper view of the two elaborate golden coronation thrones ahead. They occupy a dais in the centre of the hall, above which a nine-tiered white and gold parasol, symbolizing peacefulness, heaven and ambition, is suspended; two large garudas guard the thrones from their position on the ceiling.
At the rear of the hall is an area where the king holds audiences with visiting VIPs and where the busts of six royal ancestors are displayed. Anterooms off the hall are used for different purposes: there are separate bedrooms for the king and the queen, to be used during the seven nights after the coronation, during which the royal couple have to sleep apart; another room serves as the king’s prayer room; the last room is used to store the king’s ashes after his death, while his chedi is being built.Read More
Dancer, teacher, artistic director and United Nations representative, Norodom Sihamoni was elected to be Cambodia’s next king by the Throne Council in October 2004 on the surprise abdication of his father. The son of Norodom Sihanouk and his seventh wife Monineath, Sihamoni’s name is made up from the first four letters of Sihanouk and the first four letters of Monineath. Born on May 14, 1953, most of his life was spent out of Cambodia: from the age of 9 he was educated in Prague where he learnt dance, music and theatre; he later studied cinematography in Korea.
In fact, other than his early childhood, the three years he spent imprisoned with his family in Phnom Penh during the Khmer Rouge years was the longest he spent in the country until becoming king in October 2004. On the arrival of the Vietnamese, the royal family went into exile and for a year Sihamoni acted as private secretary to his father, but from 1980 he was in France (where he spent the next twenty years) as a professor of classical dance in Paris.
From 1992, Sihamoni was Cambodia’s permanent representative at the United Nations, and in 1993 he became its UNESCO ambassador – resigning both positions on becoming king. Sharing his father’s love of cinema, Sihamoni was also director general of Khemara Pictures and has a couple of ballet films to his credit (Dream and 4 Elements).
King Sihamoni keeps a lower profile than his father and as yet hasn’t done anything to excite the media, though he is seen around the country and seems well regarded by his subjects. He holds regular meetings with the government and apparently isn’t averse to bawling out his ministers, to keep them on their toes.