Located in the southeast of the Indochina peninsula between longitudes 103º and 108º and between the 10th and 15th parallels, Cambodia is bounded on the north and west by Laos and Thailand, and to the south and east by Vietnam. It has a surface area of 181,035 square kilometres with a population of about eleven and one-half million people (statistics: 1998 census).

According to archaeological and historical research, as well as inscriptions and related documents, the civilization of ancient Cambodia dominated the region. It was influenced by Indian culture since the beginning of the Christian era; and the two main religions of India, Hinduism and Buddhism, were practiced side by side. In regard to these religious practices, the ancient Khmers left behind many master works in both architecture and sculpture.

Many historical temples with magnificent decorations were considered as palaces for the gods. Although some temples were destroyed, many still retain their beauty for the public so see, especially Angkor Wat temple, which is admired throughout the world as an architectural masterpiece.

The ancient Khmers also left many works of art, most of them representing the important divinities of both Hinduism and Buddhism. In addition, there are objects used in religious ceremonies as well as household utensils.

The National Museum of Phnom Penh, inaugurated in 1920, has the responsibility to preserve and exhibit these treasures to the public. Its collections can be divided into four main categories: stone, metal, wood and ceramics. Despite damage, the works still possess important values relating to art, history and religion.

The most representative objects in each category, described below, reveal both Khmer identity and style. The study of these masterpieces shows that Khmer artisans did not just copy Indian art (in spite of the influence of Indian civilization) but created a completely original art with its own character.


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