Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s busy capital, sits at the junction of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers. It was a hub for both the Khmer Empire and French colonialists. On its walkable riverfront, lined with parks, restaurants and bars, are the ornate Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the National Museum, displaying artifacts from around the country. At the city’s heart is the massive, art deco Central Market.

The initial settlement of Phnom Penh is believed to have been established in the 5th century AD, according to the discovery of an ancient kiln site in Choeung Ek commune of Dangkao district, the southern part of central Phnom Penh in the early 2000s. Choeung Ek archaeological site was one of the largest kiln pottery centers in Cambodia and the earliest known kiln site in Southeast Asia to produce the ceremonial vessels known as kendi from the 5th to 13th centuries. Archaeologists stated that a large community is surrounded by a circular earthwork structure that is 740 meters in diameter and 4 meters high, built in the 11th century. In addition, there are remnants of other ancient village infrastructure, irrigation system, inscription, Shiva linga as well as an ancient brick temple foundation and its ornate remains which dated back to the Funan era. First recorded a century after it is said to have taken place, the legend of the founding of Phnom Penh tells of a local woman, Penh (commonly referred to as Daun Penh (Lady Penh in Khmer), living at Chaktomuk, the future Phnom Penh. It was the late 14th century, and the Khmer capital was still at Angkor near Siem Reap 350 km (217 mi) to the north. Gathering firewood along the banks of the river, Lady Penh spied a floating koki tree in the river and fished it from the water. Inside the tree, she found four Buddha statues and one of Vishnu. Phnom Penh from the east was drawn in 1887. Stupa of King Ponhea Yat on the top of Wat Phnom The discovery was taken as a divine blessing and to some a sign that the Khmer capital was to be brought to Phnom Penh from Angkor.[citation needed] To house the new-found sacred objects, Penh raised a small hill on the west bank of the Tonle Sap River and crowned it with a shrine, now known as Wat Phnom at the north end of central Phnom Penh. "Phnom" is Khmer for "hill" and Penh's hill took on the name of the founder, and the area around it became known after the hill. Phnom Penh first became the capital of Cambodia after Ponhea Yat, king of the Khmer Empire, moved the capital from Angkor Thom after it was captured and destroyed by Siam a few years earlier. There is a stupa behind Wat Phnom that houses the remains of Ponhea Yat and the royal family as well as the remaining Buddhist statues from the Angkorean era. In the 17th century, Japanese immigrants also settled on the outskirts of present-day Phnom Penh. A small Portuguese community survived in Phnom Penh until the 17th century, undertaking commercial and religious activity in the country. Phnom Penh remained the royal capital for 73 years, from 1432 to 1505. It was abandoned for 360 years (from 1505 to 1865) by subsequent kings due to internal fighting between the royal pretenders. Later kings moved the capital several times and established their royal capitals at various locations in Tuol Basan (Srey Santhor), Pursat, Longvek, Lavear Em, and Oudong. It was not until 1866, under the reign of King Norodom I (1860–1904), the eldest son of King Ang Duong, who ruled on behalf of Siam, that Phnom Penh became the permanent seat of government and capital of Cambodia, and also where the current Royal Palace was built. Beginning in 1870, the French colonial authorities turned a riverside village into a city where they built hotels, schools, prisons, barracks, banks, public works offices, telegraph offices, law courts, and health services buildings. In 1872, the first glimpse of a modern city took shape when the colonial administration employed the services of French contractor Le Faucheur to construct the first 300 concrete houses for sale and rental to Chinese traders. By the 1920s, Phnom Penh was known as the "Pearl of Asia", and over the next four decades, Phnom Penh continued to experience rapid growth with the building of railways to Sihanoukville and Pochentong International Airport (now Phnom Penh International Airport). Phnom Penh's infrastructure saw major modernization under the rule of Sihanouk. During the Vietnam War, Cambodia was used as a base by the People's Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong, and thousands of refugees from across the country flooded the city to escape the fighting between their own government troops, the People's Army of Vietnam, the Viet Cong, the South Vietnamese and their allies, the Khmer Rouge, and American air strikes. By 1975, the population was 2–3 million, the bulk of whom were refugees from the fighting.[18] The Khmer Rouge cut off supplies to the city for more than a year before it fell on April 17, 1975. Reports from journalists stated that the Khmer Rouge shelling "tortured the capital almost continuously", inflicting "random death and mutilation" on millions of trapped civilians. The Khmer Rouge forcibly evacuated the entire city after taking it, in what has been described as a death march: François Ponchaud wrote that "I shall never forget one cripple who had neither hands nor feet, writhing along the ground like a severed worm, or a weeping father carrying his ten-year-old daughter wrapped in a sheet tied around his neck like a sling, or the man with his foot dangling at the end of a leg to which it was attached by nothing but skin"; Jon Swain recalled that the Khmer Rouge were "tipping outpatients from the hospitals like garbage into the streets...In five years of war, this is the greatest caravan of human misery I have seen". All of its residents, including the wealthy and educated, were evacuated from the city and forced to do difficult labor on rural farms as "new people". Tuol Sleng High School was taken over by Pol Pot's forces and was turned into the S-21 prison camp, where people were detained and tortured. Pol Pot sought a return to an agrarian economy and therefore killed many people perceived as educated, "lazy", spies, or political enemies. Many others starved to death as a result of the failure of the agrarian society and the sale of Cambodia's rice to China in exchange for bullets and weaponry. The former high school is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, where Khmer Rouge torture devices and photos of their victims are displayed. Choeung Ek (the Killing Fields), 15 kilometers (9 mi) away, where the Khmer Rouge marched prisoners from Tuol Sleng to be murdered and buried in shallow pits, is also now a memorial to those who were killed by the regime. The Khmer Rouge was driven out of Phnom Penh by the People's Army of Vietnam in 1979, and people began to return to the city. Vietnam is historically a state with which Cambodia has had many conflicts, therefore this liberation was and is viewed with mixed emotions by the Cambodians. A period of reconstruction began, spurred by the continuing stability of government, attracting new foreign investment and aid from countries including France, Australia, and Japan. Loans were made from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank to reinstate a clean water supply, roads, and other infrastructure. The 1998 Census put Phnom Penh's population at 862,000, and the 2008 census was 1.3 million. By 2019, its population reached over 2.2 million, based on the general population census.
679 km²
2.282 million (2019)


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