Phanom Rung Historical Park – Ta Pek, Thailand - Atlas Obscura

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Phanom Rung Historical Park

Ta Pek, Thailand

This Khmer-era temple includes a lintel that was stolen and displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago for years before returning to Thailand. 


Phanom Rung is a Khmer temple dedicated to Shiva built in what was once part of the ancient Khmer Empire and today falls within the borders of the Thai province of Buriram. The full name of this site is Prasat Hin Phanom Rung, but it’s usually referred to as Phanom Rung.

This complex was designed to make the most of the morphology of its location, so that the temple on top of the hill can be reached via an impressive staircase. This gives visitors the impression that this is not a hill, but a massive man-made building. Three naga bridges are located at the bottom, halfway, and top of the staircase. From the entrance, the walkway and the staircase combine to form a 524-foot (160-meter) long passage leading to the main temple.

Most of the complex was constructed using sandstone. Like most Khmer temples, however, special pink sandstone was used to build the 75-foot (23-meter) high tower. The entrance to the temple is decorated with motifs from the Hindu epic Ramayana. Throughout the complex are peaceful lotus ponds.

The most famous and easily recognizable part of the temple is the lintel at the entrance depicting a reclined Vishnu. This lintel was stolen in the 1960s and turned up as an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. It took some lengthy diplomatic efforts to ensure the restitution of the piece, which took place in 1988.

Once a year, on April 13th, the sun hits the temple at a particular angle that allows sunlight to shine through the fifteen portals of the temple. A festival is also held annually on this date. 

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June 1, 2021

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