Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia is only 360 square kilometers. Tourists won’t have a difficult time checking out different tourist destinations and national landmarks. One of the most important spots to see when in Phnom Penh is the Independence Memorial (or Monument), also referred to as the Jewel of Phnom Penh, or by its Khmer name, Vimean Ekareach. The monument is a proud witness of the Cambodian people’s faith and love for country.
Vimean Ekareach is a lotus-shaped stupa that seems to have been taken directly from Angkor Wat and other ancient Khmer sites. Stupas are found in all countries that follow Buddhism since they are mound-like structures specifically constructed to contain Buddhist relics and a place of worship for Buddhists. This stupa in Phnom Penh, though, is very clearly of Khmer style in its architecture and carvings. It was designed by Vann Molyvann, a significant figure in the Cambodia architectural circle during the Sangkum Reastr Regime (1955-1970). He was commissioned by the prince to construct the monument and other city structures, which later gave rise to the New Khmer Architecture style.
Found at the intersection of Norodom Boulevard and Sihanouk Boulevard, the memorial was built in 1958 and inaugurated on November 9, 1962, primarily to celebrate the country’s independence from France in 1953. Cambodia was under the control of the French for almost a century beginning in 1863.
Today, all national celebrations are held by the Independence Memorial. This national landmark is clearly the center of all important Phnom Penh activities. The most common yearly celebrations are Independence Day and Constitution Day. On such occasions, a high-ranking official typically lights a ceremonial flame on the pedestal that is surrounded by floral tributes lining the stairs. The monument grounds get crowded during such celebrations, but the area is never without local and foreign tourists all year round, since there is a wide open park at the monument site. Sometimes, it is prohibited to come near the monument. The memorial also serves to honor Cambodia’s soldiers who fought for their country through the years and in several wars. This is why the structure is also sometimes referred to as Victory Monument.
The Khmer-style stupa is a magnificent piece of eye-candy for photographers. In fact, some photo enthusiasts come to the capital city just to get a few snaps of the reddish-brown colored monument. At nights, floodlights of red, blue and white – colors of the Cambodian flag – beam on the monument, creating a dramatic site.
Phnom Penh has seen so much in the past, Wars and struggles mar the history of Cambodia and the atrocities experienced by the city and the Khmer people still echo not only in history books but in the minds and heart of survivors as well. The capital city was a silent witness to the royal wars in the 1500’s to the 1800’s and the coming of western colonialists in the 19th Century. In the 1920s, the city was referred to as the Pearl of Asia, and yet it again witnessed the ugly face of war in the 1970’s during the Vietnam War and when the Khmer Rouge army came to power on April 17, 1975.
With so much sadness in its history, Phnom Penh is kicking away its past by building modern industries and instituting development. As the city moves towards modern development and away from its gory past, the Independence Memorial proudly stands not for the violence of the past but the glory and honor that keeps the Phnom Penh an important city in Southeast Asia today.