Vat Phou and Associated Ancient Settlements within the Champasak Cultural Landscape (2001)
Lao People's Democratic Republic

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Lao PDR 2003. Souvenir sheet. Carvings from Vat Phou, and in the margin a drawing of the temple complex.

The Champasak cultural landscape, including the Vat Phou Temple complex, is a remarkably well-preserved planned landscape more than 1,000 years old. 

It was shaped to express the Hindu vision of the relationship between nature and humanity, using an axis from mountain top to river bank to lay out a geometric pattern of temples, shrines and waterworks extending over some 10 km. 

Two planned cities on the banks of the Mekong River are also part of the site, as well as Phou Kao mountain. 

The whole represents a development ranging from the 5th to 15th centuries, mainly associated with the Khmer Empire.  

  • Lao PDR 2003. Souvenir sheet. Carvings from Vat Phou, and in the margin a drawing of the temple complex. 
Lao PDR 2003. Vat Phou. Entry to a temple. Lao PDR 2003. Close-up of the entry. Lap PDR 2003. A Buddha figure inside the temple.
Wat Phou (Vat Phu) is a ruined Khmer temple complex in southern Laos. It is located at the base of mount Phu Kao, some 6 km from the Mekong river in Champassak province. There was a temple on the site as early as the 5th century, but the surviving structures date from the 11th to 13th centuries. The temple has a unique structure, in which the elements lead to a shrine where a linga was bathed in water from a mountain spring. The site later became a centre of Theravada Buddhist worship, which it remains today.
  • Kingdom of Laos 1960. Air Post Stamp. Papheng Water Falls in the Champassak Province. 

Kingdom of Laos 1960. Air Post Stamp. Papheng Water Falls in the Champassak Province.

Lao PDR 1992. Set of three stamps issued for the restoration of Vat Phou.  Stamp #1 of three. Lao PDR 1992. Set of three stamps issued for the restoration of Vat Phou.  Stamp #2 of three. Lao PDR 1992. Set of three stamps issued for the restoration of Vat Phou.  Stamp #3 of three.

Wat Phou was initially associated with the city of Shrestapura, which lay on the bank of the Mekong directly east of mount Lingaparvata (now called Phu Kao) By the latter part of the 5th century the city was already the capital of a kingdom which texts and inscriptions connect with both Chenla and Champa, and the first structure on the mountain was constructed around this time.The mountain gained spiritual importance from the linga-shaped protuberance on its summit; the mountain itself was therefore considered the home of Shiva, and the river as representing the ocean or the Ganges River. The temple was naturally dedicated to Shiva, while the water from the spring which emerges directly behind the temple was considered sacred. 

Lao PDR 1998. Panoramic view of the Vat Phou Temple. Lao PDR 1986. Vat Phou Temple, with the UNESCO-emblem. Kingdom of Laos 1959. Vat Phou. Portal from the Pakse Temple.

Wat Phou was a part of the Khmer empire, centred on Angkor to the southwest, at least as early as in the early 10th century. Shrestapura was superseded by a new city in the Angkorian period, located directly south of the temple.In the later period, the original buildings were replaced, re-using some of the stone blocks; the temple now seen was built primarily during the 11th century. Minor changes were made during the following two centuries, before the temple, like most in the empire, was converted to Theravada Buddhist use. This continued after the area came under control of the Lao. 

Sources and links: 

Other World Cultural Heritage Properties in Laos (on this web site). For more information about the individual properties, please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Laos-section.

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Revised 21 jul 2006  
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