Phnom Penh became the capital of Cambodia after Ponhea Yat, the King of the Khmer Kingdom, fled from Angkor Thom. However, it wasn’t until 1866, under the rule of Norodom, that Phnom Penh became the permanent seat of government and the royal palace was built. From that time onwards, Phnom Penh was transformed from a village into a city. This development was accelerated by the French colonial rulers, who constructed numerous buildings, roads, a canal system and a port. Since that time, the city has had an impressive number of buildings in art deco style and villas in colonial style. Phnom Penh was known as the ‘Pearl of Asia’ in the 1920s. The city continued to grow during the next four decades as a result of the construction of a railway line to Sihanoukville and the international airport.
The city endured dark times during the Vietnam War, the Cambodian civil war and finally the siege by the Khmer Rouge, a guerrilla movement under the leadership of the dictator, Pol Pot. The enforced evacuation in 1975 virtually turned Phnom Penh into a ghost town – almost all its two million residents had to leave the city. The Khmer Rouge were driven out four years later and life returned to the city. However, the reconstruction of the infrastructure, which had been almost totally destroyed, didn’t start to gather pace until 1991 in the wake of the Paris Peace Agreements; this process was supported by a stable government and foreign investments.
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