The Royal Palace was one of my favorite buildings. Originally, when King Noromdom first came to Phnom Penh from his previous capital Udong, he lived in a small, simple building made of wood and bamboo. Even though it might have been romantic, by French standards it was hardly a palace for a great lord. That is why, in 1865, they start to build the palace that we can see today. Its style is traditional Khmer, but the architect used modern materials and contemporary methods to build it. In this way, it brought together the old and the new.
At the time that King Norodom (1860-1904) signed the Treaty of Protection with France in 1863, the capital of Cambodia resided at Oudong, about 45 kilometers northeast of Phnom Penh. Earlier in 1863 a temporary wooden Palace was constructed a bit north of the current Palace site in Phnom Penh. The first Royal Palace to be built at the present location was designed by architect Neak Okhna Tepnimith Mak and constructed by the French Protectorate in 1866. That same year, King Norodom moved the Royal court from Oudong to the new Royal Palace in Phnom Penh and the city became the official capital of Cambodia the following year. Over the next decade several buildings and houses were added, many of which have since been demolished and replaced, including an early Chanchhaya Pavilion and Throne Hall (1870). The Royal court was installed permanently at the new Royal Palace in 1871 and the walls surrounding the grounds were raised in 1873. Many of the buildings of the Royal Palace, particularly of this period, were constructed using traditional Khmer architectural and artistic style but also incorporating significant European features and design as well. One of the most unique surviving structures from this period is the Napoleon Pavilion which was a gift from France in 1876.
King Sisowath (1904-1927) made several major contributions to the current Royal Palace, adding the Phochani Hall in 1907 (inaugurated in 1912), and from 1913-1919 demolishing several old buildings, and replacing and expanding the old Chanchhaya Pavilion and the Throne Hall with the current structures. These buildings employ traditional Khmer artistic style and Angkorian inspired design, particularly in the Throne Hall, though some European elements remain. The next major construction came in the 1930s under King Monivong with the addition of the Royal Chapel, Vihear Suor (1930), and the demolition and replacement of the old Royal residence with the Khemarin Palace (1931), which serves as the Royal residence to this day. The only other significant additions since have been the 1956 addition of the Villa Kantha Bopha to accommodate foreign guests and the 1953 construction of the Damnak Chan originally installed to house the High Council of the Throne.
Today the Royal Palace has had some modifications to its buildings; some have also been demolished completely. The Throne Hall there today is actually not the original one King Norodom would have used when the palace was first built. The Silver Pagoda has undergone a tremendous face-lift with its tiles replaced and buildings given new paint. It has become a popular tourist attraction in Phnom Penh. Visitors are able to wander around the Silver Pagoda compound and the central compound containing the Throne Hall, however, they may not enter the Khemarin Palace compound. The Khemarin Palace compound is where Norodom Sihamoni, the present King of Cambodia currently resides.